Monday, September 7, 2009

Cougar Done Right.

by J Perry Stone

Cougar: A woman 40 years or older who preys upon men many years her junior.

Every time I turn on the television lately, it seems I can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a cougar. This fall, Courtney Cox stars in Cougar Town, a sitcom about a divorcee mother looking to spice up her dating life. On TV Land there’s a reality show called The Cougar where a group of young men compete for the attentions of a mature female. Even Saturday Night Live has gotten in on the act. In an admittedly hysterical skit called “The Cougar Den,” resident comediennes behave as the most stereotypical of predators—those so surgically enhanced and hormonally over-sexed, the primary reaction they elicit from their underage quarry is nausea.

Cougars have entered our reality, our language, and thus, require a small measure of investigation. I have to admit, however, the term bugs me for a couple of reasons (and not just because I’m kicking the hell out of 40 either).

1) It seems to me whenever a woman does something society has to stretch to accept, such women are ALWAYS slapped with a pejorative moniker.

High-powered professional = ball-buster or bitch
Sexually daring = slut

Dating a younger man = cougar.

Notice there's no name for the male equivalent of cougar save dirty old man, perv, creep, or a**hole. Nothing that sticks, in any case.

2) By calling a woman cougar, one trivializes her relationship by assuming its existence is merely the result of a self-serving, last-ditch attempt to recapture her diminishing youth. This isn’t to say there aren’t women out there prowling around, but how utterly depressing and sad to assume this is the agenda of every woman who takes part in a May/December romance. Focusing on a woman’s inability to accept the aging process is a generalization unworthy of most women I call friend. What’s more, it is an ugly insecurity most women get over the older they get.

So what are the options? Throw a big tantrum? Laugh it off till the term cougar gets so cliché, it falls out of favor?


I think of the 70’s classic cult film, Harold and Maude in which the adorable Ruth Gordon plays the vivacious septuagenarian teaching Harold--depressed and death-obsessed at 20 years of age--a multitude of life lessons:

A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They're just backing away from life. Reach out. Take a chance. Get hurt even. But play as well as you can. Go team, go! Give me an L. Give me an I. Give me a V. Give me an E. L-I-V-E. LIVE! Otherwise, you got nothing to talk about in the locker room. The best thing a woman can do is maintain her youth inside.”

Maintain her youth inside. That’s absolutely right!

So what are your thoughts? Does the term cougar offend you? What do you think of May/December romances in books, TV and movies (particularly if the woman is December)?


Carol Burnside said...

I'm not crazy about the term cougar, but I fear it's here to stay. :( I see nothing wrong with a woman finding a younger man since men have been doing the same thing since the beginning of time. LOL

I'm also not crazy about May/December romances in my books, TV and movies. The May/September ones aren't so bad, but it takes a lot of convincing for me to believe these people will have enough in common to keep the relationship going for long. I'm talking a 20-25+ year span between their ages.

Dianna Love said...

It is interesting at how quickly society labels something they might know nothing about (thus the uninformed assumptions) or that fascinates them in a voyeuristic way. On the other hand, maybe the terms are born of a quick way to identify something the same way every illness on the planet has an acronym. As long as both parties are adults, I just don't think about the differences whether it's age or anything else.

I agree with Carol that it's probably here to stay until it becomes outdated slang.

I don't usually see tv shows until they're out on dvds so we can watch them all in one week. I had no idea this was Cougar season. "g"

Sandy Elzie said...

Great topic. Hummmm, since I'm in that 'over 50' crowd, I can't imagine (were my husband of 0ver 40 years to decease) going out with a man the same age as my son. (Yuck!) However... if someone finds love in a May/December relationship...regardless of who is the older one, I say Go For It! and anyone who is opposed can stuff it.

I know a woman who married with 21 years between them...and he was older (she was 50 and he was 71) They've grown apart since she's now 65 and he's 86. As you can imagine...she's still active and...

Cougar? Honey, I've been called Blond ever since the first joke...and listened to every one of them ever written. No one appreciates a derogatory label, but Shake it off and get on down the road. Prove to the world that getting older doesn't mean you're dead, just that you've learned to appreciate the inner person more than younger women. Youth inside?
Yes, I agree...between my ears.


J Perry Stone said...

I have the same view as you, Carol. I see nothing wrong with a May/Sept or Dec romance if that's what a person wants to do, but I do wonder about having enough in common.

In my research, I read about age-disparities in amorous relationships. If such an age disparity is pursued at the exclusion of all other relationships, it's actually considered a psychological dysfunction.

