Why Are Conservative Men So Scared of Cat Ladies?

Representative Matt Gaetz and Senate candidate JD Vance speak to the press after an April 30 campaign rally in Newark, Ohio.
Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

To the banshee, the succubus, and La Llorona, add the cat lady. Maybe you’ve seen her, though few do: She is a solitary creature with a fondness for night walks and bad television. Often underestimated by her foes, the cat lady is ruthless in the pursuit of her prey. No traditional family is safe. The church offends her. She despises men most of all for they rejected her and must pay the price.

Or at least that’s what conservatives appear to believe.

“We are effectively run in the country via the Democrats, via our corporate oligarchs, by a bunch of childless cat ladies who are miserable at their own lives and the choices that they’ve made, and so they want to make the rest of the country miserable too,” Vance told Tucker Carlson in 2021. The cat lady did not prevent Vance from winning a Republican Senate primary on Tuesday; perhaps she is merely biding her time.

I must admit some defensiveness here. I have two cats, no children, and a therapist. I am also married to a man and went to Bible college, so I might not fit Gaetz’s definition of the horrid specter. But I am also curious (a key feline trait): What are men like Gaetz and Vance really afraid of?

The cat lady is an old stereotype based on stupid beliefs about spinsters and feminists. Associated with women and “the domestic sphere,” cats appeared in anti-women’s suffrage imagery “to portray suffragettes as silly, infantile, incompetent, and ill-suited to political engagement,” according to the Society Pages. The idea is that if a cat is allowed to vote, something has gone terribly wrong. The same is true if a woman shuns family life to surround herself with cats.

The cat-lady jibe is a cheap way to own the libs. A playground taunt, it also says something about the bully who uses it. Hatred and fear are often so intertwined they can be difficult to tell apart. The cat lady canonically has no man. Her needs and habits aren’t dictated by a husband and children. She can make up her own mind, and she is free to do what she likes, which means she has the time to be political. Without the ballast of a family, a woman can be hard to control. I can see why that would irk conservative men like Gaetz and Vance.

Or maybe they just hate cats. There’s no accounting for taste.

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