Cat Person: A Different Story of Consent

Once in a while we get a short story going viral. With ‘Cat Person’ I was quite sceptical at first. It was published in The New Yorker by Kristen Roupenian, the author I didn’t know much about. But it kept getting massive amounts of polarised responses so I really had no choice but to read it.

Honestly, my first thought was: why on earth has no one written something similar before?

I would never say that the story is a genial piece of creative writing, or it is exceptional in its stylistics and metaphors. Nothing like that. The success of Cat Person is mostly thanks to the storyline; the plot that really hits home.

It is about a relationship, or really the lack of it, between a 20-year-old student, Margot and Robert, 34. They meet at a cinema, where Margot works behind the concession stand and it all unfolds from there.

The author effortlessly guides us into Margot’s mind; from the day she met Robert, her initial and very innocent expectations of their interaction to her thought pattern during their first night together.

The story unravels quite trivially, only to turn into the most realistic and painfully relatable one towards the end. Basically, by the end of the story, Robert’s treatment of Margot goes from ‘a kiss on her forehead’ to slut-shaming. Guess why? Just because Margot decided to end things with him.

What I found the most striking is the way that the author has managed to show the fear and hesitation a lot of women face when it comes to rejecting a man.

This is a topic that hasn’t been touched upon enough. Despite all of the movements towards gender equality and female empowerment, we seem to overlook the subtleties of the interactions between women and men.

Too many of us have gone through similar situations as Margot, some have to go through these regularly. The saddest part is that most of the time we feel like it is an inevitable part of life, and we cannot change anything about it.

Indeed, the backlash from the male readers has not just been negative but outright sexist and deeply misogynistic, which proves the above point.

The simple and yet very sharp story has opened up something quite pressing in our society. As Margaret Atwood wrote: “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”

I don’t know about you guys, but sometimes I feel like I have to stay quiet when I know that my words or my actions might provoke a man. And, I know I am not the only one. So, why do women feel like this?  I don’t want to sound too dramatic but to me it feels more like a survival instinct, something innate, something I cannot help.

Most of the girls are being told to stay quiet and be pleasing to the men, be it their brothers, fathers, boyfriends, you name it. The reason behind this is simple: they are men and you are a woman. Do we have to stay quiet? Even when it feels totally wrong and discomforting?

In my opinion, Cat Person is a story that could help put people in the shoes of Margot and millions of other girls that have had to go through such gruesome experiences, all because they fear the potential retaliation from men.

I think such a story is a great example of what happens in the minds of young women when they do not feel attracted to someone. At least once, we have all had to lie about being in a relationship (when we were actually single), simply because we didn’t want to hurt a man’s feelings by telling him the ugly truth – “I’m just not interested.” Why? Why do we do that? I understand that this could just be a white lie and there is nothing that hides under it. But really, if we are honest with each other, are we scared of men? Are we scared that they might call us ‘whores’, or they might humiliate us if we reject them bluntly? Have we developed a specific survival instinct to protect our self-esteem and physical integrity?

What is it that makes us lie to men and pretend that we enjoy their company when really we feel repulsed by them? I really don’t think it is common courtesy. I think we need to take action, be more assertive and bold when it comes to saying “No”, disagreeing and just sharing our feelings. Remember, if you find it hard, most of the times a very firm NO would be enough.

Just say it, don’t be afraid.

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