Reclaiming the “crazy cat lady” trope on International Women’s Day!

8 March 2024 is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of women, raise awareness about discrimination, and take action to drive gender parity and inclusion.

Kris Hill from the Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS) celebrates women and their cats on International Women’s Day!

Kris playing with some cat friends!

A brief history of the worship and persecution of cats and women

The Ancient Egyptian goddess Bastet (meaning ‘She of the City of Bast’) was depicted with cat-like features, and domestic cats became regarded as her earthly manifestations. Bastet rose to become the chief deity of the city of Bubastis, and during the Twenty-second Dynasty (945–715 BCE) she went on to become a popular deity throughout Egypt.

Bastet statue (Met Museum Collection)

However, throughout medieval Europe, cats increasingly became associated with maligned paganism, witches, malevolence, and were persecuted as agents of the Christian Devil. This represented a dramatic change in cultural attitudes towards cats, who were once pagan symbols of female fertility, sexuality and motherhood (Engels, 1999).

The concept of the familiar is predominant throughout the English witch trials of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and from the earliest cases cats were most often cast in this role. And from these emerged the modern Halloween iconography of the witch’s black cat.

In her article titled “Of Cats and Women: A Cultural History of a Relationship” Irina Frasin (2022, p. 177) wrote about how Western society “does not like women who do not fit into the idea of what women should be” (namely, meek, and deferent to male rule). Cats are perceived as independent creatures who do not readily accept human rule. Thus, male chauvinism deems both women and cats as “cunning” rather than “independent” or “resourceful”. Kris Hill (2023) studied discourses surrounding roaming neighbourhood cats and found numerous examples of online comments referring to women who like cats as single, “sad”, and “undesirable” – usually by those who also expressed a dislike for cats.

Feeding the “cat lady” stereotype?

Urban cat feeders (those who feed unowned cats) are predominantly middle-aged and older females, a phenomenon noted by several researchers. In Brooklyn, New York, cat feeders were found to be most often women aged between 50 and 79 (Haspel & Calhoon, 1990), in a Hawaiian study of cat colony caretakers, 75% of respondents were women, also predominantly middle-aged or older (Zasloff & Hart, 1998). A nationwide US study identified 85% of cat caretakers as women with a median age of 45 (Centonze & Levy, 2002). A more recent study of the city of Rishon-Lezion, Israel, reported 81% of regular cat feeders were women with a median age of 58 (Gunther et al., 2016). The fact that many cat feeders dedicate their lives to helping cats, often at great personal and financial cost, undoubtably reinforces the “crazy cat lady” trope.

However, it is not just about cats. Women predominantly occupy professional and voluntary roles related to animal care. In the US, 75% of animal care providers are female and volunteers in animal shelters and engaged in rescue work are mostly women.

These women (and men) should be recognised and celebrated every day for the work they do. Unfortunately, volunteer work is too often undervalued and underappreciated and predominantly carried out by women. International Women’s Day strives to raise awareness about discrimination and inequality. Women in the animal health field have a 52% representation at the manager level but drop to a 36% representation at the senior management level. Female graduates are also less likely to be selected by recruiters within the veterinary industry than their male counterparts.

There is nothing “Crazy” (or lady-like) about caring for cats!

Although outnumbered by women, there are plenty of men involved in caring for animals too, including cats. Listen to Marika Bell from The Deal With Animals podcast talking to “The TrapKing” Sterling Davis about his trap-neuter-release efforts to help unowned cats. And “Cat Daddy” Jackson Galaxy is another celebrity in the world of cat lovers dedicated to helping people and cats.

Cats provide joy, love, and companionship. Cats can enrich social connections and increase opportunities for getting to know people, making friends, and finding a social support network. Older, homebound cat owners have been shown to be better at paying attention, remembering details, and learning from past experiences than those who don’t own cats. A study showed that living with cats, or interacting regularly with feline friends reduced negative moods such as anxiety and depression.

Cats are worthy of our love, care, and attention. And so are those who care for stray, abandoned, and feral cats.

Join the Society of Companion Animal Studies (SCAS) in celebrating all the inspirational female scholars, practitioners, and advocates who are leading the way in Human-Animal Interactions (HAI) and companion animal studies.

Follow us on FB and Twitter (@SCASuk), and be sure to retweet posts from us and our partners on #PetsInHousing

SCAS is the UK’s leading human-companion animal bond organisation through funding research, providing education, raising awareness, encouraging best practice, and influencing the development of policies and practices that support the human-companion animal bond. For more details check out our website at

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