For once, it wasn't politics, television or film that sent social media into a frenzy — a short story published in the New Yorker set off a fierce debate on Twitter over the weekend.
“Cat Person,” a short story by Kristen Roupenian, drew strong reactions from social media users, many of who lauded the story for its unflinching look at misogyny as seen through the eyes of a 20-year-old woman.
The story follows Margot, a college student and art house movie theater employee who goes on a date with Robert, a 34-year-old man to whom she's not quite attracted. After she ends their brief relationship, the man sends her a string of angry text messages, the last of which just says, “Whore.”
On Twitter, the story drew praise from readers who were impressed with Roupenian's writing, as well as those who found the plot relatable.
Some people took the idea of relatability to a mistaken extreme, discussing the work of short fiction as if it were a personal essay. Still others were unimpressed by the quality of the tale.
The controversy over the story even spawned a Twitter account called Men React to Cat Person, which posts screenshots of tweets from men who didn't like the story.
In an interview with the New Yorker, Roupenian said she wanted readers to sympathize with Margot, and, to a more limited degree, Robert.
“[F]or most of the story, I wanted to leave a lot of space for people to sympathize with Robert, or at least, like Margot, to be able to imagine a version of him — clueless, but well-meaning — that they can sympathize with,” she said. “I have more genuine sympathy for Margot, but I’m also frustrated by her: she’s so quick to over-read Robert, to assume that she understands him, and to interpret his behavior in away that’s flattering to herself.”
Roupenian, in a Twitter post, seemed shocked by the intense reaction to her story:
After the story became a hot topic on Twitter, Roupenian spoke to the New York Times about the piece.
“Margot’s empathetic imagination is working on overdrive here,” she said. “Her skills at reading other people make her socially adept, but because imaginative empathy is still, fundamentally, imagination, she is also easily misled.”
Roupenian continued, “She thinks she can see inside Robert; she believes she knows more about him than she does, and that keeps the date catapulting forward when it might otherwise have come to an end. The people I know who tend to be drawn to the most troubled men are these incredibly empathetic, imaginative young women, and sometimes I wonder if that’s a piece of it: how good they are at creating a compelling back story for men who have done nothing to earn it.”