Dogs are for Boys, Cats are for Girls?

by | April 25, 2011
filed under Feminism, Pop Culture

I came across this ad (left) in a Sociological Images post by Lisa Wade that looked at how the Blue Buffalo Trading Company has subtly gendered its advertisements by colour-coding all its dog-related images blue and all it’s cat-related images pink.

It struck a chord with me because I’d been channel-surfing the week before and come across a sitcom in which a male character was being teased for getting a cat, under the assumption that single men owning cats is an indicator of effeminacy or homosexuality.

I’d written it off as just absurd at the time but the Sociological Images post made me wonder whether there was actually a larger stereotype out there that dogs are pets for men and cats are pets for women.

Talking to some friends and looking into it further I’d argue that view does exist. Certainly the way we describe cats and dogs tends to be gender-bound. In the Blue Buffalo ad, all the dogs on the site are referred to by male pronouns while cats are treated as female.

So maybe the whole idea that there are cat people (vain, demanding, intuitive) and dog people (high-energy, affectionate, but maybe not all that smart) is just another way to ask whether people are more masculine or feminine. Maybe it’s just a way of reinforcing a gender binary. Anyone who’s owned dogs or cats know that there are animals with many different personalities. I’ve definitely known some high-maintenance dogs and some pretty relaxed cats.

That said, it seems to me that there’s more of a stigma around men owning cats than women owning dogs, although if you have any examples of women being teased for being masculine for owning dogs, I’d be really interested to hear them, so please comment below.

Lisa Wade speculates that the reason we stigmatize people who own cats (men and “cat ladies”) is because in our society masculinity=cool, and therefore it’s seen as more cool to own a dog than a cat. She points to an ad campaign targeted at men to try to convince them that “it’s okay to be a cat guy” (i.e. owning a cat doesn’t threaten your masculinity).

The ad is cute, but the campaign still implies that it might not be cool to be a cat guy if it stopped you from riding your motorbike or showing how tough you are.

What do you think? Have you seen examples of the idea that cats=feminine and that therefore straight, single men shouldn’t own them?


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  • Strangely enough, I remember being 5 or 6 years old and thinking cats were for girls and dogs were for boys. My parents never told me this and we had both cats and dogs growing up in a family of all girls, but for some reason I remember this being a “thing” for a while.

  • Clare

    I remember people always referring to dogs as “he” and cats as “she”. Our dog was female and our cats male, so I had to correct them. I thought it weird even as a kid that people would assume these animals only came in one sex (each).

  • Cait

    If I were single and knew a straight, single guy who loved cats, I’d be all over that shizz. My current boyfriend likes both cats and dogs equally. I’m not much for dogs because they tend to be obnoxious; I dislike obnoxiousness regardless of species. They also sometimes smell bad regardless of how often they’re washed. Dogs smell=/=good.

  • Owl

    I have the same experience as Clare above–a male cat and a female dog, and many people switch their pronouns (not, I suppose, that it makes much difference to the cat and dog themselves). I think that people in general tend to be more disparaging of cats than dogs. I know many more people who dislike cats in general than dogs in general. I think dogs are seen as extroverted, energetic and social, while cats are seen as introverted, finicky and almost reclusive, and these stereotypical traits echo stereotypical traits of men and women. Similarly, children’s films and TV I’ve seen often have a cat in a villainous role and a dog in a heroic one.

  • Capybara

    Another thing is that men can’t have *petite* dogs. So chihuahuas, Shih-Tzus, and other toy dogs that can fit in purses are out as well. I think this has to do with the societal notion that CUTE=feminine. If a manly man is to have a dog, that dog has to be big, strong, active, eager to roll around in mud, and preferably male itself.

  • sonya

    I am 52 and my husband of 25 yrs did not like cats even though we owned one! And i have always seen in my life that mocha men who are insure with theirselves dont like cats!! So on that note i have always told my daughter never date a man who didnt like cats as that means they are mocha ass holes and just dont want to be around something sneakier than they are! After i divorced my husband i always ask a man did they like cats from the get go, and i have married to a man 5 yrs ago !who loved cats and we own 3 and the greastest guy !! Today my daughter doesnt date men who dont as she had 1 time and saw exactely what i had always told her :)

  • Theodore

    I have never heard of a mafia don r evil genius stroking a dog.

  • Nathan

    We don’t have dogs but cats can be for boys to!
    We sometimes see a lady who has a dog. Aunt Miranda has a dog called Butterscotch!! So no they can be for any gender.