"Cat Person" by Kristen Roupenian


#1

Folks are reacting to this short-story on Twitter so I read it. I like it a lot but I’m still interested in hearing about why some people hate it.

I am going to guess at content-warnings:
-rape, murder, sexual-assault, rejection, NSFW, fatphobic


#2

Probably worth using TWs so people know what to expect. As to criticisms:


#3

I read it a couple of nights ago. I thought it was a pretty good read.

I saw some hot takes about how the main character “didn’t give the guy a chance,” or that she was “too shallow.” Honestly, a lot of the pushback on it seems to be from cis-white dudes who seem to relate to the guy in the story…which I find to be hilarious.

Anyway, I thought both characters were shallow, but I think it was intended that way. Sure, the main character seems a bit dry and undeveloped, but I think the author portrayed her that way for a purpose. She comes off as confident on her exterior, but she is obviously still attempting to figure herself out. The constant jumps between what she was saying out loud and the conflict she was feeling internally were well done.

Anyway, just my two-cents on it.


#4

I like how it’s both completely believable and morally complex. I don’t feel obligated to judge the characters, but I tend to have opinions about their perspectives, behaviors, relationships, and circumstances. It feels super relevant to the broader culture within which I live.


#5

Is a person thinking to themselves that they’re not physically attracted to someone because of their weight fat-phobic? Of all the things that implied Robert was a bad person, it didn’t seem to me that his weight was one of them. Maybe I’m misunderstanding the term, but I assumed the harm of the phobia was that it dehumanized people and that didn’t seem like that was happening here.

A thing I found interesting is how many parts of it were stories I had heard from women before. The most obvious one is the end where a man responds badly to rejection and simultaneously lashes out and demands attention. The other one was the sex scene. About 5 years I heard a woman on a podcast describe how sometimes having sex is easier than leaving. As a cis man I was utterly baffled by the concept at the time and it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I started to understand all the subtle systems that make this a choice women make. This moment in the story brought that altogether.

A lot of women on Twitter whose writing has has had an impact on me and the way I think have endorsed this story a lot based on how ‘relatable’ it is. I think a lot of the value for me has been in that it describes a lived experience I don’t have access to other than stories, so I’m glad it was written. I should also probably start reading more women who are good at describing a women’s interiority.

Aside from that, it’s interesting to see a fiction piece go ‘viral.’


#6

Margot is by no means a paragon of a young woman moving through the world, which the author says herself in an interview with New Yorker. I didn’t find either character particularly likable or relatable - Robert was a creep from the jump, taking Margot to a Holocaust movie of all things on their first date. As for the fat-shaming, it’s not very nice, but it’s honest. This is Margot’s first view of a potential partner, and she doesn’t like what she sees.


#7

Personally, I saw the description of fatness being a moment of material reality mixed with the not-being-totally-into-itness. The physicality of bodies in the action become threatening and repulsive. I don’t think this feelong is specific to weight. It could have been sweat or smell or stickiness, but weight also reminds us of his ability to physically dominate at a moment of vulnerability.


I also want to mention that I have no problem empathizing with Robert. I don’t see him as a villian at all.


#8

The point is, this isn’t a recounting of events, this is a fictional tale where the author has decided what to include and how things happen. There was a conscious decision to include this, to be “honest” (bigoted). It is no more neutral than if they’d decided the protagonist was to describe their revulsion at someone who was too femme (both of these issues have strong anti-feminist links in who is the main target of hatred, systemic harm, and how it relates to patriarchal standards) or even picked on a detail of racialised appearance. It’s all covered under the umbrella of “dating preference” as the ultimate cover for saying bigotry is just honesty when the language of revulsion is very clear.

Replicating it is just normalising it, there is no commentary to it or reason why it couldn’t be about something which isn’t linked to systemic discrimination. If the author wants to reference strength then find revulsion in the way his muscles tense - something actually far closer to describing the fear of power. We live in a society where texts like this teach people what we should or should not like when we see - these preferences are not created in a vacuum.


#9

Speaking as a fat person… yes, I’m sure it is honest.


#10

Apologies- it was a blinkered comment on my part, as this is a work of fiction and it was the writer’s choice for her protag to be repulsed in such a manner.


#11

I like this thread of commentary.


