Are You a Cat Person, or a Dog Person? | Teen Ink

Are You a Cat Person, or a Dog Person?

November 17, 2022
By oliviasardenberg BRONZE, Oak Park, Illinois
oliviasardenberg BRONZE, Oak Park, Illinois
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Anyone who's taken a middle school-level history class has learned or at least heard of Ancient Egypt, the Great Pyramids, King Tut, the Nile River, and the Great Sphinx. The body of a cat and the head of a king, it's difficult to know which king because all authority figures were depicted in a composite idealized style, (which is something you’d learn in AP Art History, not middle school). Anyways, looking at ancient Egyptian art and societal values, you can see that cats were loved, they were seen as holy beings and associated with the goddess Bastet (, Yuko). They were symbols of divinity and protection to people and were even placed atop people of the lower class in society. 

But in the past few centuries, society's view of cats has changed. We obviously don’t worship them as holy beings anymore, but they haven’t been a very likable pet the past two centuries. I don't know about you but I’ve never heard anyone say “I hate dogs,” but I have heard a variety of “I hate cats.” You can see this dislike in the media, books, and print materials dating back to the ’60s like “The Cat Hater’s Handbook” (1963), “The Official I Hate Cats Book” (1980), and “How to Kill Your Girlfriend’s Cat” (1988) there's this overt dislike cats, but no parallel exists for dogs or any other domesticated animal. It makes you wonder, how did cats go from being associated with deities to an unlikable nuisance? 

The patriarchy. I know it sounds a little strange, a sex-based issue in human society playing into how we view pets, but hierarchal structures in society echo everywhere. Dogs are named as “man's best friend,” and are heavily associated with masculine traits, a larger jawline, a louder and deeper tone of voice, and being strong protectors of the home. Cats are known for feminine traits, a smaller face and features, upturned eyes, a higher pitched voice, and for being moodier. Cats and women are labeled as moody and emotional as they both negatively respond to being touched without consent, and they’re bashed for having clear boundaries. Historically speaking, cats have been seen as unholy “evil” beings associated with witchcraft, which has resulted in them being drowned and burned at the stake, a disturbing similarity to crimes against women of the past (The Washington Post, Rosenwald). All ex-girlfriends are crazy, women are too emotional for leadership roles, and cats and women are viewed as moody beings incapable of understanding authority. Cats and women are placed on the same “lesser” end of the societal mental binary while men get to be “top-dog.” A Top dog is a person, group, or thing in a position of authority, especially through victory in competition (Merriam Webster), but being called a “p*ssy” (a slang term for younger cats and for the reproductive female anatomy) means you’re weak and cowardly. These gender-based associations have led to these slang terms, which then reflect in our everyday society. 

You’ve probably heard the icebreaker question “are you a cat or dog person?” Now, there's nothing wrong with knowing others' preferences, but it's the diction of the question. It's not “do you like cats or dogs more?” it is you one or the other as a person, you cannot be in between, you are either a cat person, or a dog person, it's as if it reflects your identity as an individual. 

Now personally, this question only made my identity issues worse. In grade school, my family still lived back and forth between America and Brazil. Now of course being berated for how my lunch smelled and looked and how my parents spoke weirdly and that I couldn’t spell very well all sucked, a lot. I even tried straightening my hair with a folded and heated tortilla, which obviously didn't work and it was hard to explain why I had sandwiched my hair into a tortilla. But internalized microaggressions aside, when that icebreaker question came up and I said I was a cat person, that felt worse. I wasn’t being judged for my culture and ethnicity, I was being judged for my own personal opinion. And of the research I’ve done on this topic, the more hilariously parallel it all is. 

These westernized beliefs in America create a peculiar resemblance to my treatment as an immigrant and how cats are viewed. I was literally the black cat (a person who doesn’t fit in, an outlier, as Urban Dictionary defines it). Immigrants are seen as criminals usurping jobs and opportunities from “true” Americans, they are depicted as a nuisance to “American” society (it's not really American, you can thank Christopher Columbus for that genocide). In the 1900s, cats have been equivalently deemed a public nuisance, so much so that in the late 1910s, there was discussion of cat owners needing to acquire a license to own their cat, as well as tag them otherwise they would be killed. “Your Pet Cat May Have to Have a License Soon” (March 11, 1917, New York Times), the bolded sentence being “Otherwise It Will Be Killed as a Public Nuisance If Bill Now Before Legislature Passes” the reasoning being to “protect” birds and crops. Parallel in the way that Americans who have been berated with polarized ideals of immigrants believe that they must “protect” their children and other Americans from the nuisance that are “foreigners.”. 

