What are the gender roles in Cat and Mouse?

Quick answer:

Cat and Mouse examines the psychological impacts of male gender roles. The relationship between Pilenz and Mahlke is complex, and they never truly understand one another’s emotions. They have also internalized expectations of male sexuality that complicate their identity development. Ultimately, the story demonstrates how learned male behaviors impact men’s relationships with themselves and others.

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Grass’ Cat and Mouse focuses in particular on gender roles and expectations for young men. Throughout the story, Pilenz, Mahlke, and their friends grow from young children to men. Their responsibilities and their actions are all reflective of hegemonic masculinity in their society. For example, consider how Pilenz notes that he was “never introduced” to Mahlke's soul. This observation suggests that there is a lack of emotional connection between the boys, despite knowing each other for so long. Such an emotional disconnect is common among men because socially constructed notions about masculinity equate showing emotion with weakness. Thus the relationship between the boys in this story reflects learned male behaviors.

The psychological impacts of learned gendered behaviors are present in many scenes. For example, consider how the boys demonstrate resistance to homosexual relationships in their adolescence. Mahlke also struggles to hide his Adam’s apple, which is symbolic of the emotional turmoil that comes with puberty. He is self-conscious of his body and worried about what others will think of him. The boys also strive to embody an idealized image of a man and often conform to others’ behaviors in an attempt to fit in. Overall the characters’ actions reflect the impact of male gender roles on identity development and social relationships.

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