For years cat people have been portrayed as feeble-minded Ms. Havishams who make cozies for their sleeping pets and say things like, "My cat gives the best investment advice," or, "I hope there was an apostle named 'Muffins' because I just got a 13th tabby for my Last Supper tableau." Dog people, on the other hand, have always been portrayed as strong. Virile. Able to consume large slabs of meat while cat people struggle with the bag to their Halls cough drops because they feel a tickle in their throat.
But today I wish not only to highlight these stereotypes as blatant lies but also shine a light on how cats are the true paragons — and true mentors — of masculinity. For, you see, as a longtime cat person, I've spent several years analyzing cats in lieu of actual work. (Because when you state as your career objective "humor writer/syndicated cartoonist," you might as well write "falconer/pearl diver" on your resume). And in that time I realized just how much cats had to teach me, not only about myself but also about being a man. A real man who can still correctly identify the plotline to any Golden Girls episode before the close of the opening credits (especially if it's a Sophia one).
And so, with that in mind, I present to you "Man Up! And Other Masculine Tips by Cats," starting with...
People will often say that dogs remain very active well into old age while cats seem to be able to sleep upwards of 32 hours a day, thanks to some sort of temporal anomaly. But that's only because cats use up eight of their nine lives as kittens, pushing the boundaries of both their own endurance and their owners' forgiveness. Take my girlfriend's kitten Scruffles here, a cat my girlfriend will insist is actually named "Belle" but who didn't have the foresight to frantically yell out the name "SCRUFFLES!" that first day at the vet. Anyway, here is Scruffles doing what she does best, "living life"...
You see, to Scruffles, those are not merely a window screen and blinds that have had to be replaced six times, no longer at the landlord's expense. No, to Scruffles they are yet another obstacle she must overcome, another journey she must take, to rightfully claim her true masculinity.
True, dogs will occasionally claim a couch as their own or steal your possessions and store them in the climactic warehouse scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark they call under your bed. But dogs will immediately cede such claims for even a hint of your affection. But a cat, on the other hand, will hold on for dear life. That's because cats realize that there is nothing more masculine, more rugged, than defiantly, unrelentingly clinging to your convictions with all claws, no matter how much you may tear at the fabric of society or an Ikea Klippan couch. In short, to be a cat — really, to be a man — is to scream "NOOOOOOOOOO!" whenever pulled away from your heart's desires.
People tend to think that to be a man you must be a perpetual motion machine, constantly doing without a moment for reflection. That's why dogs, always moving, are so readily identified with masculinity. But a cat knows that real masculinity comes from not only action but also reaction, from thinking about the consequences of one's choices and deeds. Take our friend Scruffles here. She knows what she did. But she's not hiding from her actions. No. Not even a little bit — which, really, you'd think would be the decent thing to do...
Instead, she proudly takes responsibility for her efforts like a true man, calmly reassessing her accomplishments and wondering how to proceed or what else to demolish beyond all recognition. Of course, no one could ever really know what, in fact, Scruffles is thinking, but if one would have to guess it's probably something along the lines of "Nyaah!" Which leads us to our next point...
When a dog does something "bad," they immediately whimper, drag their tail between their legs, and practically beg for your forgiveness with a nonstop barrage of slobbering. But when a cat, say, inadvertently shatters your entire cherished collection of 1970s McDonaldland glasses, they disappear for a brief while to reflect on their actions in that crawl space behind the fridge they call their drawing room. Then that cat will return, climb on your lap, and gently nudge your nose with their forehead as if to say, "Maybe it was my fault for thinking I could clear that leap from the kitchen counter, knocking over not only all your glasses but also breaking your limited-edition Iron Giant figure and collapsing your entire shelving unit onto your obviously poorly welded coffee table. And maybe it was your fault for owning things no grown man should. But the important thing is we have each other, so try to remember that as you pick glass out of your feet for the next six months."
Dogs will lick and lick and lick you again, first, because they feel they must constantly remind you of their love for fear of being forgotten, and second, just in case that happened to be the day you fell into a vat of taco meat. But a cat knows that true affection is best displayed not through grand "look at me" gestures but rather in those quiet, unassuming moments. Like when a cat gently licks your nose out of the blue. Or when a cat softly rests their head on your neck, wrist, or other pulse point. Or when a cat wakes you up in the morning furiously batting your nose with both paws as if it were a piñata and any moment it could burst open with Jolly Ranchers and Chiclets. All of these actions are a cat's way of saying, "I love you... and really, no self-respecting, productive person should still be in bed past 4 a.m."
As Scruffles here highlights, it really couldn't hurt sometimes. I mean, here's a kitten who... who...
Did I mention what she did to the blinds?! And yet this cat still manages to garner a "Who's a little Scruff-Scruff?!?" from us every time she doesn't bite down so hard on your big toe you scream for death's sweet release in the middle of the night. Seriously, we're being played.
Some people may think that cats are an indifferent species. Some people may think cats are thoroughly incapable of being empathetic. Some people could not be more wrong. Because there is nothing more masculine than compassion, and there is no animal more attuned to your emotions than a cat. Sure, a dog may automatically be there for you when you're sad or happy or lonely or worried or scared or joyful or angry or shameful or surprised or relaxed or reflective or sitting there or standing there or just being there. But a cat is there for you when it really counts. They can instantly detect your emotions and respond with immediate diligence and concern. They know when you need their warm fur to pull you out of that cold place you get lost in sometimes. They know you need that lick of the tongue that says more than if they could speak with their mouths. And as depicted in this photo of my late, great cat Natasha — here applying her patented "You are loved" hug — they know we can all use that special moment of unbridled expression, that most necessary and life-affirming moment, which can only be given the very masculine title of "D'awww."
Special Note: All Scruffles photos by Kim Lofgren.
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Francesco Marciuliano is the author of Sally Forth, an internationally syndicated family comic strip (created by Greg Howard). He was also the head writer for the PBS children's series SeeMore's Playhouse. He lives in New York City.
Books mentioned in this post
Francesco Marciuliano is the author of I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats