Taylor Swift gets it: Cats are better than (some) men

Taylor Swift And Cats Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images
Taylor Swift And Cats Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images
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Reader, I have a confession to make: I am a woman who owns cats.

This may seem like a strange thing to call a "confession." The word is associated with secrets and shame. Like most cat owners, I struggle to stop bragging about my cats. Like all cats, they are the funniest and sweetest and cutest pets to ever grace Instagram. But with regularity, one of my many male critics will seek out my Instagram profile, and, in a tone suggesting they are exposing my darkest secret to the entire internet, unveil their accusation: That I am a "cat lady." Usually on a post about my cats.

I laugh every time, because it's funny how misogynists can't come up with fresh material. "Cat lady" has been aimed for decades at any woman who believes there's more to life than snagging a wedding band. Do you want a career? An education? A little fun in your youth? Your "punishment": To live alone with cats.

Taylor Swift's answer to the "cat lady" insult? Don't threaten me with a good time.

Swift was declared "Person of the Year" by Time in 2023, which was already going to draw a lot of ire from people who are skeptical that either women or artists can be important people. (Plenty of overlap in those views!) So, like a cat owner dangling an irresistible toy in front of her pet, Swift baited her haters by posing for the cover with her cat.

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In my conversations with Swifties, I've learned a lot of lovely things about why they adore her. A big part of it is, with a cheeky sense of humor, she channels their anger over the pressure on women to clip their own wings to live a life of domestic servitude. In a world where even the Washington Post editorial board is begging women to lower their standards to marry Trump voters, Swifties love that one of the world's biggest pop stars offers her counternarrative: Given a choice between cats and some bossy, ungrateful husband, we choose cats. Whine all you want, dudes on the internet, but there's no changing facts. Cats are obviously better.

And boy, a lot of men are responding to this cat picture by proving that cats are better. Like this prince, who calls himself the "host at @HardMenPodcast." (Best part of this is he correctly assumes his out-of-touch audience won't know who this woman is.)

One look at his beard and you know it's better to have a cat in your bed. Reading his Twitter feed ends all doubt. Lots of crap about how a man's "mission is the glory of establishing godly households & generations." Hard to imagine what that guy has to offer, besides a sinkful a dishes and a lifetime of ennui. The hilarity continued in the responses of Mr. Beardy Patriarch's fans, all apt illustrations of internet slang like "cringe" and "cope." Most of it in the form of fruitlessly claiming that Swift is sad and lonely, or that she will regret being a famous pop star instead of an anonymous housewife. Or my favorite, the guy who threatened that she would end up like Madonna, whose song catalog he believes has been largely forgotten.

Truth told, these male tears are so tasty because, as silly as it may sound, the "cat lady" stereotype once held a lot of power. In a patriarchy, even the dumbest male opinions dominate. But more than a stereotype, "cat lady" should be understood as a threat: Comply with sexist demands on women, ladies, or you will die alone and sad. It's often paired with the "tradwife" propaganda or the more distinguished op-eds telling women happiness is only achievable by settling for an inadequate man.

All this "cat lady" talk says little about women's actual lives, and more about the anxieties of the people who push the myth. These fixations are both deeply sexist and racist. On the sexism front, there's anger at women for not subsuming their lives and labor to be unpaid support systems for men. On the racism front, which is becoming less hidden in the MAGA era, there's a lot of anger at white women for not marrying young and having oodles of children, so that white people can maintain the demographic dominance right wingers believe is their due.

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Swift has become a lightning rod for this racist, sexist rage, and not just because she's a beautiful blonde who seems in no hurry to give up her freewheeling life as a famous musician. It's also because of her artistic evolution. She started off as a country western ingenue from rural Pennyslvania, but has remade herself into a New York-dwelling icon of cosmopolitan sophistication. She's the opposite of those Hallmark movies that relentlessly tell reactionary stories of the wayward professional daughter coming to her parent's suburban/rural home to marry the boy next door.

Swift may be a billionaire with preternatural good looks, but her story still resonates with her millennial-and-younger fan base, because their life trajectories often map hers: Out of the constricted lives of conservative America and into the more exciting and fulfilling lives of urban professionals. Swift's music, not just her persona, speaks to this as well. Her songs are often about the complicated dilemmas that crop up as more women embrace the relatively recent opportunity that is true independence, especially when it comes to where love fits in their lives. But it's also romantic, optimistic music that reflects the experiences of listeners, who would rather have lives that are complex and interesting than simple and boring.

Lives that include cats, of course. Because cats are the perfect pets for a person who sometimes works late, goes on dates or has lots of nights out with friends. Cats love to have you around, but won't come unglued if you're not around to clean up after them for a few hours. If only more men could be like cats!

Certainly, the "cat lady" insult was on its way out long before Swift offered us a sexy reminder that single women with cats are not sad and homely spinsters. Much of this is due to feminists sharing evidence that single women are, on average, happier than married women — in part because they don't have to work as hard. Much of it is due to ordinary women telling the truth about their lives, showing that it's perfectly possible to live freely while also having a lot of love and joy in your life. Many of us have even revealed — shocker! — that one can have both a partner and cats, even if it makes the bed a little crowded. Cats have also done their part, by becoming the internet's favorite animal, making it seem downright weird to hate on cats.

Still, I think will look back at Taylor Swift's Time cover as the final nail in the coffin of the dumb "cat lady" slander. The dudes who responded with whining showed everyone the male insecurity fueling those who sling the smear. Fellas, if you're having so much trouble competing with cats for a woman's affection, that is very much your problem to solve, not hers. Taylor has decreed it so.