In sitcoms and movies, and increasingly on our bookshelves, we’re told that dog ladies engage with the world and take charge of their lives, while cat ladies stew unattractively in their sad studio apartments, waiting to die alone and have their faces eaten off. There’s a big difference between the social, accomplished—and married—dog woman, and, say, Angela Martin from The Office, who once brought her cat to work; either of the decaying Edie Beales of Grey Gardens, who were animal hoarders long before the term was coined; or that recurring unkempt crone on The Simpsons who yells gibberish and throws cats at people.
Nobody gets the curse of the cat lady like Tina Fey: When Liz Lemon underwent a painful breakup in the most recent season of 30 Rock, she embraced her now certain spinsterhood with a new cat she named Emily Dickinson. Liz, we intuitively understood, had finally given up hope. What “cat lady” really means is “quitter.” Because in our culture’s estimation, cat ladies only get to be one thing: lonely. Dog women, by contrast, can be rugged outdoorsy types, prissy Chihuahua-toting Paris Hilton types, or even brilliant, chicken-farming women-of-the-world types like Susan Orlean, whose recent biography of Rin Tin Tin isn’t a dog memoir, but whose love of canines and other creatures receives considerable and favorable ink.
However many women may hit publishing gold with dog-centered memoirs between now and whenever the current memoir craze peters out, it is hard to fathom a comparable number of cat memoirs. If the dogoir is to be believed, canine companionship makes a woman normal and well-adjusted. Who would possibly buy this storyline if the pet in question were feline? Cats are weird and neurotic. They startle easily. Only occasionally do they deign to interact with others. Surely readers want their (human) protagonist to stop savoring her solitude, to stop thinking so much about herself, to get the hell out of the house.