Catra and neurodivergence
While She-Ra does have canonical neurodivergent representation in the form of Entrapta (and semi-canonical for Adora and maybe Scorpia),
Catra is also a very good representation, in a semi-metaphorical way, but still.
Let me present my case:
Catra, as a feline girl, has a lot of characteristics you also get in neurodivergence. Namely, the physical responses of autism - high physical sensitivity, aversion to touch, some less than voluntary responses such as her tail movements and ear expressions and purring and hissing.
It also comes through in the way Catra processes the world, which is very different from how Adora does so - Catra is just more sensitive to everything as a byproduct of who she is.
Catra has needs that other characters do not have. When she was younger, she used to accidentally hurt people with her claws when gripping them. Catra has a hard time communicating exactly what she needs, not having the context and skills to get her feelings across. She’s easily agitated, she wants to stay in quiet, dark spaces, and she has a great weakness for physical affection, as we saw with Shadow Weaver petting her fur tuffs.
When Catra was going down her villain route in season 4, a very interesting choice was made - Stevenson said Catra wanted to look less like a cat.
She cut off her tuffs that Shadow Weaver had petted, and grows her hair longer, grooming it to be less fluffy. She gets a brand new, much less rough look that makes her appear as a strong woman rather than a cat teenager.
Catra is masking her feline traits because she has identified them as a weakness. They make her different from everyone else, they were exploited by Shadow Weaver. She does not want to be vulnerable, to show her true self for people to take advantage of, or reject. Her cat traits are humanizing, and show parts of herself she cannot control, namely her emotions, so she does her best to cover them up.
This also coincides with Catra masking her psychological and emotional turmoil. She will not accept help from anyone because it would mean acknowledging that she needs them, that she is not strong, and that perhaps she has been taking the wrong path this whole time.
Once Adora comes to rescue her, Catra becomes physically and mentally incapable of masking any longer. It is too exhausting. Her cat traits come back in full force- clutching Adora desperately, having enormously expressive ears and eyes, her tail flicks and desire for physical play and affection, her arm stripes are visible again...
Her physical mask is also gone for good, and her hair is loose. This lets us see a catlike aspect of Catra we never even knew existed - the fluffiness of her cheeks!
Catra is not only physically awkward for the rest of the show, but also socially awkward - she goes through a much more advanced version of what Entrapta was learning earlier that season. Catra learns to navigate her new space, not as a superior but as a friend, and makes mistakes, says things she shouldnt say, has a hard time displaying affection. But when Catra learns that she can mess up and still be accepted, she is emboldened and becomes comfortable around the Best Friend Squad, being better equipped to face the challenges that lie on Etheria, such as meeting the Rebellion and making things up with Scorpia.
I also think the use of Melog, in particular, to physically pry the mask away from Catra is genius - the other characters and the audience can get a sense of her true feelings even when she’s unable to process them herself.
I think reading Catra as neurodivergent is really fun, because... well... that’s how she was written. Maybe not on purpose, but Catra is canonically neurodivergent simply by daunt of being written as a cat person.
When Hordak returns to his sanctum, he can tell that something is wrong.
He’s only been gone a few minutes; the cables he left to retrieve are still slung over his shoulder. He lets them drop to the floor in a serpentine heap, forgotten beside the plans for his latest bid to conquer Etheria.
Silently, he stalks between the shadows of half-finished experiments and looming vitrines. His ears twitch, almost imperceptibly. His quarry moves quickly. He is quicker.
Hordak’s hand darts beneath a workbench. It emerges clutching a hissing, snarling ball of fur, which claws furiously and futilely at his gauntlet.
One of the children. A small one at that. Hordak snorts.
The girl has mismatched eyes and feline ears. One of the foundlings, perhaps. He isn’t certain. She hangs sullenly by the scruff of her neck.
“What is the meaning of this?” Hordak growls. “Come to spy on me? Did you think I would not see you?”
“See you, see you!” his voice echoes from the rafters, followed by the rustling of wings and an impish cackle.
The girl stiffens, terror showing plainly on her face. She fears him. Good, Hordak thinks.
He releases her, expecting the young cat to scramble for the exit. Instead she cowers at his feet, head bowed, as if awaiting some further punishment. Hordak sighs.
“You are one of Shadow Weaver’s wards, are you not?” He recognizes the dark sorceress’ influence. “And where then is Shadow Weaver, if you are here?”
The girl tries not to look at something. Hordak follows her furtive glance to one of his many surveillance monitors, the glowing green eyes that see all. The closest screen shows the Black Garnet’s chamber, awash in sickly light. Shadow Weaver is there, doting over a prim blonde child who looks to be about the same age as the one before him now.
“Is this what you came for, little one?”
The girl approaches. She puts both hands on the glass and stares deeply into it. There is an emotion in the way she forgets herself. Is it longing? Desire? Hordak is still struggling to understand the people of this planet and their many, many feelings.
She certainly seems to want something. Hordak studies the scene on the monitor. Shadow Weaver is presenting the other girl with a gift: a Horde-red jacket, cut by hand in Shadow Weaver’s signature, angular style. The girl in the screen receives it with joy, smiling and hugging her new garment closely. The girl watching leans closer, her nose nearly touching the glass.
Hordak recalls that there was a commencement today. Fresh cadets leaving the nursery behind as they began their formal combat training. He looks back upon his intruder.
“Is that what you want? A graduation present?”
Hordak frowns. He has discouraged Shadow Weaver from such favoritism and frivolities. It leads to inequality. To inefficiency. If she insists on raising individuals, however, he will oblige her. It would do her well to be reminded who truly rules in the Fright Zone.
Hordak casts his eyes across the odds and ends that litter his lab. Among the loot from a recent conquest he finds something suitable: an angular, armored mask, made to be worn high on the forehead. A cat’s eye motif decorates the top. It is red.
“Child!” Hordak booms. “Kneel!”
The girl whirls away from the monitor, whatever spell it held over her broken. Cautiously, she obeys.
Hordak places the mask upon her head.
“Rise, cadet,” Hordak intones. “Fight well. Make your Horde proud.”
The girl stands. Already something seems to have changed in her stance. There is power there, strength. The mask’s sharp side guards sweep her wild hair away, and she regards the lord of the Horde with something resembling veneration.
This emotion Hordak knows. He himself has felt it many times, long ago, when he used to look at —
His stomach twists. Fear floods him, then fury.
“Get out!” Hordak thunders, without warning.
The young cadet recoils as if wounded, and this time she does run. Her tail vanishes around the corner, and then Hordak is alone once more. Breathing heavily, he stalks to his throne and sits pensively upon it.
Hordak knows what he must do, who he must be, in order for the mission to succeed. To remain worthy of Prime, he cannot form attachments. He cannot care. He must be the perfect general.
Hordak sets his jaw, and puts on his mask.