The Vagenda

My Boyfriend and I Adopted A Cat, Not A “Surrogate Child”


In December last year, my boyfriend and I adopted a cat together. It was apparently the cue the world had been waiting for, because immediately the, ‘Oooh, is it a practice baby?’ comments started pouring in. No one was safe: not my family, not my friends, not my colleagues. Even one of my old teachers cracked the ‘First a cat, then a baby’ joke.

My boyfriend, it goes without saying, has been on the receiving end of precisely none of these remarks.

I’ll be the first to admit that having your love of cats equated with broodiness is not the world’s most pressing feminist concern. For one thing, it’s just patently ridiculous. My cat is nothing like a baby: she’s 10 years old, has retractable claws, and eats a special prescription diet food for obese cats called ‘Satiety’ that we buy in bulk from the vets’. I’m 99% sure those traits wouldn’t be normal in a child.

But the annoying thing isn’t that people think my cat’s a practice child, but that they think it’s my practice child – as in very demonstrably and individually mine, and not at all my boyfriend’s. Why am I assumed to be the one that’s hankering after a mini-me? Probably because it’s been drilled into us since birth that all women want to have children, and that this urge is more powerful and universal than it is in men (even though research indicates that childless men and women show similar levels of desire for parenthood).

Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the ‘crazy cat lady’ stereotype. The crazy cat lady of old was an ugly, ageing spinster left on the shelf with only her furry friends for company; nowadays, she’s a career woman with no time for childbearing, but plenty of time to tweet photos of her favourite feline. Either way, she’s childless. The cats, it’s implied, are there to fill the gaping hole in her life where babies should be, functioning as either practice or replacement children depending on the woman’s age.

Of course there’s no equivalent phrase for men. What would that even be anyway? ‘Deranged dog dudes’? ‘Mad mole men’? I’ll take suggestions via Twitter.

The idea underlying all of this – that children are essentially a woman’s domain – is an injustice to both genders, from the women who remain childless by choice or suffer the stigma of never becoming a mother, to the men who yearn for fatherhood or want to play a greater role in their children’s upbringing. It’s attitudes like this that prevent men from playing a greater role in childcare or entering the early years education sector.

We can’t just cross our fingers and hope that the next generation will somehow magically overcomes years of internalised gender socialisation on its own. We need to change our behaviour. And that starts with not automatically assuming that all women with cats are simply trying to silence the lonely ache of an empty uterus.

To misquote Freud: “Sometimes a cat is just a cat.”

-Leah Eades

6 thoughts on “My Boyfriend and I Adopted A Cat, Not A “Surrogate Child”

  1. While 100% on board with the argument, would be interested to know if your boyfriend is telling people you have “adopted a cat” as you have phrased it, or if he has simply said you’ve “got a cat”?

  2. I got the impression she said “adopted” because it’s a rescue cat (she said it’s 10 years old). I think that’s pretty common.

  3. Ditto with dogs. One of my ex-friends was telling me about her piano teacher and how she couldn’t have children (not sure if she couldn’t or just didn’t) and so she fills her life with her dogs and how lonely that must be etc etc etc as replacement for those babies she never had. VOM

  4. Hi,
    Thanks for linking my work in your blog. I’m really grateful that you used it – it was a self funded study and I like to think worthy of more interest. But then I would – wouldn’t I?
    I’d be interested in how you found out about it.
    These other bits that I have written may or not be of interest to you.
    If you want to use them all the sites say that is fine as long as you acknowledge where they were first published. I guess my underlying point is that it is to the advantage of the patriarchal dividend not to acknowledge/deny men’s nurturing/emotional side and push all that on to women as a means of control.
    ‘Childless-by-circumstance: Is it different for men?’
    ‘Condemned as a ‘Typical Man’?
    ‘If you think men don’t care about having kids, listen to what these childless men have to say’. :

    I guess this academic paper wouldn’t appreciate just being replicated but you may find it interesting, Involuntarily childless men and the desire for fatherhood:
    Happy to chat :)
    Very best regards, Robin

  5. Hi there. I’m a latecomer to your blog and just caught this post. It voices so many things that I have thought.

    My cats are not my ‘fur babies’. Man, I hate that expression. If they were kids, I wouldn’t be able to just lock them in the laundry room with a bowl of water, a kitty litter tray and some cat kibbles when they are being annoying little f**kers at 4am. There’s probably some law against that.

    Love your work and am glad to have found kindred spirits in a world of faux feminism.

    Mary Louise (Lou) Tucker