I’ve not taken an official stance on the term cougar and all that it signifies, because what it signifies has been rather shape-shifty. Also, I’m married, so I haven’t had occasion to be personally offended by this particular slur.
For awhile, I wasn’t even sure it was a slur, and some still don’t think it is. I remember a scene maybe three years ago on some TV show in which two of the 40ish women were psyched to be called cougars by some young guys they met at a bar. They seemed to think it was a compliment, because they were viewed in a sexual light at all, despite their advanced age, which clearly had been happening with less frequency in recent years. Whatever–sure, I could see this.
Soon after, cougar seemed to mean a seasoned, sensual over-40 woman, an object of lust to one’s adolescent son’s friends, like Stacy’s mom in that Fountains of Wayne song. It was an OK counterpoint to the stereotype of the harried soccer mom with no interest in sex. At least it indicated that not-super-young women are quite likely to enjoy sex, even if they are no longer modeling for beer ads.
I had no problem with what cougar signified, when it signified either of the above, but the term itself was still gross. Likening women to felines of any kind–never mind sleek, muscled, predatory jungle cats–is a clichÃ© that is so moldy it should just be sealed up in a Ziplock and tossed down the incinerator before anyone is forced to smell it.
Besides, it’s just icky. As Rebecca Traister put it on Salon.com, “How sad and backward that we have to give it a nickname, animalize it as if it’s outside the boundaries of civilized human behavior, make it a trend, pretend that Demi Moore invented it.” (My guess is that Demi Moore fell for someone who matched her emotional age, and then altered her body to match his.)
But then cougar shifted to something even tackier and less dignified. The term came to mean a sexually rapacious, insatiable, practically pedophilic older woman, thrusting her unwanted attentions and enormous Wonderbra’d bosoms on terrified young men, or trawling for gigolos on the beaches of Kenya on vacations with her like-libidoed girlfriends. Naturally, this version stuck.
Then TV got involved and, aside from the Cougar Den SNL parodies and Cougarific Bachelorette type show, called, well, The Cougar, in which Vivica A Fox facilitates as a pack of young cubs vie for one self-defined cougar’s attentions. (She’s got four kids…I’m not sure why she’s looking to make out with a fifth!)
Soon we’ll be treated to Courtney Cox’s Cougar Town, about a 40-year-old recent divorcÃ©e reentering the dating world. I haven’t seen it yet, but a teaser had Cox’s character commenting on the hotness of a young man at a sporting event, only to have his mom, her contemporary, huffily point out that it was her son she was referring to. Didn’t see that coming, did you?
I’ll reserve judgment until it airs, but I don’t have high expectations of a show that asks on the promotional website, “Can a woman of a certain age be a mom, a successful career woman and still be on the prowl?”
Let’s see…if we say “no,” there’s no show. If we say, “Yes,” we’re left having to suspend our disbelief to an almost impossible extent.Â Someone who looks like Courtney Cox must aggressively sniff out young men, hunt them down, pounce on them and wrestle them to the ground–but only on the nights when her kids are at their dads’? Oh, and go to work, because she’s also “a successful career woman,” which is the only thing saving her from being a pathetic horndog of a housewife. That would simply be too sad for prime time.
What real woman over 40 that you know “prowls,” except maybe at Barney’s Annual Sale? It’s more like, Interested in finding someone to hook up with, maybe. She might make an effort to go out, hopeful of meeting someone desirable who finds her likewise so they can act on their mutual attraction. If he happens to be younger than she is, that won’t disqualify him.
But prowl for sex? Who has time? Who has energy? With the wide range of vibrators, willing exes and perhaps friends in the same position, my guess is that few single women actively “prowl” for younger men. I sure don’t know any. It sounds like more trouble than it’s worth.
There has recently been an attempt to redefine the term into something with a more empowering connotation. When Gloria Navarro, 42, of Redwood City, CA, accepted her Miss Cougar crown a couple of days ago in Palo Alto, she reached out to her subjects. “I believe every woman has a cougar in them – someone who doesn’t need a man for anything other than companionship.” Yeah, OK, sure.
But I’m thinking we should just kick cougar to the curb and find another word for a woman over 40 who–shocker!–likes sex and would like to engage in it on a regular basis.