J Perry Stone said...

Diana, I usually don't think about differences in relationships, age or otherwise, either. It just seems everywhere I turn lately, there's a cougar.

One journo even called the occurrence a "cultural phenomena."

Really? I see them on TV, but have yet to see one in real life.

J Perry Stone said...

Ha! Go Sandy!

"Cougar? Honey, I've been called Blond ever since the first joke...and listened to every one of them ever written. No one appreciates a derogatory label, but Shake it off and get on down the road. Prove to the world that getting older doesn't mean you're dead, just that you've learned to appreciate the inner person more than younger women. Youth inside?
Yes, I agree...between my ears."

You rock, do you know that??

Tammy Schubert said...

Great topic today!

I find the label Cougar offensive. Women aren't doing anything men aren't. If the relationship involves two consenting adults, I don't see anything wrong with it.

"If such an age disparity is pursued at the exclusion of all other relationships, it's actually considered a psychological dysfunction."

The psychological dysfunction described above is too narrow. Exclusionary relationships are unhealthy regardless of any age difference.

Sometimes I can't help but wonder if psychologists assign specific, negative labels to behaviors simply to keep themselves in business.

Tonya Kappes said...

Cougar doesn't offend me. I guess because I'm not one and I don't put much value into what other people are doing if it doesn't effect me or my family.

I have found I am embracing life and appreciating it more as I get older. Like Maude, I don't feel my age and I enjoy life.

It is FUN to put a 'cougar' in my novels to add a little spice to a relationship. BUT the cougar is usually with a hero her age and not younger.

Cyrano said...

I don't like the term "Cougar". I think its ridiculous to generalize a specific group of women.
I loved how you brought up the fact that men are not bound by these same monikers. I doubt there are any TV shows in the works that are destined to be called, "The Bachelor, Dirty old man version", "Perv town" or "The Creep Den".
This being said, I have read a novel, by Susan Brockman with a May/December romance in it that I really, really liked. Can't remember the name of the novel but it was one of her SEAL books. I liked it so much that I wanted to write one myself...not a SEAL book, but a sexy older woman being pursued by a hot younger man. I doubt I'd have liked Susan's book if it had been written the other way around - hot young man being heavily pursued by sexy older woman. I'm disapointed in myself to realize that, but I guess that's just not compelling to me.
Loved this topic JPS!
Have a lovely morning,

Jill Sorenson said...

I'm not a fan of huge age differences on either side, but if the couple is happy and in love, more power to them.

Is Courtney Cox old enough to be a cougar? I'm surprised by that.

Maxine Davis said...

I really loved this post. I guess 'Cougar' was around for a while before I knew about it - things usually are, but it has never bothered me. That way, I don't have to learn the new tags if they are not going to stay for a while.

Yep, been couugar-age for many years not, but not a practicing cougar. Married someone 3 years younger, 30+ years ago. No big deal NOW. At the time it raised an eyebrow or two - can you believe it?? Three years? Oh well, I just told them I picked one out and raised him like I wanted him.

I have no problem with the May-Sept thing if it is a natural happening. I really don't like to see an older woman trying to act a lot younger than she looks just to get a young cub. You know the song, " . . . older women make beautiful lovers . . ." Yea! for us.

Debbie Kaufman said...

I guess Demi Moore is Hollywood's ultimate cougar.

A woman of experience has always been something of a legend. I mean let's not forget Mrs. Robinson :)

That aside, we roll our eyes at the 50+ man with the 20something girl and assume that it's a money thing for her and a sex thing for him. When roles are reversed we label her predatory in nature. Equality hasn't come as far as we think.

Maxine Davis said...

sorry about the errors. Just wanted to get back to writing and didn't look close.

J Perry Stone said...

Tammy, I think you might be right on that one.

But I do want to make a distinction between May/Dec romances and those of the cougar nature.

In the first, it's just as you said. Two consenting adults who can make their own decision.

As for the second, the "cougar" type relationship is one generally recognized as woman hunting fresh meat to make her feel you.

I don't agree with any relationship where either party is only in it for themselves and not about what they can give to another person. Goes against my romantic nature.

On the other hand, it really pisses me off when EVERY older woman with a younger man is smacked with the label "Cougar." That is simply unfair.

J Perry Stone said...

Tonya. Great idea, you know.

We should change the definition of "cougar" to suggest a strong woman who knows who she is and knows exactly what she wants.

Not the sad example media has been touting lately.

J Perry Stone said...

Tamara, you bring up an interesting point.

