New Yorker ‘Cat Person’ Short Story Stirs Controversy


ARGUMENTS ABOUT the New Yorker short story “Cat Person” by Kristen Roupenian streaked across the internet and into coffee and shopping encounters around the holidays, including at Leopold’s Kafe and Relish on Cady’s Alley in Georgetown.

As the narrator flirts with a new guy, Robert, via texts, he tells her about his cats. Later en route to his house, seeming to forget about the texts, and says, “darkly like a warning, just so you know, I have cats.” Arguments about “Cat Person” led to an outpouring of comments and questions about cat people (versus dog people)—with many echoing the general consensus: cat people are more introverted than dog people.

Although dogs may “expand your social circle in the real world”—because their need to be walked leads to impromptu friendships, cats are the stars of cyberspace, writes Peg Streep on a Psychology Today blog post. Streep notes that Grumpy Cat became a real-world star making real-world money.

Studies examining the “Big Five” personality traits find dog people to be more extroverted and less neurotic while cat people are “more open to experience.”  In a 2017 study of more than 400 undergrads at three universities: “dog people scored higher on warmth, liveliness, rule consciousness and social boldness compared to the cat people. The latter scored higher on general intelligence, abstractedness and self-reliance.”

“Dogs look up to us.  Cats look down on us,” Winston Churchill’s oft-quoted remark, has been interpreted as indicating that dog people need more external validation and have “control issues,” while cat people are more self-sufficient.  But, Streep writes, “since cats generally live longer than dogs, the cat person enters into a longer contract.”

Liberals tend to prefer cats, based on a Time magazine survey.  In 2012, nine of the top dog-owning states voted solidly Republican while nine of the bottom ten dog-owning states voted for President Obama, according to Streep.  She queries whether owning a dog or cat might reveal hidden partisan feelings contrary to voting habits.

Testing the related hypothesis that dog people prefer “having pets that are submissive to them,” further research showed dog people scoring higher on competitiveness but not on assertiveness or narcissism. The conclusion: conservatives simply like dogs more.

On the other hand, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had both a cat and a dog

And Occidental College sociologist Lisa Wade criticizes the cat/dog person dichotomy as gendered: “Don’t we stereotype women as cat people and men as dog people…don’t we think that men with cats are a little femmy, or, at minimum, sweeter than most…even, maybe gay!”  Wade points out that nobody worries about becoming a crazy dog person.

In the end of the New Yorker story, Robert’s cat-personness is questioned in the narrator’s musings: “Perhaps she was being unfair to Robert, who really had done nothing wrong, except like her, and be bad in bed, and maybe lie about having cats, although probably they had just been in another room.”

—Mary Carpenter
Well-Being Editor Mary Carpenter is a proud cat owner. Read more of her posts


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