This is Jerry. He’s old, unsure on his feet, and generally bad at being a cat–except for when he’s sleeping and keeping you warm.
Jerry is not much of a reader, so he doesn’t have an opinion on “Cat Person”–but he’s the only one.
Apparently, this piece of short fiction has gone viral. That alone should make you feel a little better about the world we live in. But like anything worth reading or watching these days, it’s spawned a million think pieces (and an outpouring of people telling the world about their “cat person”).
Is it about alienation in the digital age? Is it about consent in the #metoo era? Is it just another story about human relationships? I’ve managed to avoid most of the responses to this unexpected viral hit. The discussions I did listen to–Double X and The Colin McEnroe Show– had wildly different takes. The women at Double X saw this much the way I did.
Over at Double X, Noreen Malone, June Thomas, and Hanna Rosin talked about the role of technology, how people construct ideas about themselves and others, and “not knowing each other while knowing each other.” And they really hit on what seemed most apparent to me: the role projection plays in the way we see and interact with one another. And frankly, I think projection has a lot to do with how you see this story.
I just cannot fathom anyone who thinks Margot–the story’s protagonist–is somehow a victim. She’s clearly the aggressor in much of this scenario, and Robert (her date) gives her an out. He point out that she’s drunk, and tries to take her home. In turn, she mounts him in the car. A disappointing sexual encounter isn’t the same as an assault. Period. To suggest that it is, diminishes the experiences of actual assault survivors.
The only way this story relates to the #metoo era, is in the parsing of it. People’s reactions to “Cat Person” show how one person’s awkward, mildly regrettable sexual encounter is someone else’s story to hashtag and tell on social media (or in Margot’s case, tell all her friends about and basically shame this poor, hapless guy).
Sure, you might say, but he turns into an abusive semi-stalker as evidenced by the last line of the story! I read it differently. Imagine, for a moment, a woman who has just spent the night with someone who she thinks she had a good time with, but who then starts ignoring her, and eventually sends her a nasty break-up text. If she treated that man less than kindly, or had a hard time letting go, you’d probably object to someone calling her “crazy.” Why is Robert–who treated Margot with nothing but respect–not given that same consideration?
Of course, that’s why so many people are conflicted over the ending. It turns Robert into a bad guy–at least in the eyes of some readers–in a way he hadn’t been up until then. And in many ways, it takes a story about the nuances of human interaction and turns it into didactic drivel. Frankly, I still give Robert the benefit of the doubt. He should learn how to deal with his jealousy–and just grow up–but if he were a woman texting obscenities at a man who had treated her badly, we’d be cheering her. (Being a woman doesn’t mean you get to treat men badly and then expect them to suffer in silence.) And if you can’t find it in yourself to have a bit of sympathy for him, I think you have to ask yourself why.
But the same goes for people who can’t see all the ways in which Margot’s conditioning has led her to end up in this encounter in the first place.
“But the thought of what it would take to stop what she had set in motion was overwhelming; it would require an amount of tact and gentleness that she felt was impossible to summon. It wasn’t that she was scared he would try to force her to do something against her will but that insisting that they stop now, after everything she’d done to push this forward, would make her seem spoiled and capricious, as if she’d ordered something at a restaurant and then, once the food arrived, had changed her mind and sent it back.”
She doesn’t want to look bad or hurt his feelings, so she just goes along with it. She thinks he’s bad in bed, but never tells him what she likes. Even after it’s all over she can’t summon the courage to just tell him she doesn’t want to pursue their relationship. She’s so worried what this guy she doesn’t even really like will think about her, she’s incapable of speaking up for herself.
Margot needs to learn a lesson, most easily summed up by Karen and Georgia from My Favorite Murder: