Culture

Look What the Cat Lady Dragged in

The so-called “crazy cat lady” seems to be one of few sexist stereotypes that remains alive, well, and somehow immune to politically-correct backlash.

In a recent conversation with a good friend, I deployed a familiar maneuver in response to her endless, self-satisfied talk of babies and children: I talked about my cats.

Granted, I realize that tales of my inherently potty-trained felines pale in comparison to the endlessly intriguing vagaries of the diapering adventure, but it was frankly all I had. I wanted to be a participant in the conversation, to relate in some small way to her experience. Plus, I was hoping to shift the discussion away from the texture and consistency of baby feces.

So I told her about my difficulties with the more “high maintenance” of my two cats, who had taken to meowing obsessively starting at about 5AM, often waking me repeatedly. This behavior, I had read, was apparently a biologically-programmed hunting instinct, since a cat’s crepuscular prey is often out and about at this hour.

It was in the midst of this anecdote that my dear friend cut me off and let fly what I later realized was one of the few socially acceptable sexist stereotypes in existence. She said it with utter affection, and without the least concern as to its appropriateness.

“You’re becoming the crazy cat lady,” she said, and resumed her discourse on the nuanced color palate of acceptable shades of baby poop and how they're indicators of baby's health.

The crazy cat lady. I wasn’t offended; as I said, this is a good friend whose love and respect for me is not in question. Besides, perhaps her remark may have been only logical in response to my proposed solution of buying a “Cat TV” video of woodland critters for my insomniac cat’s viewing pleasure.

And yet, I couldn’t help turning that phrase over in my mind. The crazy cat lady. I doubt it would have been equally acceptable for me to call her the crazy baby lady, would it?

The lady part struck me as particularly interesting; this was a gender-specific pejorative, something I’m always on the lookout for. I thought about all of the other negative female classifications that my friend couldn’t have said. Imagine, for example, if she’d called me a bimbo, or a bitch, or any of the myriad “taboo” female slurs. I wouldn’t have simply chuckled and reluctantly agreed to those categorizations.

But the phrase crazy cat lady is still lobbed to and fro with regularity; I’ve used it myself on various occasions. Cat ownership, or what it represents, seems to be legitimate grounds on which to innocuously attack femaleness, to gently mock female emotions gone haywire. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that within the ever-narrowing strictures of political correctness, the crazy cat lady has become the receptacle of all of our inappropriate notions, our dismissals about what it is to be female. It’s practically the only thing we’re still allowed to say.

According to my nascent theory, there’s a crucial reason why it’s perfectly OK for a woman to prattle on endlessly about baby shit without being labeled a crazy baby lady; she’s upholding the status quo, repopulating the earth with humans. Whereas the crazy cat lady, from what I’ve gleaned of the stereotype, is either voluntarily opposed to or physically incapable of species propagation. The Urban Dictionary.com defines the Crazy Cat Lady as “A woman, usually middle-aged or older, who lives alone with no husband or boyfriend, and fills the empty lonely void in her life with as many cats as she can collect in one place.”

I should note that I’m not talking about cat hoarding here; this is a distinct pathology that warrants better exploration than I’m offering. But I found it interesting that in its strictest classification, the status of “crazy cat lady” is contingent on being without a sexual partner, and specifically without a male, reproduction-viable sexual partner. Young single women who own cats are not yet branded thus; perhaps because it is assumed that they will eventually pair off and reproduce.

As a married yet still childless heterosexual, I find that I’m still a candidate for this particular stigma, and more so with each year that I advance toward barrenness. I therefore postulate that the crazy cat lady is a veiled expression of a patriarchal suspicion toward uncoupled, non-breeding, or otherwise rogue human females.

But why cats, and not dogs or rabbits or goldfish? Surely, cats never asked to be the symbol of feminine eccentricity. They never asked to be affiliated with anything; they just want to do their own thing.

That, from what I can tell, is part of the answer. Cats are famously associated with traits which are threatening to a patriarchy: independence, disobedience, aloofness. Conversely, dogs are known for their doting natures, their desire to please, their trainability. Interestingly enough, cats are often associated with femininity, and dogs with masculinity.

It seems that after centuries of men subjugating women, feminine traits are ascribed to the “untrustworthy” species, the mercurial, unpredictable pet that is apt to betray its owner at any time. Sure, they’re domesticated, but are they really loyal? They might just suck the breath out of the baby.

Just think of the countless ways in which cats and women are linked – a dispute between two women is called a catfight; gossipy women are catty; the female genitalia is labeled pussy. An aging woman who predatorily seeks much younger sexual partners is called a cougar.

Cats, it seems, are the so-called “spirit animal” of women. The crazy cat lady, therefore, seems to be yet another extension of our society’s continued circumspection toward women who don’t conform to heteronormative standards. They are made into a caricature, a figure of fun, because we don’t know what else to do with them.

Men who love cats don’t fare much better; the virility of male ailurophiles seems to be immediately called into question, regardless of marital status, reproductive performance, or any other independent factor. When my husband and I were married, my father-in-law gave a toast that I consider very telling.

In discussing the ways in which our relationship had changed my husband, my father- in-law said, “And I never thought I’d see the day when my son would have a cat.” This mild teasing evinced the expected laughter, and a sheepish grin from my husband.

Certainly, if he’d said the same thing, but substituted the word dog, the joke would have fallen flat. “I never thought I’d see the day when my son would have a dog.” Not funny. Why is this?

Part of the answer lies in a study conducted by Robert W. Mitchell at Eastern Kentucky University, "Gender-related Stereotypes of Male 'Cat People' and 'Dog People'". This study concluded that “a man’s being a dog person makes him appear more masculine than being a cat person.” This is especially true in uber-masculine “alpha males”. So it was funny that my football-obsessed husband had come to love cats, because cats are “girly”. In men, cat ownership seems to denote a lack of masculinity, an unsettling comfort with the “feminine side,” a suspicious alliance with the opposite sex.

It doesn’t matter that my husband trained “his” cat to sit on her hind legs in pursuit of a bloody cut of steak, or that the image of him sitting with a purring cat on his lap is marred by his Don Draperesque chain smoking. He is, to paraphrase his dad in much coarser terms, “pussy-whipped”. The funny thing is, so am I.

As the dismantling of stereotypical gender roles continues to advance, I’m hoping that the “crazy cat lady” stigma will diminish apace. Ideally, this tolerance will be just in time for me to put on my ratty old muumuu, conclude that my hair doesn’t need brushing after all, and summon my whiskered friends into my lap for a nice, long conversation.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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