I often delve into a blog site called Writer Unboxed. Great place for writers and people who want to be writers and for readers who want to know a bit about the process. The brain child of Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton, the site now involves a number of writers, such as Juliet Marillier (who lives in my home town and whom I have recently met for the first, and I hope not the last, time).
Recently Kathleen was asking her mystery-reviewer husband what earns a poor review out of him, and he remarked: “Cats. If you have to put a cat in your book, be aware that most men will not read it.”
Okay, you guys out there. I want to know – is this really true? And if so, in heaven’s name, why?? Ladies, ask your spouses, partners, brothers, fathers, sons: do they read cats?
I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of domestic cats but reading about a cat in a good book does not trouble me at all.
Maybe some males have surfeit of cats after many readings of Dr. Seuss to their children?
I’ve got no problem with cats generally, though I prefer dogs as companion animals.
That said, I’ve got absolutely nothing against cats appearing in books. I can’t really see how it would make a difference to anyone, aside perhaps from the set of people who declare that they “hate cats”.
Given he’s talking about mysteries specifically, which is a fairly formulaic genre, perhaps cats are overused as a plot device? I’m drawing a blank on what that could be, as I never read mysteries (aside from Sherlock Holmes).
Um, Larry Niven’s Kzinti (the cat-like aliens) have proved popular enough, and cat-like races have found their way into rpg and video-games like the Elder Scrolls series (Morrowind, Oblivion, etc.). So anthropomorphic cats don’t seem to pose much of a problem for F&SF fans.
One recurring problem I have found with many cat-lovers though (without a significant equivalent among dog-lovers) is that they find it hard to accept that other people might not automatically find cats adorable, cute and irresistible; and that their oft perverse and destructive antics can actually be highly irritating rather than endearing.
So if I saw a book where a cat is obviously going to figure fairly prominently in the narrative, I’d be wary of picking it up to read it – not because I’m male, but because I don’t buy in to the automatic cat-worship thing – unless I knew the author well enough to believe that the cat wasn’t put in there simply for the love of all things feline.
Why Kathleen’s husband made the gender division I don’t know, unless perhaps he perceives the adoration of cats as a cutesy-girlie phenomenon that is anathema to the logical masculine mind (and mystery and crime fic does tend to attract an audience who like the objective logical deduction approach, I suppose).
The trouble with that is that I know a lot of (otherwise perfectly rational) men who are cat-lovers rather than dog-lovers.
Not much point asking Matt as he doesn’t read novels much anyway. He doesn’t like cats much, but they love him.
I have female friends who have cats up the kazoo and who’s husbands are not keen on the idea, so maybe that would put them off cats in books.
Pretty clearly this rule doesn’t work for every man, or for every book with a cat in it. However, what I suspect Kathleen’s husband might have been thinking is as follows: “women are very fond of cats, so putting a cat in a book is probably a signal by the writer that the book is intended for women and, as no self-respecting man would be seen dead reading a book that is intended for women, books with cats in them need to be avoided, just in case you catch girl cooties from them.”
I’m now suspecting that what we have here is an unreasonable prejudice, possibly triggered by an imagined correlation.
Once someone gets an idea like this, confirmation bias kicks in, and he’ll only remember the hits (some guys I know didn’t like these books, and they all had cats!) and ignore the probably much greater number of books that were fine with male readers, and yet did include cats.
His other warning signs (as described in the post) were reasonable enough, though.
most of mens i know don’t like cat at all. They say without any logic reasons they are dirty. they say Also cats are too independant not trusty enough, just beeing interrested in food.
And may be cats are still enclosed in a christian imaginary : cat = witch, devil . In many small french village people still kill cats for they are black, or just for fun, and owls too…
nice country ^^
I am surprised to hear that still happens Gynie. I had thought that kind of superstition disappeared long ago.
Heavens, cats are a real can of worms, aren’t they – if you’ll forgive the rather odd metaphor…
That’s an interesting comment on Frenchmen, though. I guess the idea that cats are for women and dogs are for men goes back to the woman/kitchen-home and men/hunting/outdoors thing. If it is really true that a high proportion of men don’t like reading about things perceived as “a woman’s thing”, the question becomes more disturbing, though, doesn’t it? (Girl cooties – love that).
I wonder if we women are guilty of the same thing? No books about, um, what? Dogs? Cross that one out. Hunting, climbing mountains, boxing, drug-dealing, car-racing, the wild west, buddies, silly risk-taking – nope. Can’t think of anything I will give an automatic dismissal to on the grounds that it is supposedly “a man thing”. Can you? Ok, maybe a car engineering manual…
Maybe that’s because most women aren’t limited to the emotional range of a teaspoon. ;P
yes, there is a lot to do with the nature/culture, inside/outside oppositions, they are much more deeper than supposed. A french writer resumed that in ‘beast dialogue’ ‘Dialogue de Bêtes’ she was called Colette. And that is one of the book we are often to study in our french schools.
