Why So Many Women Are Sharing This Short Story About Bad Sex & Dating

Photo: Ashley Armitage
If you're a young woman with experience of modern dating and/or bad sex, you'll want to carve out some time to read a short story in the latest issue of the New Yorker. "Cat Person" by Kristen Roupenian has really hit a nerve and has prompted a polarised online debate since publication.
The story follows a dalliance between 20-year-old student Margot and the 34-year-old Robert, whom she meets during a shift at her part-time cinema job. Their IRL flirting escalates into texting, which becomes a date, which turns into a toe-curlingly awkward drunken sexual encounter and raises some important questions about consent. (A quick taster of the bad sex in store: "After a frantic rabbity burst, he shuddered, came, and collapsed on her like a tree falling.")
Arguably the most compelling element of the story – and the reason "Cat Person" has got so many people talking – is Margot's extremely relatable internal monologue. One moment she thinks her life might be at risk, the next moment she's questioning herself and wondering what she's done wrong, while at other times (the cringe-worthiest bits), she's got the ick and pitying Robert.
The sex scene has proven to be a particularly fruitful talking point, with many people praising Rouenian for shining a light on those all-too-common sexual encounters that aren't rape but aren't completely consensual either. Women often find themselves in situations where sex is the "polite" thing to do, but rarely do they talk about these grey-area experiences, assuming they're not worthy of critical analysis. "Margot, choosing between having sex she doesn’t want and 'seeming spoiled and capricious,' decides to have unwanted sex," Rouenian said in an interview with the magazine about her work.
A pertinent passage in the story reads: "The thought of what it would take to stop what she had set in motion was overwhelming; it would require an amount of tact and gentleness that she felt was impossible to summon. It wasn’t that she was scared he would try to force her to do something against her will but that insisting that they stop now, after everything she’d done to push this forward, would make her seem spoiled and capricious, as if she’d ordered something at a restaurant and then, once the food arrived, had changed her mind and sent it back."
Overwhelmingly, women have praised the story for its familiarity and for highlighting a rare-discussed experience
The predominant reaction among men? Well, it hasn't been quite so heartening. In fact, a Twitter account, Men React to Cat Person, has even been set up to document some of the most ignorant, tone-deaf reactions, of which many miss the point of the story entirely.
Roupenian said she wanted to highlight how we draw big conclusions about people from little things in the earliest stages of dating. "We decide that it means something that a person likes cats instead of dogs, or has a certain kind of artsy tattoo, or can land a good joke in a text, but, really, these are reassuring self-deceptions. Our initial impression of a person is pretty much entirely a mirage of guesswork and projection."
Regardless of your gender, sexuality or relationship status, you will take something away from reading "Cat Person", so if you haven't already,what are you waiting for?
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