How To Talk To Your Cat About The Patriarchy
by Sica Schmitz | Posted on January 18 2018
One of the most exciting things about moving back to the Northwest is that I finally have the space and lifestyle for my cats to live with me again.
You might be wondering about the "again" bit, so let's backtrack for a moment. Throughout my adulthood I've adopted a .... few cats. But it kept turning out that I am a Sagittarius and a consistently unreliable gypsy, either going through long bouts of world travel or roaming around in my 22' Minnie Winnie RV or eventually starting a fashion business out of my home where I couldn't have cats putting their claws and allergens all over my fresh sustainable inventory. Since cats do not enjoy international flights, nomadic living, nor can they be trusted around clean clothing, they went to live with my mom, where they have been spoiled rotten and honestly have had a way better life than most people I know so I haven't felt too terrible about it.
And yes, while I am a huge advocate for adopting pets (please don't buy animals!) I have sadly also been forbidden from adopting any more cats for now slash maybe ever.
I've been so happy to be reunited with my kitties, and they sometimes seem happy to be reunited with me, however, I can tell that in my absence one of them has definitely changed. Jax, adopted in Los Angeles in 2010, used to be a sweet, tolerant, lovable fellow who was so charming that one of his pet sitters actually asked if she could keep him. However, lately he has turned into a terrible bully, harassing the other cats so much that one of them is basically on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
I don't entirely blame Jax: if my mother had shamelessly abandoned me to pursue her Hollywood dreams (and then other dreams), I might have turned into a dysfunctional tyrant too. But just because he has mommy issues doesn't mean his behavior is okay, and I've been wondering how to talk to him about this.
An internet search gleaned very little information about toxic feline masculinity interventions (really, internet? aren't cats and outrage your two favorite topics?), and so I have taken it upon myself to create this handy resource for dealing with patriarchy-afflicted cats everywhere.
Jax has opinions about feminism.
Step 1: Let him know you love him
It's important to start from a place of love, respect, and kindness. Obviously these kinds of conversations can be challenging, and he isn't looking forward to it any more than you are, but, when you begin by first letting him know how much you value him as an individual and also as a very soft heater, it will make him feel less defensive and allow him to hear what you are saying from a place of openness instead of a place of reaction.
Step 2: Let him know that you are listening to him
Obviously his patriarchal attitude is a big bummer, however, the best way to bridge these kinds of ideology gaps is to make sure he feels heard, no matter how strongly you disagree with his opinions. Remember: his life experiences differ drastically from yours, and he doesn't want to feel belittled or diminished just because his world view is mostly based on his experiences from the windowsill. Perhaps he is even worried about being judged for his lack of higher education or because his lifestyle doesn't include exposure to diverse people and ideas. So instead of shaming him, sit down with him, at his level, and let him know that you are ready to meet him where he is at and to really listen to him.
Jax has opinions about other cats being near the food bowls.
Step 3: Let him know that you understand him
Chances are his toxic masculinity is just a reaction to his feelings of insecurity and powerlessness in a swiftly changing world, and so by assuring him that you understand what he is saying (which does not mean you have to agree with it - just that you understand it) and by acknowledging his feelings, it will help him feel safe and valued, which will allow him to be more willing and able to listen to your concerns.
A sample script:
_____ (insert cat's name) I know that lately things have been hard for you because _________ (you've had to adjust to a new brand of food/you cat box was emptied an entire 15 minutes later than usual/occasionally you aren't treated as if you are the center of the universe/etc.) and I want you to know that I understand how challenging this must be for you. Please know that I am always here for you as a friend and as your unappreciated servant, and I understand why you feel the way you do.
Step 4: Tell him how his behavior is affecting you
Your cat cares about you - or, as the source of his endless supply of free food, heat, and cuddles, he sort of cares about you. Let him know how his behavior affects your own life, and how his choices may ultimately impact your relationship with him.
A sample script:
_____ (insert cat's name) when you _________ (bully the other cats/throw up specifically on my pillow/etc.) it makes me feel __________ (frustrated/like a dog person/etc.). When I'm feeling this way, it makes me want to __________ (pay more attention to the other cats/withhold catnip/etc.).
Deep down, Jax just wants to be loved.
Step 5: Offer feminist resources
There are many ways that cats become misogynists, but often, it's simply from not knowing any better. Very few cats have taken women's studies courses or understand intersectional feminism, so, it's best to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it's a lack of knowledge that is guiding his behavior, not a lack of caring.
Start by casually leaving out feminist books for him to sleep on, put on television shows written and starring women (especially women of color) for him to watch, and tell him about your favorite feminist heroes (especially the ones who love cats!)). You might be pleasantly surprised at how quickly you're bonding over Rebecca Solnit or at least he's purring next to you while you're bonding with Rebecca Solnit.
Step 6: Be patient
This may shock you, but cats are not known for their flexible personalities. Helping him rediscover his vulnerable, gentle side may be a long, slow process, but don't be discouraged. If your first few talks don't go well and he's still being a shithole (pardon my American), regroup and try again. Patience is a virtue, and it's important to lead by example and model the kinds of behaviors you'd like for him to explore as well.
Basically: be the change you wish to see in your cat.
Step 7: Next time get a plant
Plants have significantly lower reported rates of patriarchal behavior, and very infrequently throw up specifically on your pillow.
Begrudging Model: Jax Schmitz
Photographer: Sica Schmitz
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