A Cat's Tale: The Symbolic Connection Between Women & Cats

Kristina Akhrarova

This post includes content written by AI.

TW: Some of the historic incidents discussed in this article may be upsetting to some readers.

What words do you associate with a cat? Quickfire: Adorable? Cuddly? Small?


Long before feminist movements, cats and women were strongly associated. This link originates from ancient Egypt, where feline and feminine energies merged into a deity. The "Catwoman" superhero archetype emerged in 1940, solidifying this connection. Nowadsys, cats are portrayed as docile companions for girls on social media. Does this portrayal align with the symbolic connection between women and cats that goes beyond the stereotype of the "crazy cat lady"? Or does it contradict the vision of an autonomous cat, being a setback for women's empowerment? Hmm...

In her essay "When Species Meet," Donna Haraway explores the profound connection between cats and women, viewing them as companion species that shape each other's identities. The cat-woman/catlady metaphor is rooted in the linguistic similarity between "feline" and "feminine." Despite the connection of the two words through the prefix "fe," there lacks a substantial etymological basis for their association. Moreover, the connection is further highlighted by the colloquial use of "pussy-cat," which refers to both a reproductive organ and a cat. For instance, the French term "Chat Noir" (black cat) has historically served as a euphemism for female genitalia since the Renaissance.

To confirm the cat's connection with females, we must consider their historical importance. Cats were first depicted in ancient Egypt, reaching their symbolic peak with the goddess Bastet, who was portrayed as a half-woman, half-cat deity representing fertility. People praying to Bastet revered the cat as a sacred symbol of femininity and lunar energy. In Norse mythology, Freya, the goddess of fertility, further supports the cat's mystical association with femininity by riding a chariot pulled by cats.

The Gayer-Anderson CatPhoto byOsama Shukir Muhammed Amin

The Catholic Church's rise overturned the belief that cats symbolized female fertility. Animal gods were seen as pagan, conflicting with the church's desire for human-like representation. Christianity worshipped humans and sought relatability through icons modeled after them. To enforce purity and obedience, the Virgin Mary became the ideal woman. Chastity fostered a fear of individuality. Any woman who embraced cat-like qualities, such as living alone or inviting attention, risked being labeled a witch and facing torture or death.

'Witches' were accused of being devil worshippers, causing illness and bad luck. In truth, they were independent women or healers, seen as socially unacceptable and blamed for misfortune.

Countless myths associate black cats with witches, commonly depicting them as messengers between witches and the devil. Another myth suggests witches transformed into cats to gain entry into people's homes and bewitch them. Consequently, cats had a negative reputation, often being burned with witches.

In the progression of thought, cat apprehension as a sign of evil transformed into a more benevolent sentiment. Many romantic poets used cats as a metaphor for unattainable women, representing their liberated desires. Baudelaire, in his poem "Le Chat," directly compares the two, stating how glances from both the woman and the cat can be penetrating and cold. Avant-garde thinkers regarded cats as their spirit animals, seeing their independence and indifference to human affection as a sign of progress.

During the World Wars, women in the West left their housewife roles to fill positions left by enlisted men. This shifted cat status as they became pets for children while mothers worked. However, after the war, women returned to traditional domestic roles. Unsatisfied, progressive women started the second-wave feminist movement in the 60's and 70's.

Owners from around the world have shared snaps of their cats .Photo bydailymail.co.uk

Modern cat videos on social media merge human and animal traits, amplifying cuteness. Unlike second-wave feminist art, which associated cats with female empowerment, famous internet cats portray animals as submissive, serving as an allegory for subjugating the female body. The popularity of these videos assumes a fetishization of 'cute', fueled by our addiction to such content. However, this consumption overlooks functionality, becoming oppressive.

Is there a connection between the subjugation of cats on social media and imposed beauty standards through filters? Both represent artificial ideals, hidden in cuteness. Cats, once symbols of female liberation, now only represent fetishized innocence. They've become nursery rhyme characters among selfies and cats with hair rollers.

Cats have become so domesticated that it's hard to distinguish them from dogs as pets. Cat leashes have erased their mythological origins, leaving behind only the crazy cat lady stereotype. The conflicting perception of cats as both good and evil can be seen throughout history, resulting in an unfortunate neutrality of cuteness.

What words do you associate with a cat? Quickfire: Carnal Provocation! Mysterious Metamorphosis! Invulnerable Independence!

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