#12

Off topic, how often does the New Yorker put up audio versions of their stories? I clicked around on their site for a minute and didn’t see any others. Good story and the author did a great job reading it. I should make more of an effort to track down audio versions of longform articles to break up my gaming podcast diet.


#13

The story is nothing special even if I like the ending. I do need to say however how sick I am of seeing that picture. Couldn’t they have gone with literally anything else.


#14

A lot of their longform content gets put out through their podcast. Here is a link: https://www.newyorker.com/podcast

Short stories get put out through their fiction podcast.


#15

I wondered if this wasn’t going to turn out to be a horror story the first time I read it because of how viral it went (The Lottery, anyone?). It’s a well done piece, especially pacing and how texting is used/realistically portrayed, imo. The way their relationship developed in absence of physical contact was a vivid flashback to high school relationships for me.

As an aside, I think that without the fat comments the author does a good job portraying why Margot finds Robert unattractive (posture, too long beard, inability to kiss, coldness, deprecation of her interests, body hair, etc). Of course, Margot is bigoted and the fat shaming is there. But I don’t think the piece promotes or normalizes bigotry in the way that, say, Pynchon’s writing does.

To use Pynchon as an example: I had to stop reading V because the women themselves speak about how women are less intelligent&more emotional/animalistic than men, and because every female poc serves as a cypher to die and/or be raped to further the sadness of men. It’s misogynistic in other ways, but you get the point.

In “Cat Person”, her bigotry felt like another reflection of the part of her which imagines herself through Robert’s eyes, and views comfort as a means of control. I think the piece is more to do with pointing out how she’s been socialized to view herself as an emotional caretaker and where that leads, but these other parts of her are being called out to the audience too.

This is too many words. It’s fine not to want to read another fat phobic character (god knows there’s enough). I wouldn’t want to use that to condemn this as a piece, though.


#16

If anyone wants fat positive lit to check out, I was reading Audre Lorde’s “Zami” earlier today and it is excellent. Also, I very much appreciate the Men React to Cat Person twitter.


#17

Where are the cats? We have been sold a bill of goods.

Anyway, I enjoyed the short story and the only #relatable person in it is Tamara, who’s like “yo fuck this, let’s go have a drink.”

I dunno. It seems like kind of bog-standard literary fiction to me, except our POV character is a young woman instead of a middle-aged Jonathan Franzen stand-in.


#18

I’m disappointed that this wasn’t a prequel to 80’s horror film and/or acclaimed Bowie theme to said horror film, Cat People.


#19

I’m a dude who has been fairly active in combating misogyny and harassment/assault (worked as an interventionist for a while). I’m also a writer. Between the discourse around this story and its initial set-up, I had a pretty good idea of where it was headed. The whole time I spent reading this story, I could not divorce myself of the notion that this story was the wrong vessel for these themes/depictions male shittiness.

To avoid writing an essay here (and I already have, only to think better of it), I do not think that this is a particularly well written piece of fiction. I’m disappointed that this story didn’t find a better home.


#20

I definitely understand that he’s a creep, but something this story doesn’t touch on is exactly how well-versed in dating Robert actually was. I got the impression that he was clumsy because he hadn’t done this very often. I mean, Robert is a “cat person,” right? And there’s a stereotype about people who have cats, and their social lives (or lack thereof). In the bar scene near the end, Robert is also by himself, whereas Margot is surrounded by friends. The people in defense of Robert are doing so because they themselves are lonely and view this as a rare opportunity to be with someone nice that Margot threw in the garbage because she knew she could do better.

In that context, ending with Robert’s rude texts feel a little like a strawman. The story sets Robert up as a guy who is desperate to impress Margot, and Margot herself says he has a nice personality where she enjoys his banter, only to in the end suddenly turn him in to a villain, the kind of asshole you see catalogued on a Reddit board dedicated to a shitty stereotype.

I’d be willing to believe that neither character is right or wrong – Robert tries too hard, Margot is selfish about her needs, both have baggage they need to work out – except that this ending clearly spells it out that Margot is the hero and Robert is the villain. Robert was willing to take things too far, to get bitter and mean, whereas Margot can drown herself in her circle of friends, the protection they offer, and the reinforcement that she did the right thing to him. The reader is meant to be part of those friends, reassuring Margot that Robert was bad news.

And that sucks, man.