Putting Out Fire with Gasoline

Buckle up: It’s “Cat Person” season, and once again, we’re litigating what women are allowed to say about men.

Jude Ellison S. Doyle
7 min readJul 12, 2021

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This cat and I have the same feeling about all this.
Oh, no. Photo by Veronika Homchis on Unsplash

You cannot control how other people see you. No matter how hard you work to finesse your image, outsiders will reach conclusions that, once reached, you cannot change. If this is true for you and I, both of us (I’m sure) decent people who are trying our best, then it is particularly impossible to control how people perceive your ex-boyfriend, who dated a high school student when he was thirty-three years of age.

Yes: I’m doing “Cat Person” discourse. I’m sorry. The debate around author Kristen Roupenian’s viral short story, reignited this week by an equally viral personal essay by Alexis Nowicki, is about a lot of things — art, life, the extent to which one is drawn from the other, etc. It’s also about the eternally depressing topic of what women are allowed to say about men.

“Cat Person,” the story, portrayed a common dilemma. The protagonist, a young woman named Margot, can’t tell if the guy she’s flirting with is awkward or creepy. The man in question, Robert, is sensitive in a way that can be weirdly aggressive — he accuses Margot of “insulting him” when she makes an innocent comment about the snack he’s ordered — and he’s ill-kempt and oddly dressed in a way that could be hip or just strange. He needles Margot about her appearance (she’s not “dressed up” for their first date, to which he takes offense) and accuses her of being pretentious in a way seemingly designed to cut down her intellect, but if she questions any of his decisions, he sulks and appears immensely hurt. When she gets into his car, she briefly fears being murdered, but then he makes a joke about murdering her, so she ignores the feeling. He’s an awful kisser, but she wants to be nice.

We understand why Margot wants to be nice, which is that she’s being manipulated. She’s made to feel awful and cruel for hurting Robert’s feelings, and everything hurts his feelings except getting his own way. So it is no surprise to the reader that Margot’s “niceness” eventually extends to offering Robert sex that she doesn’t want. It’s not an assault. Margot consents. Still, she’s been guilt-tripped into it; she’s acting, not on desire, but on the fear that…

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Jude Ellison S. Doyle

Author of “Trainwreck” (Melville House, ‘16) and “Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers” (Melville House, ‘19). Columns published far and wide across the Internet.