When you first think of a cat lady, your mind might flash to an old spinster who lives alone, has no social life, and just talks to her cats all day long. Yet in 2018, we can easily see through this misogynistic stereotype. As women are waiting longer to have kids (if they choose to at all), many millennials are opting to become pet parents as they wait for the financial stability, solid relationship, or desire to have children of their own. These days, a lady who lives alone with a cat or two isn't a sob story — it's a sign of independence, success, and being a badass.
As millennials have spearheaded the wellness trend in recent years, it's no surprise that many people turn towards pets for self-care. Not only are they a happy face to greet you when you arrive home, but they are a great way to help instill routine into your life by giving you someone to care for. Parenting a pet is both a financial and emotional commitment that feels a bit easier for those still building up their careers or even women dealing with fertility issues. Being a mother is an invaluable experience and not all have the privilege or capability to choose the traditional route. For many, becoming a mom to a pet is a close second.
While dog parents are often embraced within culture, the cat lady still gets a bad wrap. First off, people are twice more likely to be allergic to cats than dogs. Second, kitties (usually) stay indoors and are known for playing hard to get with their attention. Perhaps judgement of women who choose to care for cats is an attack on introversion. Yet one of the best parts of becoming a pet parent is getting to choose the animal that fits your personality — and many women are much more attuned to the nuances of a cat.
So in 2015, photographer BriAnne Wills started a project to elevate the relationship. Girls And Their Cats is a blog and Instagram featuring cool women and their feline friends in intimate interviews and portraits taken within their homes. While it's fun to take a peek at all the cute kitties and well-designed apartments, the best part of the project are the stories about how important these pets are to their lives. We asked Wills to share with us the inspiration behind her blog and why people should take cat moms seriously.
Lonny: What inspired you to first start Girls and their Cats?
BriAnne Wills: I wanted to start a photography project when I moved to New York as a way to meet people and work on my art. At first, I thought I would do a series of nudes, but when I was photographing the first nude model, her cat popped into frame and basically stole the show. After seeing the images, it occurred to me that cat ladies were not represented well in media, but here was this super cool, beautiful woman and her equally beautiful cat. I decided to change course with the project and focus on photographing interesting cat ladies in an effort to dismantle the crazy cat lady stereotype.
Why do you think of the stereotype and how are you trying to change it?
BW: I think it stems from society’s perception of women in general. The woman who lives alone with a cat, must be crazy and lonely. Why else would she break from traditional roles as a wife and mother?
My aim is to feature a wide variety of cool, independent, interesting, and beautiful cat ladies who are nothing like the cat-hoarding spinster you see referenced in pop culture.
What has been your favorite part of capturing the stories of different women and their cats?
BW: I’ve photographed over 220 cat ladies since starting this project, all of them inspiring in their own way. Some of these women have turned into professional connections and some have turned into pretty great friends. I love that I’ve created this network of cat-loving women.
Have any stories really stood out to you?
BW: Refinery 29 co-founder Christene Barberich’s story about how she and her husband tried for years to have a baby to no avail. But adopting their cat, Phoebe, helped her process the grief of not being able to conceive.
Why do you think pets are so important in millennials’ lives today?
BW: Millennials are busy hustling, trying to make their dreams come true. Because, you know, our parents said we could be anything we wanted. And we believed them. But it’s hard work and it takes a lot of time, which can often mean our social lives suffer. Cats make great roommates, companions, and cuddle buddies on those especially lonely nights.
Do you think there is something unique about being a pet parent?
BW: You really have to earn that cat mom status. They’ll make you work for their affection and trust. But once you do, it’s everything. It’s almost as if you’ve been chosen. My husband and I don’t have human children, but our cats truly make us feel like a family unit.