LOS ANGELES, Nov. 14 (JTA) — The way a woman driving a pickup truck is inherently sexy, there’s something to be said for a woman who owns a dog. I don’t mean a pug or a poodle, I mean a bruiser, a canine that’s muscular and intense, a beast that succumbs to her quiet command.
Unfortunately, the same really can’t be said for a single woman with a cat.
Get yourself one little cat, and you walk into a whole litter box full of stereotypes. You live alone with a cat, or worse, two or three cats, and you might as well be Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations.” Why not just throw in some lovingly placed sachets of potpourri and a few cutesy picture frames and man-proof the place entirely?
Now, for the record, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having cats. In fact, I’ve started pining for one like crazy, and it’s because of my new feline fetish that I’ve had to seriously question whether I want to willingly take on such an unpleasant stereotype, one that’s sure to be interpreted in ways that don’t suit me.
I think that as a Jewish woman, I’m especially sensitive to being a cliche.
All my life, I’ve grimaced when people assumed my dad was a doctor, lawyer or professor. I love being the daughter of an auto mechanic, raised in the inner city and working class to the bone. I love the way that one piece of information shocks people into reassessing their understanding of my culture. I love being a female sports fan. I get a certain thrill when I’m the only woman in the movie line for some testosterone-laden flick.
When a Hollywood manager once suggested I get a nose job, I thought, no way. I couldn’t live with admitting that to people and sticking my newly patrician nose smack dab into years of people’s perceptions of what being a young Jewish woman is all about.
What’s all this got to do with a cat? Nothing, really. And at the same time, everything. A cat has somehow become the symbol that a woman has thrown in the man towel, that she’s desperate for something to nurture, that the sound of the the Meow Mix vittles shaking out of the box can only be drowned out by the din of her biological clock ticking. One pictures a lonely woman, cuddling up to a cat named “Daisy” or “Muffin” and gingerly peeling the paper lid off a Budget Gourmet for one.
Needless to say, a guy with a cat gets nothing but extra points. In fact, my mother fell in love with my stepfather when she went over to his apartment, and there he was, a macho guy petting a tiny tabby named Gizmo.
When I recently called home to inquire about our family’s 15-year-old Siamese cat, my mother answered casually, “Ginger doesn’t live here anymore.” As it turns out, my brother was taking care of her for the summer and didn’t want to give her back, a fact that touched me almost beyond belief.
Whether it flies in the face of expectations or falls uncomfortably within them, having a cat has clear benefits. They say just letting one sit on your lap lowers your blood pressure. Someone who lives alone can clearly use the presence of another living thing. And sometimes when I hear sounds at night that wake me up and scare me, I wish I could attribute those sounds to a harmless kitten.
A few weeks ago, I took a trip to the local pound. I was just browsing, really. For two hours.
I was mesmerized by those imprisoned creatures, a huge brown one with regal posture, a small orange kitten reaching its paw through the bars as if to say, “Teresa, get me out of this place and you won’t regret it.”
For me, I think the decision has been made. Once I iron out a few details, like moving to a place with more room and maybe a small yard, a cat will be mine. There will be no framed pictures of the animal on my desk and it will most likely be named after an NBA great, but I still know what I’m getting into. And this one time, I just don’t care.
Bring on the judgements and smirk if you must, because it looks like me and Kitty Kobe Bryant will be just one more single girl and her cat.