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.
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.