Does the "Cougar-esque" relationship somehow emasculate men? And if so, is the younger man's only option to be the one on the hunt?


J Perry Stone said...

Jill, I wouldn't have said so, but every definition I found seemed to indicate that a cougar was a woman 40 or over.

The term was first coined by a Canadian site and specifically suggested the animal-print clothing women who troll clubs looking for cubs were wearing.

Susan said...

I loved reading this post this morning! I get called a cougar now and I am only 28, but like to date younger than me!

Society will NEVER have rude names for men as they do for women. We will always been seen as beneath a man...not literally, but figueratively (sp?) speaking. Its sad, but oh so true.

J Perry Stone said...

Maxine, three years is nothing. There was actually a ridiculous dating rule I found that says:

Half your age plus seven.

Of course it's ridiculous to be so rigid. If the relationship is true love and both parties are adults, I say go for it.

But an older woman trying to act a lot younger is something I don't like to see either. There something terribly immature and sad about that. The older I get, the more I feel I've earned my years. I plan to wear age like a medal.

J Perry Stone said...

"That aside, we roll our eyes at the 50+ man with the 20something girl and assume that it's a money thing for her and a sex thing for him. When roles are reversed we label her predatory in nature. Equality hasn't come as far as we think."

You said it, Debbie, and a lot better than I!

J Perry Stone said...

Susan, there is a practice out there where men are labeling women in their 20s:

"cougars in training"

Why? Because you happen to be a strong woman.

I cannot understand why strength in women is thing to be mocked. It makes no sense to me.

J Perry Stone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CiCi Barnes said...

Great post, J. I'm not too thrilled with the cougar label either, but, like Sandy, I'm 'blonde' and I don't give a fig. I'm me, and you can call me what you like.

As for younger guys/older women, I went that route in high school. Went steady with a guy 2 years younger than me, and was teased for robbing the cradle. Didn't care then, don't care now. We had lots of fun.

It's a way of life in this world for men to do their thing and it's alright, but if women do it, we're all kinds of bad.

I've got an outline for a book where on a parallel world, the tables are turned. This post makes me want to start writing it right now.

There is also a soap opera on now with the cougar story line. She's at least in her 60's with a 40ish son and her love interest is in his 20's. That's a little too much for me. Hardly a believable tale in the real world, since most 60 year olds don't look like Hollywood.

Anyway, great post, and plenty of food for thought.



Danica Avet said...

It's very interesting that you blogged about this today. Over the weekend, I was at a conference in New Orleans, and while standing on the sidewalk, a red car pulls up driven by a young man with an older woman in the passenger seat. I wouldn't have thought anything of it, except the guy got out to open her door and when he walked back to the driver's side, he whispered to me and my cousin, 'I have a cougar!'. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to be happy for him or what. It WAS a very nice I decided to be impressed.

I don't see anything wrong with women embracing their sexuality and holding onto it for the rest of their lives. Men do it and have been doing it since the beginning of time. I just say do what makes you happy as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else.

As it is, I don't consider the term offensive. It's a lot better than bitch. Cougars are sleek, they're feral, they're...dangerous. I like to consider myself a cougar-in-training ;)

Kim said...

I want to know how you typed "dead cat" without gagging. *G*

Yup, the term cougar offends me. Its like you say, why aren't men stereotyped for crap like this?

To be honest, what's the appeal of a younger man? No thanks! I'm already a mommy.

2nd Chance said...

Great blog, J. Very thought provoking. I'm not all that found of the term myself.

Was actually brought to my atttention that there is a male equivalent term... Manther. Specifically for the old perv who trolls for much younger women.

I have one slated for Friday on the Revenge that speaks to a similiar topic... Where are the older guys/older women romances?


Linsey Lanier said...

I'm out of it. I haven't heard the term "cougar" until recently. On the surface, the word itself isn't the worst term I've heard hurled at us females. Like Danica said, it could mean sleek, feral, and dangerous. But when you look at how the label is used, yeah, it's demeaning. Like so many other monikers -- gold digger, eye candy, and yes, Sandy and CiCi . . . blonde! Makes you want to scream sometimes.

Just when you think society has progressed in its respect for women, something like that comes along. Well, it's just more grist for the writing mill, IMO. :)


Maxine Davis said...

Love what you said "I plan to wear my age like a medal."

Tami Brothers said...

Hi JP! This post really tickled my funny bone… I want to say that I don’t see anything wrong with the cougar mentality, or the May/Sept relationships. I like to think of myself as hip and okay with other people living their lives. I certainly don’t want someone else telling me I can or can’t do something, or that I shouldn’t do something. Makes me want to go out and do it anyway just to spite them.

