The cat is finally out of the bag on the subject of cats and men. While Western society has long associated kitty-keeping as a feminine virtue, there’s been a quiet, slowly growing revolution around men boldly stepping forward to confess they’re as fond of cats as women. Crazy cat lady memes are being replaced by earnest stories about men unafraid to admit they too may use a potential mate’s affection for felines as a metric for marriage material. “I wouldn’t even ask a woman out for a second date if I found out she didn’t like cats,” says William, an attractive long-time friend with a high-flying career and six Persians.

When I first started dating Michael over two decades ago, several friends shared their views on guys who prefer felines as pets. When I told them about Michael’s cats, I was met with questioning stares. That’s odd, they said. Two cats? He doesn’t like dogs? Is he—they glanced away unable to make eye contact—is he, you know, a manly kind of guy?

I guess Michael was ahead of the curve. It’s true cats have been associated with feminine attributes of coyness, mystery, and aloof charm, while the mainstream representation of men has been linked with canine qualities of loyalty, protection, and single-minded pursuit.

The Internet has exploded with pages devoted to men and their feline companions. Males of all ages, races and backgrounds are documenting their relationships and adventures with their cats. In these stories men shrug off stereotypes that cat guardianship is an exclusive feminine domain, much the way women rescued the image of pit bulls as too dangerous for females to handle.

TV shows like “My Cat From Hell,” featuring the tattooed Jackson Galaxy, helped usher in this new phenomenon just as the pet economy was bolstered by an influx of hip entrepreneurism. In his show Galaxy conflates empathy and cat care as a natural extension of masculinity while demonstrating how to deal with feline behavioral issues.

No less captivating is the young African American YouTuber named Moshow, and his four steely-eyed sphinxes. Positioned as “The Cat Rapper,” Detroit-born Dwayne Molock demolished stereotypes when he emerged on YouTube with a string of raps hotdogging about his cats with a fervor. He’s currently working with sponsors like Purina while promoting his cat books and videos. At the same time he’s reinforcing the message that masculine cat love is hip, and sincere. On his website he enthuses, “I’m just a regular guy who raps with his cats.”

A subtle current reverberating through this accelerated cat bonding is a movement away from toxic masculinity. As an example, Brooklyn-based photographer David Williams’s 2016 book titled Men With Cats is a pictorial tribute to male cat guardians celebrating “the precious kitties who’ve stolen our hearts.” Photos depict virile-looking men holding, caressing, cuddling, and loving on their cats. On full display are qualities most women cherish in men—strong yet vulnerable, competent and caring, masterful yet meek in the presence of a squalling, month-old baby kitten.

Facebook pages Hot Dudes and Cats and Hot Dudes and Kittens are eye candy for anyone who’s a fan of adorable felines and good-looking men. Not to be discriminatory, many of the guys are average- looking dudes. But no matter how comely or homely, everyone’s looks are upgraded alongside a cat. On the sites are hundreds of photos and videos of men visiting and adopting from shelters, demonstrating the proper way to bottle feed abandoned newborns, apartment or house makeovers constructed to accommodate their cats, and stories of how they became converted into cat lovers. Many of the photos include wives, girlfriends and their kids. These are a joy to peruse, and they fill me with hope our society will become kinder, gentler and more compassionate.

I, for one, salute the rise of the Cat Man, and I’m thankful I’ve got one for myself!

Contact Deborah at deborah.camp@comcast.net

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