Feminism in a Patriarchal World – Cats vs Dogs

(Cross-posted from Outspoken Redhead)

I was really lucky in being invited to speak at the Fair Play South West Women’s Manifesto Event in Exeter yesterday. I was asked to talk about Women and Power – which I think is really fascinating.  I believe we have a squeamish relationship with power, principally because so often, the socially constructed version of power on offer is generally pre-constructed by patriarchy: from Parliament – 800 years of history and only during the last ten percent of that time, do women get to vote – to private companies, established on the post Industrial Revolution model that in addition to appropriating the surplus value of labour, capitalism also appropriates domestic labour. Nearly every large company or industry operates on a model of each worker having a wife, or paying for the equivalent.  And yet, we are supposed to be grateful for this inclusion, this begrudging offer of so called equality.

But I had seventeen minutes!  How do you do justice to any topic of this breadth in this time.  For me, when I speak, my only aim is to make people think.  I don’t want people to think how clever I am, but how clever we all can be, if we take off our socially constructed lenses and see the world how it really is.  Yesterday, I used the metaphor of inviting women to have equal access to Parliament, but staying the same, with all its traditions and rules developed over hundreds of years is like Crufts opening its doors to cats, but changing nothing else whatsoever.  I didn’t have the time to do this justice yesterday, but here’s what I mean…..
After years and years of canine dominance of the pet world, the Kennel Club eventually relent to pressure and open their doors to cats. It’s not a decision that comes easily, cats have fought valiantly for their rights, while many in the dog community argued this was unnatural – what next, slugs?!!  But the decision is made and cats are invited into Crufts.
The first challenge is the preparation – many cats are horrified at the thought of being bathed and blow dried to look their best.  “I do my own washing,” they say, backing nervously away from the sink.  But to succeed they need to look like the dogs, puffed up and fluffy.  For some cats, always used to lives of luxury, this comes easier; after all, they are pedigree cats, everyone gets washed, surely no one still actually bathes themselves?  But for the street cats, brought up in ordinary households, this is excruciating.
It doesn’t get better, next they must strut and trot into the ring for the judges, on a lead.  “The thing is,” say the cats, “we don’t really strut or trot.  We kind of, well, saunter”. This is Crufts, comes the reply. You want to compete?  You trot and you look bloody happy to be there.  Many cats slink away at this point.  The dogs look at each other and nod.  They knew this would happen.  Cats, you see, don’t really want to compete.  They’re not cut out for it.  They’re emotional and disorganised, not like dogs.
But worst of all are the obedience tests. When first shown the tests, the cats stare in disbelief.  Surely, this is a joke.  What, you want us to run up ladders, jump through hoops and do all of this really quickly??!!! Holy Bastet, are you actually serious?  The dogs face them gravely. We are so proud of our traditions here at Crufts.  For hundreds of years, dogs have bravely run up and down ladders, leapt through hoops and now these Janey come lately felinist types want to change all that.  Because they’re “cats”, sneer the dogs, making quotation marks with their paws.
Of course, it goes badly wrong.  The audience laugh at the cats and they are humiliated, although some bravely struggle through.  The cats representative body call a meeting with the dogs representative body. They prepare carefully.  Above all, they try to seem really reasonable.  The cats are all under instruction not to hiss or make that wonderful low growling sound that they make so well.  They want the dogs to take them seriously and not condemn them as typical cats, hissing, spitting and scratching.  This approach causes arguments amongst the cat ranks, but a common approach prevails.
The cats meet with the dogs.  The cats have made a list of demands and they present these one by one
Change Crufts to Make It More Cat Friendly:  This is resisted firmly. If cats want to be taken seriously they need to be able to compete in the Crufts world. Surely they don’t expect special treatment?  Because they either compete on the same terms as dogs or not at all.  This demand is refused.
Provide Litter Trays and Scratching Posts:  Apparently the cats found it humiliating to defecate on the grass and have it packed away in bags.  One cat on the committee suggests they could use the Fox Hound Hunting Gallery as hunting with dogs is actually illegal, so how is this even still needed? “But it’s our HISTORY!” growls the lead dog.  One litter tray is granted, in the basement.
Change the Culture of Crufts: The cats are nervous about this.  They explain gently, that it is really hard, that whenever they enter the arena, dogs growl and raise their hackles in an aggressive and predatory way and they feel as if they may be chased or bitten at any moment. Some brave cats talk nervously about their own experiences of having to hide in high places, while dogs barked and snarled at them below.  Some were actually bitten, but they didn’t want to make a fuss and didn’t report it, but tried to get back in the arena and hold their heads and tails high.  But if they are to compete, this needs to stop.  Because for so many cats this is a day to day experience of being anxious out on the street, always listening for the next woof or growl, which may well be just day to day banter, but sometimes it does result in the heart stopping sudden chase and the terror of wondering if you can run fast enough to escape.
For the dogs, this is too far.  The Chair of the Dog Committee, barks out “Not all dogs do that!!!  I’ve never chased or bitten a cat – what do you think we are – animals?!! And anyway, what about these cats, walking along high fences with their noses in the air, what do they expect?  We’re only dogs after all.  So what if dogs growl and bark when you walk past – many of them do it to dogs too.  This is the world you wanted and you’re just going to have to dog up”.  Some other dogs talk about the times they had their nose scratched by a cat and all the dogs and sadly, quite a few cats, nod sympathetically.
So, despite winning hardly any demands, a small number of cats persist. Some, especially the pedigrees revel in succeeding in this canininocracy. “Look at me,” they purr, “I’m here because I’m better and I never expect special treatment”. Others carry on because they believe firmly they should be here and this was a hard-won right.  They practice their lead skills and ladder walking, endure the bathing and struggle to find time for the sleeping in the day or the lying out in the sun.  But they secretly feel that they sold out and wish they had done more to change things.
But for many cats they think, Leave them to it.  It’s not a life for me.  And I can’t see any relevance to me in taking part.”  Radical felinists dream of a world which is created by and for cats, but in which dogs will be happier too.  Some dogs support the cats, risking being called pussies by their fellow dogs, but they continue to argue for change.  Because some of them are tired of the need to be constantly loyal, chase sticks and always be so fucking excited at the prospect of a bloody walk.  Some dogs confess that they think they are actually cats and vice versa, but their lives become complicated and dangerous, especially as many cats feel angry at these interloper dogs coming over here and telling them how to meow.
Saddest of all though, is that for most of the cats and dogs, Crufts doesn’t work.  It only benefits a handful of pets, while the vast majority of pets worry about fleas and whether they will be on supermarket basic tinned food or if they will be able to be vaccinated this year.  The unspoken question is whether any cat or dog needs Crufts at all or whether something altogether new would serve everyone so much better.

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