The "Crazy Cat Lady"



Publication Details

Probyn-Rapsey, F. (2019). The "Crazy Cat Lady". In L. Gruen & F. Probyn-Rapsey (Eds.), Animaladies: Gender, Animals, and Madness (pp. 175-185). New York: Bloomsbury Academic.


If you ever work on a project about "crazy cat ladies," you can expect some smiles of the wry, knowing kind, followed up by a flurry of "crazy cat lady" (CCL) memes, mugs, socks, and links to various CCL products. Many of them are pretty funny, especially the picture of the box of kittens labeled "Crazy cat lady start up kit" and the socks emblazoned with "you say 'crazy cat lady' like it's a bad thing." These jokes attest to a level of sympathy for and fascination with crazy cat ladies within popular culture. I've long been fascinated by the "crazy cat lady" as a cultural trope, a sort of "folk devil" whose appearance plays on broader anxieties attached to femininity and animality. Putting the memes, socks, mugs, pyjamas, fridge magnets aside for a moment, this chapter takes a more critical look at the CCL. I explore the current popularity of the CCL in three connected ways. Firstly, as a gendered cultural trope that is mobilized in both negative and positive ways to exemplify the feminization of concern for human-animal relations. Secondly, I examine how the CCL gets tangled up with the animal hoarder: someone who "hoards" or collects animals and keeps them as their self-declared "rescuer," often to protect them from some other terrible fate (neglect and cruelty) that then becomes realized in her own hands. The research on animal hoarding is fascinating in this regard, because it essentially plays chicken and egg with the "crazy cat lady," replicating gender stereotypes in its discussion of the disorder it attempts to outline. While animal hoarding literature situates the CCL as a dangerous obstacle to proper diagnosis and understanding of animal hoarding cases, I then take this idea one step further and discuss whether or not the CCL might be not just a "cute face" of the animal hoarder but also the "folk devil" for the industrial scale hoarding of animals that persists in factory farming situations. The three elements-"crazy cat lady," animal hoarder, and factory farmer-are connected, I suggest, by a broader phenomenon of the intensification of animal keeping in Western modernity, a period in which animals are simultaneously more numerous, less visible but more intensively "kept" (Harrison 1964; Vialles 1994; O'Sullivan 2015; Pachirat 2015). In this chapter, I'll pull on the thread of the crazy cat lady trope and see how she leads us to industrialized hoarding in the form of factory farming.

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