A few days ago, the New Yorker published a short story called “Cat Person”, written by Kristen Roupenian. It tells the tale of a twenty-year-old woman named Margo and her brief affair with a man named Robert, whom she initially thinks is in his mid-twenties but actually turns out to be 34. He is also a terrible kisser, a terrible lover and appears to know little about women generally. After a night of less than ideal sex, Margot decides she doesn’t want to see him again. A month later, he spots her in a bar and she leaves. The next day she receives a volley of text messages from him of an increasingly creepy nature, the final of which reads simply, “Whore”.
The story has gone viral, creating a frenzy on social media. Some women have internalised “Cat Person” as a sort of marker of personal retribution against every terrible date they’ve ever endured; many more men have come across all hurt and bothered by what is just a work of literature in the end, demonstrating the delicate nature of a lot of male egos.
The sad thing about all this is, “Cat Person” is a well written, enjoyable short story, one which never attempts to reduce its characters into the broad representatives for their respective genders most people on social media seem to require them to be. It is a simple, straightforward, seemingly very personal tale; it is very clearly not meant as an allegory for the gender wars. Perhaps more men are like Robert than they would care to admit and just need to lash out at the author and the story for that reason. Maybe there aren’t nearly enough stories written by women about female experiences, and someone should start feeding the demand at long last.
Beyond just those observations, I’ll make another one: society has become depressingly factionalised. It’s dispiriting to watch men who spend a lot of time complaining about both snowflakes and the importance of free speech reacting to this story by denouncing a short story’s right to exist while being frankly a bit of a snowflake about it all. I have read many things where the viewpoint of the author on certain issues has made me uncomfortable (for the record, “Cat Person” was not one of them). I love Charles Bukowski, but the misogyny that underpins a lot of what he wrote is often uncomfortable; I love Voyage au bout de la nuit while feeling more that a little unsettled by many of Celine’s political views. Frankly, if “Cat Person” made you uncomfortable – particularly if you felt the Robert character was a little too close to the bone – that means the story was good and you should applaud more impressive stories, ones that can get under your skin, existing in the world.
Perhaps what no one wants to admit is that there have been situations in which most of us, male and female, have been a little bit like either or even both of the Robert and the Margo characters. Amongst its qualities, “Cat Person” does not reduce Robert to a two dimensional monster – he’s a just a lonely, slightly chubby guy who probably feels a little used, whether that’s valid or not. Everyone should stop trying to make everything that comes along have to mean so much to everything else and instead just try and enjoy stuff that is good. God knows, we need more well written stories that hit a nerve right now.