Note: I originally posted the following piece on my "Chronic Fatigue" blog about six months ago. Since then, the whole "Cougar" phenomenon has only grown in size - with more "Cougar"- themed shows and movies than ever before. However, I am pleased to see that now, more and more women are finally speaking up about it!
There's a popular video making the rounds these days called "Cougar Barbie." In the video, a bloated, Chardonnay-swilling, middle-aged Barbie preys on a group of much younger male dolls. The video - inspired by the doll's 50th birthday - is hilarious, a brilliant spoof of the genre.
"Cougar Barbie" is just the latest in a series of Cougar-themed humor, such as SNL's long-running "Cougar Den" sketch. As far as I'm concerned, just about anything is fair game for satire. But there's something about this whole "Cougar" thing that troubles me. The term itself isn't at all funny. In fact, it's downright offensive.
As with most trends, I was late to the whole Cougar phenomenon. I never even heard the term until a couple of years ago. My first encounter with the "C" word was at the office. I overheard a twenty-something co-worker chatting on the phone, giggling to her friend about some ancient "Cougar" who was like, SO hitting on some young guy and wasn't that, like, SO gross!?" As I listened, I was shocked at the term "Cougar", and even more shocked that a younger woman would mock an older woman with such apparent glee. Didn't she know she would BE that older woman someday? (the road from mini-skirted cutie to matron is shorter than she could possibly imagine). But I was in for yet another shock; I assumed the "Cougar" in question was over 50...or at least in her 40s. Wrong! The woman they were discussing was only in her thirties! This smug, twenty-something considered another woman pathetic and washed-up at 35. Just one more example of our horribly ageist society.
Since then, whenever I hear the word "Cougar", I cringe . I know there's always a kernel of truth to any stereotype. Do some middle-aged women dress up in halter tops and stilettos and aggressively pursue much younger men? Probably. Maybe some of them are only interested in younger men and proud of it - hence those "Cougar" online dating sites ("for cougars and their cubs..."). Fine. I guess now there's a whole Cougar movement. Whatever. Maybe that's their way of fighting the stigma that's still attached to an older woman having a relationship with a younger man ( "I am Cougar...hear me roar!"). These women proudly flaunt their Cougar status, as they search for no-strings-attached encounters with hot, young studs. I guess they think it's a liberating attitude. And maybe it would be, if they didn't feel the need to describe their behavior with such an ugly, degrading label.
Look, there's nothing wrong with dating younger men. I've got friends who are even happily married to younger guys - but they didn't meet them by prowling around, looking for "cubs". And they certainly don't consider themselves predators.
The fact of the matter is, I don't know any actual "Cougars". Most of the older women I know would never identify with this stereotype. Many of them are in relationships with partners their own age or older. That is, if they're even in a relationship at all. Many have given up on ever meeting someone of any age. And here's the other thing; why is an older woman who pursues a younger man a predatory "Cougar", but a guy who pursues a much younger woman is simply...a guy? An older guy dating or marrying a woman half his age is the norm in our society. Women may complain about it. But there's no equivalent "Cougar" label for a 70 year old with a 30 year old trophy wife on his arm. As usual, there's a total double standard.
Don't women already have enough to deal with in our incredibly ageist culture without us further reducing older women to false, grotesque caricatures? Moreover, it seems that other women are the ones who are perpetrating the problem. Guess we haven't come such a long way, after all. Grrrr.