BUT, as I started to type this, I realized I have a young son and this quite possibly could be something I have to think about in the years to come. What would I think if an older woman stuck her claws into my baby??? Hmmmm. Really makes a person rethink their thoughts in this area. I honestly HOPE I am open minded enough to be happy for my son and his choices. It’s easy to type this right now when it isn’t happening, but what about later? This is definitely something I have to think twice about and unfortunately, I can’t come up with anything nice to say with this scenario playing in my head.

Still a great post, girl!


Ashley Ladd said...

I see nothing wrong when two people are truly in love, whatever the age difference *as long as both are of a mature/legal age.

It's about time men realize women are sexy no matter their age, and that their wives aren't unattractive because they're 40 something or older.

Susan May said...

I think cougar is better than the reverse-Gold digger as a label. At least cougar implies that it is about a sexual attraction instead of a money thing. I don't want a woman in her 40s after my three twenty something boys, but some seem to find a great relationship. I'd be interested to see where the relationship was going-marriage?
Sex for sex sake is just sex.

J Perry Stone said...

Oh yes, CiCi, write it. I'll read it.

As I said, one of my favorite movies of all time is Harold and Maude.

As long as the emotions are genuine and profound, I'm in!!

J Perry Stone said...

Danica, you make an extremely good point.

I wouldn't mind being described as sleek, feral and dangerous.

The only part about this entire thing that gives me pause is when people trivialize/cheapen a relationship. Do I think people in some relationships are in for superficial reasons?

Hell yes.

But those that are not are getting defined by those that are.

It's just my thing, I guess. I'm loving that you made me think about it differently.

J Perry Stone said...

Ha, Kim. That would be my stance but I would never foist it upon someone else.

I'm all for women exploring their sexuality and appeal ... only as long as they aren't using anyone.

J Perry Stone said...

Oooo, 2nd, you're on the cutting edge. I've only JUST heard of "Manther."

But I totally agree with you. where the hell ARE those romances.

One of my favorite romantic comedies in the past 5 years was Somthing's Gotta Give."

It's amazing to me there aren't more of those great stories out there.

It isn't only the very young that fuel trends.

J Perry Stone said...

Linsey, I forgot about gold-digger and eye-candy.

Now I'm mad all over again!

J Perry Stone said...

Thank you, Maxine. :) I'm of the sort that feels a women doesn't really reach her full potential till after 40 anyway.

J Perry Stone said...

Tami, that's a very good point. I too think people should do what they will as long as no one gets hurt (and it's legal), but when I think of my paisley-eyed son being used simply to remind a woman unaware of her own worth that she actually means something...

well, it ticks me off.

J Perry Stone said...

Ashley, here, here! long as they are in love and are of a mature/legal age.

That's damn right!

I agree wholeheartedly that women need to realize they are sexy at all ages, but the problem I foresee with cougarhood/the term iteelf is that such women may not be aware of their appeal. Cougaring strikes me more as function of insecurity rather than celebration of where they are in life.

I want strong female examples--even ones where the woman dates younger men if she so chooses--but not the ones media mocks simply because such women no longer fit the expected model of what is attractive.

Thank you so much for commenting. You make fabulous points.

J Perry Stone said...

It's true, Susan. I'd rather be slapped with the sexual-attraction thing rather than the money one.

And sex for sex's sake being just sex sums up everything that bugs me about that term.

I hope I'm making that distinction clear enough.

I do not disapprove or look down upon May/Sept (or any other month) relationships.

I do have a problem with trivial, self-serving relationships.

Marilyn Baron said...

Ci Ci,

I knew you'd bring up the cougar story line on B&B. They even have an ad campaign that highlights that theme.

In my current book my heroine is 40 and her hero older but that didn't bother me.

Although I did see a guy out at our pool yesterday with a MUCH younger woman (He was over 60 (way over) and she couldn't have been more than 19. I thought she was his daughter but then I overheard their conversation and they were not related. I admit I had the same thoughts that Debbie pointed out in her comment. That whole thing bothered me.

Marilyn Baron

Julie said...

What an interesting blog Ms Stone. Who knew what you were up to today?

Julie said...

Honestly? Do you want me to be honest about this?

Cougars might "look" like predators. The truth is they are in fact ... the Prey.

At least that's been my experience. The first time I got hit on by a younger man was when I was 39. He was 22. I said "no".Not that I'd ever accept the invitation to be A Cougar. And Not because I have something against younger men. I'm happily married, thank you very much. So I say 'no thank you" and tease them with a "Does your Mother know that your out after your curfew?"

