The ancient roots of Catwoman

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More recently the fear – and cautionary tale – of cats and women that has pervaded popular culture now offers, to some extent, comic relief. In Gilmore Girls (2000-07), a newly single Lorelai calls her daughter Rory when first one cat, then two show up on her doorstep: “They know. The cats know… I’m alone. I guess I need to start collecting newspapers and magazines, find a blue bathrobe, lose my front teeth.” Similarly, in an episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015-19), Rebecca jokes to her friends in a musical number about becoming a cat lady after she finds herself single. In other words, the cat lady trope is now, for the most part, a full-on cliché.

These well-worn hyper-sexualised “Catwoman” and desexualised “cat lady” stereotypes have a diminishing purchase today, however. Women have more liberty and power to exist outside the historical “norms”: more are choosing to be single, and to be child-free; they have greater authority in the workplace, and the use of the word “spinster”, which had fallen out of fashion, has recently been reclaimed by feminists. Even the term “cat lady” is now widely and proudly used by many cat owners – including celebrities such as Taylor Swift – on social media.

Does this reflect some sort of feminist reclaiming of the stereotype? Maddicott is sceptical. “It’s easier to make a term cool if you are in no danger of fitting the stereotype in society’s eyes,” she says, adding that the relationship between pets and their owners should be celebrated rather than mocked. “There are so many wonderful examples of women and cat friendships being what they actually are, a positive nice normal pet relationship, rather than the stereotype.” So, should a woman – or a person of any gender for that matter – choose to embrace being a “cat lady” or a “Catwoman”, then the choice to wear either label should be theirs and theirs alone.  

 

The Batman is released in cinemas on 4 March in the UK and US

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