What do we really mean when we ask someone if they’re a dog person or a cat person? Wait… think hard… what are you really asking?
I think we’re asking if a person is more masculine or feminine. After all, don’t we stereotype women as cat people and men as dog people? And don’t we think men with cats are a little femmy or, at minimum, sweeter than most… even, maybe, gay? And don’t we imagine that chicks with dogs are a little less girly than most, a little more rough and tumble? The cat person/dog person dichotomy is gendered.
This might explain why we continue to insist that dogs and cats are natural enemies. We tend to insist that dogs and cats don’t get along in the face of millions of households in which they get along just fine. These are Gwen’s pets (clockwise Shadow Cat, Rocky, and Corky):
They are clearly at each other’s throats constantly.
And, have you ever noticed that being a dog person is sort of cooler? Like, it’s cool to be a dog person, but less cool to be a cat person? I mean, no one ever fears ending up a “crazy dog lady,” and it’s not just because of the lack of alliteration. You see because gender is hierarchical, so is the dog person/cat person dichotomy. I hate being asked if I’m a dog or cat person. I have two cats, but I love dogs equally, and that doesn’t make me less cool than Gwen. (We’re obviously equally cool.)
Cats aren’t all alike. Neither are dogs. So you can’t be a dog person or a cat person. It’s nonsensical.
And another thing!
If you want to get all stereotypical about it, I’ll just say that (1) if dogs are dependent, passive, and happily subordinated to their owners, while cats are independent but offer nice companionship, and (2) women are “cat people” and men are “dog people,” then (3) men are really oppressive bastards who can’t stand a relationship with an equal and women are inherently democratic and don’t desire power (none of which I believe). So let’s not go there, okay?Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.