That Usually cools their jets.

Honestly? I thought that this pursuit? by young things would stop as I aged. But it hasn't. It actually seems to be getting worse the older I get. Which seemed ... well ...weird to me.
Until I thought about it.
The Older I get ... the less I care ... not just about my looks. But about about partaking in all of the trivial blah-blah-blah BS that Drives men CRAZY. Men , especially young men, get tired of all "the drama" associated with women their own age.
That's The Truth.
I know because I have a 27 year old son. I've heard many a horror story from him & his friends about dating young women. Which is why younger men seek out the company of of older, wiser (which ... hey ... means that I know a lot more "fun" things to do than my younger compatriots) less emotionally demanding, Young woman can't compete with me ... They're Bud Lite and I'm like a bottle of thirty year old scotch. Smooth. Mellow. And ummm ... very, very Intoxication! LOL

Julie said...

Better add DANGEROUS to that list, JP!

Julie said...

That should read "less emotionally demanding,mature woman. Young woman can't compete..."
Unless we're talking about typing properly ;)

Anna Steffl said...

Where did Monday go?

Great column. Of course, it's a crazy term and I don't know one woman in the 30-50 range who thinks it is funny.

Personally, I think the cougar notion is around because there are more physically fit 40+ year old women than men. Lots of guys are starting to look really haggard after 40 whereas many women are just getting going.I know there are loads of exceptions, but I have many friends who look way younger and hipper than their husbands right now.

I'm like Maxine and married a guy 3 years younger.At 27, that was a big deal!

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog... As a man who's 40 who's wife is surrounded by divorced "cougars" and like mentality... women wanting to be young, their influence on my wife was profound... we had a long, loving friendship, when my wife turned 30 she became very concerned with her age and looks... next thing you know our marriage is on the rocks and now she is seeking a divorce... we have two kids and I hope you all are excited a "cougar" in the making. I'm not quite sure our to kids ages 5 and 3 will appreciate that though... since mom is hanging out with "cougars" on the prowl... For me, the term makes me sick and the "cougar" mentality in our local area is becoming more common place... My wife moved to a new town home neighborhood... the handful of woman neighbors I met picking up our boys were divorced... So as you all try to decide if the term is demeaning to women, I want to stress that women's "cougar" mentality is demeaning and dangerous to families. In my opinion, the women collective making excuses for equality drives this dysfunction. So, before you start supporting cougars, ask yourself if you want to support women destroying their families, leaving their husbands and kids and creating even more difficulties in our society. Get over the "term" and equality and look at what you women will gain... superficial relationship over long term intact families.

I guess the great thing for me is that I'll have more younger women to choose from... As the cougars take up the younger men... the sad thing with this is the young women's role models are now these cougars. So the young men get used and the young women get taught how to abandon their relationships and families because it's a women's right to not be "held down" by the man...

How about for women to quit competing with men and simply do what is right, moral, ethical, good for more than simply their dysfunctional ego...

The fact is, when we have a dysfunction in our society, older men cheating, leaving their wives, beating, why would we want to promote the same from the opposite sex for the sake of equality, that to me is even more sick because its a conscious decision you collective of women, even on this blog, make... so you are creating a new dysfunction...

Anonymous said...

BTW... I made the comment that my wife left me when she turned 30...

Is in it interesting that here favorite show for years was "sex in the city", she read US Weekly and followed the lives of our "Hollywood" stars...

Now, with more movies and sitcoms, etc. jumping on this "cougar" thing for profit sake and women pushing for "equality" and totally disregarding the moral questions that "equality" brings is, in my opinion, scary for our society.

I hope that women as well as men will be able to come to a point where relationships, families, kids, our society is valued again... not just the superficial image... not just a few moments of sexual pleasure... if not we are all going to end up in nursing homes with no one who cares about us because we, as a society, did not care about them... our kids and future generations are at risk from things as simply as this discussion...

BTW, I wonder how many of these available cougars are likely to have mental health issues that are creatively masking... meaning, what if truly there are issues and they can't hold down a relationship because of those issues, then they turn around and date naive young guys who have no clue what depression, mania, bi-polar, narcissism looks like, they think they are with this older women who's great and exciting... I wonder how much of the same goes for older men that destroy their families and actually have mental health issues as well... so, let's please find a way to encourage great behavior, great relationships, great sex and forget simply looking at "equality" when it comes to dysfunctional behavior...