The New Yorker has recently published Cat Person by Kristen Roupenian, which has within a week became a most talked about short story at least this year if not in a decade. The critics are not unanimous. What is most interesting that those in praise are mostly female and those who dislike it are mainly men…
Cat Person is a story about a brief romance between Margot and Robert. They meet at an independent cinema where Margot works. After exchanging phone numbers, they begin a text-based relationship which I guess goes on for a month or two before their first date. I loved reading it. It is extremely current and relatable. The story depicts the essence of what it is like to be dating as a millennial. While the reality behind the text is not so funny, I laughed so hard as it felt like a mashup of mine and my friends’ dating experiences.
Obviously, the story is told from the female perspective and it is brutally honest. And that, I think, outraged male critics.
The story is said to be ‘anti-male’, ‘mundane’ and Margot is called a judgemental brat. There is even a Twitter account called Men React to Cat Person. Those reactions look for me as if people read only the second half of the story where the man is, according to those critics, a victim and Margot is the villain. Didn’t they read how this has started? Didn’t they get that she actually had a crush on him and she was trying not to be judgemental? There is a whole build up to the situation that caused so much drama and they just dismissed it.
This got me thinking about reactions to other female writers. I have recently seen a movie about Emily Dickenson: ‘A Quiet Passion’. I did not know much about her, I knew the name and more or less who she was, but I did not know her life or poetry. The movie for me was just okay but what struck me was a scene where, after a fight with her brother, Dickinson sits down in the living room as Austin (the brother) reads out to her a critique of women’s writing in a paper. The author is calling it ‘the literature of misery’ and the women who write it to be ‘full of thought and feeling and fancy but poor, lonely and unhappy’ and that they see the world through a mist of tears. Even though the article is probably not authentic, that was and still is a current opinion on women’s literature. There is even a guy that dedicated a whole TV programme to his hatred towards Jane Austen. Female literature is said to be overly emotional, sentimental and boring. But what should have Emily Dickenson been writing about while the reality of her world, dominated by men, was sad and lonely? Should she have been writing war poems to appeal to a ‘more sophisticated’ readership?
So why should men read female literature? I believe it is true that women’s writing is often more emotional than men’s, but does that make it bad? I think men dismiss it only because it is different to the way that they think and feel. Of course it is not proper to draw a strict line between the two as we are all equal and should be treated as equals, but that does not mean that we are the same. We have different perceptions of the world, like upbringing, individual motivations and goals, and in order to be equals we have to understand those differences. After all, is not the point of literature to make you see a whole new world, or the one that you live in, in a different way?
How many times have you heard ‘I don’t understand women, they are just different’ or something of that sort? Have the people behind those words really tried to understand us, took time to ask, question what they know and look for an alternative perspective? I believe that Cat Person shows honestly and truly how contemporary women think and feel and that is why it received so many positive reactions from women around the world. One might question the characters’ choices, but the narrative itself is of grave importance.
Cat Person is available on New Yorker website.