Cat Woman or Cat Lady?

Cat Woman sounds sexy; someone with a bust, waistline and only one chin; someone who tackles baddies single-handedly before breakfast; someone who has an Eartha Kitt drawl; someone who is not worried her cellulite might show through her leggings.

A friend called me Cat Lady yesterday. It made me think of someone with rollered-curls in iron grey hair, wearing snuggly slippers with pompoms, a floral apron and face powder, with a swarm of cats broiling about her ankles.

To be honest the description is disturbingly close. Ok I’m a greying ex-strawberry blond, with the emphasis very much on the ex, though in my defence, (or do I mean to massage my vanity?) the hairdresser did ask me where I had had it coloured because he liked the shade so much; I have never worn curlers; my slippers are red and from Marrakesh and do not have pompoms; my current apron (I have three, which may mean another title, though two are inherited from Mother) has rows of leeks and other vegetables on it; and the only powder I have is talcum. And I have just the one cat, the beautiful MasterB.

Checking out the street

Checking out the street

So lady or woman, or should that be lady versus woman? Who decides which public toilets should be signed Women or Ladies, and what does the choice infer?

In different situations either appellation can denigrate or elevate. She’s a lady, implies someone refined, well-mannered, possibly unused to the rougher side of life. But it’s always dinner ladies at school, never dinner women, though chars can be ladies or women, and I don’t know the difference between the two.

When I was a pre-teen the baby brother of a friend insisted on calling me lady. The family was amused, though no one explained the joke. Maybe it was because in the village where we lived my grammar school accent distinguished me from the other girls. It can’t have been my clothing – apart from my school uniform, I had a couple of pairs of jeans, some t-shirts and jumpers I’d all but grown out of, and a duffel coat for cold days.

A schoolfriend’s mother had also attended our grammar school, while her sisters had had a private (fee-paying) education at the local high school. The high school was for young ladies, while our grammar school was for girls, something my friend’s mother was never allowed to forget. But why wasn’t our school for young women?

Lady Muck is an expression of contempt, describing someone who thinks herself better than others. But if you want to decry someone of the female gender you’d never say that lady, it’d always be that woman. That bloody woman (and yes, I am thinking of Margaret Thatcher) works, whereas that bloody lady just sounds silly. Lady, for all its connotations of social superiority, is a much more restricted and restrictive term. Women implies earthiness, flesh and blood creatures, gender proud and multi-faceted;whether annoying, ignorant, educated, erudite, or anything else.

So I want to be Cat Woman thank you very much, not Cat Lady. And I’d like my waistline back if anyone knows where I left it.


16 thoughts on “Cat Woman or Cat Lady?

  1. Well, I don’t have a cat at this time so no cat woman name for me. I would like to be referred to as a woman and I am pretty sure I usually use woman when speaking of a person of the female gender. My Mom was always telling me to act ladylike… I was a bit of a tomboy. Interesting, I just looked up the definition of ladylike and the simple definition: polite and quiet in a way that has traditionally been considered suitable to a woman… 😀 Definition from

    • Well now we have that definition I am quite sure we want to be women not ladies! Suddenly remembered the Little Britain sketches, lots on YouTube, you might enjoy them. Here’s one.

  2. A wonderful essay, Cat Woman. I’m thinking of the first film of My Fair Lady and Audrey Hepburn saying, “I’m a laidey (Cockney accent).” I dislike the term girl friend for anyone over 16 and especially when referring to an intimate friend of the opposite gender who is 65 years old. The same goes for boy friend. On the other hand woman friend doesn’t sound right and lady friend also seems to have a different connotation. A good reason to not date after 50 – although I think there may be some compelling reasons to date.

    • Ah. I have just posted a link to a Little Britain sketch in reply to Pix. You might enjoy it. The terms are fraught with associations. I think I might exyend the age limits for girlfriend and boyfriend, and I use the term girls when speaking to female friends. But all the alternatives for girlfriend/boyfriend are equally naff. New words needed!

  3. Hooray, I’m with you! I’ve never seen myself as a lady and I went to a grammar school for girls. If I hear someone calling me a lady I tend to look over my shoulder to see who’s behind. This woman can tolerate girl but not lady!

  4. I’m absolutely with you on cat woman!
    I’ve noticed that I now address any collective gathering of women (or girl) students as “Ladies” and also when I’m talking to male students, usually to ask them to go and smoke in the designated area rather than everywhere else in the college grounds, I address them as ‘Gentlemen’. I can’t work out if I’m being ridiculously formal and stupid or just polite – should I be saying lads and lasses, or (perish the thought) guys and gals as that detestable man used to?
    re inference, (as in toilets and women ‘s loos vs ladies’ loos) there is a much older quote which I can’t find but here’s one from the Big Bang Theory:
    Zack: I see, you were inferring that I’m stupid.
    Sheldon: That’s not correct. We were implying it… you then inferred it.
    Madam Arabella is sitting on my computer desk, washing her rude bits, having tried hard to put her own comment into this response.

      • I was going to comment about when a woman addresses a group of women she tends to use the term “ladies.” And that dates back to my school days when the gym teacher would address us as “ladies”. It happens now in a corporate workplace as well. Clearly an assertion to put the addressed group into a submissive position. “Woman” is a word of power – this makes it scary to assign to ourselves; easy to use as a negative and essential that we embrace.

        However, ’round here, the preferred term for these occasions is, of course, Dudes and Dudettes. Or just plain Dude. In the common parlance, it isn’t particularly gender identified.

  5. I am therefore myself now able to apply for the sobriquet Cat Woman! Assuming, that is, that when I finally get her to the vet for a checkup and to see if she’s actually microchipped, I don’t find that she’s someone else’s cat.

  6. What a great post Isobel, well thought through points of women re ladies! It also gave me a giggle too plus a gorgeous photo of his gingerness looking out into the street. Thanks cat woman!

  7. Love, love, love this post. Big smile. I have had this conversation with a friend (a “cat person” who is very concerned about appearing a “cat lady”). It’s funny how changing that one word creates two entirely different perceptions. I’m not sure dog people face the same challenge.

    • Oh I don’t know. Dog lady makes me think of someone in tweeds, with a sensible haircut and robust bosom, a Barbara Woodhouse type. Did she make it to your side of the pond? Someone just sent me a wonderful cartoon on this very subject. I shall have to see how I can share it.

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