For the not reader : It’s quite obvious that for people, a dog is more ‘male like’ and a cat more ‘female like’. Cats are not used in the suburban to frightened people, or to show you are someone dangerous , but pitbulls has been and all dogs alike ! I’m not exaggerating. People are not all cat’s killer for sure.
But who loved the most the Hale Berry film ‘catwoman’ ? womens or mens ?
I live in a big town called Bordeaux, and of course most of the people are not so narrow minded. I’m not telling all french are so stupid, but most of them forget about this strange part of France. A vernacular France which doesn’t want to be open-minded, where people still dirty Jewish graves, insults the north because of one serial killer, insults black football players, as in Italy, and where people working to clean up our commons parts are most of the time not speaking well french… In an other hand we are strongly, and mostly for the equality, and the liberty, and fraternity.
I’ve been losing a cat in a small town. The kids had played with this 2 month cat as a ball… I’m not the only one.
In Switserland even if it’s now forbidden, skins from cats are supposed to heal from rheumatism…
Let’s see about the futur success of the new deodorant from ‘airness’ for MENs in France! May be things are about to change if Publicity tell us so !
Like everywhere in the world France is in between new way of life and old way to see things. May be a little more new things comparing to other cultures.
I’m sorry , i’m too talkative, but it’s part of my life and i strongly react about this ^^
Gynie, what you are describing is the human condition – not just France. People of every country seem to be capable of both the best and the worst behaviour, to such extremes that you wonder if they have anything in common with one another except the place of their birth.
“Education is the answer” people say. But sometimes I wonder why education doesn’t seem to work as well as we expect.
I know nuclear physicists who still believe in ghosts here in Malaysia.
Once I was standing next to one of Albania’s top scientists – he was taking us around sightseeing to a Roman ruin. He knew I was a birdwatcher and pointed out a Little Owl in a tree. I had my binoculars and looked at it. After a while I lowered the binoculars and he asked, ‘Have you finished?” I thought he meant “Are you ready to move on elsewhere?”, so I nodded.
At that, he picked up a rock and threw it at the bird. (Luckily it missed). I gaped. “Why did you do that?” I asked.
“They are evil birds, bringing bad luck,’ he said.
I couldn’t think of a single thing to say.
Sometimes I think humans are best described by Alice in Wonderland, when she remarked that sometimes she believed six impossible things before breakfast…
People can believe the most contradictory things all at the same time. They can behave in bizarre ways which are totally illogical. It drives me crazy!!
What’s missing from most education programmes is the teaching of critical thinking skills in primary or early high school. Critical thinking provides a general protection against cognitive bias, a kind of mental immunisation against bad ideas.
I used to think it was bizarre that working scientists could have any such nonsensical beliefs. Now, I realise that such flawed thinking occurs in almost everyone. Practising the scientific method doesn’t help if it’s not applied to all aspects of life.
Absolutely agree with you, Jason. Logic should be part of every school curriculum, starting in primary school. Every kid should be able to recognise circular arguments and fallacies.
And they should be taught to recognise marketing ploys and the way people can be manipulated.
I agree about being taught to see through marketing ploys.
jason mate, I see what you’re trying to say, but unfortunately ‘mental immunisation against bad ideas’ sounds rather chilling – it brings to mind Dolores Umbridge taking over Hogwarts in the Happy Rotter series, and the Magisterium guys cutting away children’s daemons in The Golden Compass. Logic is a useful tool, but it can also trap you in very dark places.
I suppose one of the many problems facing teachers is that by the time children get to school age they have already acquired any number of attitudes and ‘superstitions’ (for want of a better word) that one might want to educate out of them; and then as they go through school one has to compete with the influence and pressures coming from their peer group and the (non-school) environment and society they’re growing up in (most humans want to become part of the herd).
Of course I’m not advocating that you should take babies away from their mothers to ensure that they get the ‘right’ pre-school education during their first five or six formative years. Hey, glenda’s written books about that. 🙂
(And all this from comment about cats … I love this blog!)
“Mental immunisation” – I thought that was a great way of putting it – but now I have visions of a Svengali like intervention – or maybe even worse – a Dr Megele one.
Make a good sf short story idea, though, wouldn’t it…an experiment going wrong, initially to immunise people against believing in internet spam perhaps…
Do you mean believing in the efficacy of sending out spam, or just believing that it doesn’t exist at all? And does something cease to exist just because we convince ourselves we don’t believe in it? ;P
Alas, even the best of intentions can go awry when one tries to impose them on other people – or even sometimes when one tries to inspire others to follow by example. (I sometimes wonder if the universe resents our trying to impose perceived ‘laws’ upon its nature and behaviour, and rebels…)
On a related note, one of the topics in J.M. Straczynksi’s Babylon 5 series was the idea of ‘mind-wiping’ convicted criminals and re-programming them with new personalities and memories so that they could become ‘useful’ members of society – and the moral questions that raises, and the problems that can arise when the process is undone and the person starts remembering who they were before.