Not only would you have to get a license to ensure they weren’t killed, (I was gonna go into the green card but this works for cats too), but to purchase a license was 50 cents and an additional 25 cents for a tag to place on your cat that would ensure it wouldn’t be killed. Nowadays that would be around 15 dollars for a license and 5 dollars for the tag (not including the obscene government fees everything is subject to now).  And this echoes today: cat licensing is used to ensure all domesticated cats have been vaccinated against rabies; which costs about 50 dollars annually. I’ve seen personally how so much money goes into immigration documents, green cards, and citizenship. It's a lot of time and money just to be allowed to live (in a home and actually be able to stay alive). 

 Yes, cats are similarly oppressed in ways that people are, but that's a surface-level quantitative observation. What got me to an augmented meaning was the same question I started with. Why do people hate cats? Specifically, the why aspect. Now yes, it's rooted in the patriarchy, social hierarchies, norms, and Christian westernized ideologies, but those all stem from the same ideal that has been around since the Pyramids and the rest of Ancient Egypt, us vs them. The “us vs. them” narrative within society, Democrats vs Republicans, flat earthers vs scientists, sports entertainment, anti-immigration agendas, cats vs dogs, and that there is no middle ground, you can’t like two teams who are playing against each other, you can’t vote in favor of a bill proposed by a democratic senator as a republican, you cannot like cats and dogs, you have a pick a side in the argument. 

When I was in 5th grade English class, we learned how a story plot moves, the “inciting incident,” the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and conclusion. I was told that the inciting incident is the beginning of a conflict, the rising action increases the intensity, and that the conflict was the pinnacle of the story. No literally, it was shaped like a triangle without a hypotenuse and we placed the conflict bubble at the zenith. We labeled interesting stories just to “inciting incident” to the “climax” to the “falling action.” Not once did we stop and think about what happened within the story, it was read, label, and move on. 

We primarily recognize others based on names, the first thing we do when meeting a new person is say “hi” and what our names are.  I understand whether my friend is talking about an art or physics teacher by who they mention before they even get to the details. Names serve as labels, when you say “Ancient Egypt” I think of the pyramids, tombs, and the Great Sphinx, you say “chemistry” and I think of struggling in that class sophomore year. Labeling helps us recognize and understand a topic, it helps people compartmentalize situations and others. It's supposed to help us recognize things and people as we quickly communicate. However, by labeling and assigning things as one or the other, we limit ourselves to a stereotype, into a box of what something is or is not. Chemistry was hard, but also interesting. We did labs that tied into the real world and I made friends in that class. But when you first say “chemistry” I don’t think of that, because I’ve labeled it as an unenjoyable class.

Labels end up conveying something inaccurate and absolute. It's labyrinthine to maneuver away from a label that's already been cemented in your brain.  Labels create an unbending finite concept of someone or something. Someone either is something, or they’re not; our brain makes a fallacious shortcut. You're a cat person, or a dog person, you cannot like both. But why not? I say “hi” and pet all the dogs I cross when I’m on a walk, and I go home and pet my cats. I like both but I’ve been limited to the concept of being a “cat person,” I’ve been limited to the concept of being an “immigrant.” Labels were meant to create a clear idea of what someone or something is in a quick fashion as opposed to a wordy one. The most successful companies are one-word labels, “Amazon,” “Apple,” “Samsung,” and “Walmart.” Now that might work for brand recognition, but not for emotionally complex beings. At a fundamental level, labels are extremely simple, they hold us back. It’s easy to see why people might want to keep some labels, like "a good person." But it’s just as ridiculous to think someone moves through life always acting like a saint as it is to believe that a "bad person" only ever does bad things and always will. Labels limit, they limit perceptions about who we and others are, and what we’re capable of.

The only way to progress in society is by removing these limits. After all, I’m pretty sure no one thought they could create an almost 300-foot-long Sphinx in Egypt until they decided to push the limits they thought they had. I like cats, maybe not as much as the Egyptians, but I wouldn’t label them or myself as a cat person, that just limits my view of myself and these people. They were a complex society with new forms of polytheistic beliefs and an understanding of math and science. But when someone says “Egyptian,” I think of pyramids, and I bet you do too. Labels may work on a jar of peanut butter but not on complex societies and people. I’m not going to label myself as a cat person, but I do like cats. I’d “label” them a 4½  out of 5 stars.  

The author's comments:

This piece was inspired by John Greens' "The Anthropocene Reviewed," I wanted to take that style of writing and envelope it into my own passions as an immigrant and someone who's noticed this labeling issue in society.

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