Everybody wants to be a cat…?
The lights dim and the room grows silent as Chairmyn Meow begins her purrlesque performance, gradually shedding everything but her cat ears and tail as men in suits and women in lingerie cheer her on. This is a typical evening at the Cat Girl Manor in Colorado, which is affectionately termed ‘the Chateau’ by its founder Isibella Antoinette. In the first episode of Vice’s Guide to Sex documentary series, we explore the weird and wacky world of kitten play that lies within its pastel-coloured walls.
While we might associate the cat lady aesthetic with dishevelled hair and chunky cardigans, the ladies of the chateau adopt a very different look. The girls are generally young and clad in stilettos, lingerie, and bondage gear. The only nod to their feline inspiration is the cat ears and bushy tails they incorporate into their outfits. Upon first glance the Cat Girl Manor seems to be a cat-themed rip-off of the Playboy Mansion. Antoinette makes a point of dismissing this comparison. ‘Hugh Hefner created the Playboy bunny to sell magazines to men […], the Chateau was made by girls for girls. Does this mean it is not a fetish-based project? No. Kitten play is still deemed a subculture of BDSM, which is not contested by the girls. And yet there is definitely more to it.
The interviewees emphasise their autonomy as women. Chairmyn Meow breaks down the power dynamics within a submissive/ dominant relationship while Isibella praises the safety of having an all-female set-up. Breaking with tradition, this house of kink is built upon feminist principles- which is incredibly refreshing. There are still men, however. Men who come to the parties and performances but are never called clients. Vice effectively provides a deeply intimate look into the lifestyle, enhanced by a use of wide and close-up shots that do the pastel palace’s flawless aesthetic great justice. Questions remain as to the intricate operations of the house, and I would be lying if I said the documentary did not leave me wanting more. Being only a short piece, it gives you a bold flavour of a niche subculture that garners intrigue. While 50 Shades of Grey may have entered the mainstream, I have yet to see ‘kitten play’ ring a bell with anyone outside of the community. To see it explored and analysed without being fetishized is what makes this short documentary so appealing.
Image: New America via Wikimedia Commons