The Ubiquity of Gender Rules; Or, Do Lesbians Have to Love Cats?

Aug 12 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She blogs every day at Sociological Images.

In my Sociology of Gender course I talk about how gender conformity isn’t simply a matter of socialization, but often a response to active policing by others.  Single women usually avoid having too many cats, for example, not only because they’ve been taught that too many cats sends the wrong signal, but because they may be called a “cat lady” by their friends (a joke-y slur suggesting that she is or will be a batty old spinster).  Or her best friend, with her best interests in mind, may discourage her from adopting another cat because she knows what people think of “cat ladies.”

People who find community in subcultures that are seen as “alternative” to the “mainstream” often feel like they are freed of such rules.  But these subcultures often simply have different rules that turn out to be equally restrictive and are just as rigidly policed.

A recent submission to PostSecret, a site where people anonymously tell their secrets, reminded me of this.  In it a lesbian confesses that she hates cats.  Because of the stereotype that women love cats, the “cat lady” stigma may be lifted in lesbian communities.  This lesbian, however, doesn’t feel freed by the lifting of this rule, but instead burdened by its opposite: everyone has to like cats.  So she feels compelled to lie and say that she’s allergic.

Related, see our post on a confession, from another lesbian, about suppressing the fact that she’s really quite girly.

2 responses so far

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    I'm a white heterosexual male person who grew up working on the family ranch in Texas. I once had 23 cats. So far as I recall, no one ever commented on it.

    • becca says:

      As a teenager, I once met a new person who was reluctant to state how many cats her family had. I blithely said "it's ok, as long as it's less than 27 you're not crazy!". It was 27. Turned out later, she was ... not the most balanced person. Though I never figured out if the uncanny random comment might have stoked paranoia in any reasonably insecure teenager.