Recent months make it seem like humanity has lost the instruction manual for its “procreate” function and has had to relearn it all from scratch. After scores of prominent men have been fired on sexual-assault allegations, confusion reigns about signals, how to read them, and how not to read into them. Some men are wondering if hugging women is still okay. Some male managers are inviting third parties into performance reviews in order to avoid being alone with women. One San Francisco design-firm director recently said holiday parties should be canceled, as The New York Times reported, “until it has been figured out how men and women should interact.”
Into this steps “Cat Person,” a New Yorker fiction story by Kristen Roupenian that explores how badly people can misread each other, but also how frightening and difficult sexual encounters can be for women, in particular. “It isn’t a story about rape or sexual harassment, but about the fine lines that get drawn in human interaction,” Deborah Treisman, The New Yorker’s fiction editor, told me.
This weekend, the story went unexpectedly viral. Or, perhaps, in this #MeToo moment, it went expectedly viral, by revealing the lengths women go to in order to manage men’s feelings, and the shaming they often suffer nonetheless. A New Yorker spokeswoman said via email that of all the fiction the magazine published this year, “Cat Person” was the most read online, and it’s also one of the most-read pieces overall in 2017.