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?