“So, you like cats then?” asked the artist, stroking gentle lines of fire across my skin.

“Yes, I do.” My hackles rose, and I suppressed a twitch, along with the urge to ask him if he was particularly fond of swallows.

I do, indeed, like cats.  But not enough that I feel the need to advertise the fact by permanantly etching one into my skin.  This is my first tattoo (it may well be my only one) and it does represent something important to me.  Not the image itself, but the fact of its existence.  The image was just one I quite liked the look of; it could have been anything.

It happened to be a cat.

I asked myself why I felt so defensive about my choice of picture.  Doesn’t everybody have their own reasons for the pictures they choose to decorate themselves with?  A cat could symbolise many things: grace, independence, fertility, any interpretation one could think of.  So why did the artist assume it represented nothing more significant than my fondness for the feline species?  And why did I feel patronised by that assumption?

Lots of people like cats.  Lots of people like dogs, too.  Some people  like snakes.  Even spiders.  But every time I mention my cat, or my liking for cats in general, I get the Eye Roll.

“Oh, you’re one of those.  A Cat Person.”

A what?  When I had a pet hamster, was I a Hamster Person?  A Goldfish Person, when I had a goldfish?  Why does ownership of a cat somehow define me, in some people’s eyes, as a type?  A stereotype?

I know the stereotype.  And it’s uniquely female.  There are no male Cat Persons.  There are men who like cats, of course.  Hemingway for one; David Baddiel for another.  In Collette’s short story “The Cat”, a bride finds herself competing with a cat for her new husband’s affection.  But I’m willing to bet none of these men (real or fictional) ever felt the need to defend their affection for the creatures.

So why should I?

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