I remember my first real exposure to seeing a woman referred to as a “cougar.” It happened when Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher went public with their relationship. Gossip magazines and talk shows were breathless with excitement about the pairing, and you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing some magazine or TV show dubbing Moore as a cougar.
(For those of you who don’t know, a “cougar” is slang for a woman who is over 40 and dates or sleeps with younger men. For those women who like to be called cougars, by all means, choose what you want to be called. However, I’m not supporting the term on a broader level).
Cougar is one of those words that is sold and packaged as being something of a liberation for women: “Oh look! We’re celebrating a sexually active and liberated woman! Go get em’ Demi, lasso that young buck!”
Oh gee, a woman over 40 can be attractive!? Aren’t we revolutionary.
Nope. Calling a woman a cougar is neither progressive nor supportive.
Cougar is a misogynistic, offensive term. Here’s why.
There is no male equivalent. We don’t commonly refer to a man over 40 who sleeps with younger women as a “tiger,” “lion,” or any equivalent animal reference. So, we have an imbalance. When an unnecessary disparity exists in language that’s sexist, that’s when misogyny creeps in and spreads like a virus, compounding the damage already done. Moreover, women aren’t animals and should never be referred to as such in a wholesale manner without their consent.
I also think it’s important to mention that “cougar” carries a connotation of predatory behavior. As if, A) the woman could only get the younger man by chasing after him like a rabid animal and B) the woman’s personality has no part in the relationship, that the guy she’s dating must only be with her so he can have wild, crazy sex or because she’s rich. Or C) where cougars are often portrayed in a desperate light, as if they have nothing better to do than “chase” after younger men. Yet the men in these relationships aren’t insulted or derided, even though they are adults who are consciously deciding to be in relationships with older women.
But the “cougar” designation funnels into a bigger point about the fact that we don’t really have widely-used terms for men in general that apply to their state-in-life or sexual desire. Especially not such insulting ones. But for women, we have a whole vocabulary of insults and labels like: “trophy wife” (a young, attractive woman who is married to an older, usually wealthy man); “MILF” (“Mother I’d Like To Fuck” — lovely); and the ever present “Gold Digger.”
You may ask, what about the term “sugar daddy?”
The term sugar daddy requires a specific set of actions. If you are a young man or an old man–it doesn’t matter. The term is related to a guy who can financially support his girlfriend–the guy actually has to do something extra to be called a “sugar daddy.” Furthermore, the term sugar daddy doesn’t insult a man in terms of his age. He’s not a sugar daddy because he’s older or younger, he’s a sugar daddy because he provides material stuff to the relationship.
On the other hand, cougar is an insult that reflects age. By simply being a older woman dating a younger man, without engaging in any extra action, that woman is always a cougar. It’s ageism at its worst. Sugar daddy is also viewed with less of a negative connotation–he’s the one with the power to support and buy stuff. Whereas the “trophy wife,” and the “gold-digger” are seen in much more negative light. They have no power or position, they are seen as stupid, desperate, and scheming.
And if you look directly at how the media portrays “sugar daddy” vs “cougars,” the difference is incredible. Male celebrities who marry women with less money and wealth are never publicly labeled as “sugar daddies.” Never. But plenty of female celebrities have been dubbed cougars.
We don’t have TV Shows called “Sugar Daddies,” (note: a show on a major network that has actually aired), but in our culture, we have at least three “cougar” shows from fiction shows like Cougar Town starring Courtney Cox to reality shows like Extreme Cougar Wives and The Cougar.
So here’s my point: men get to be men. They get to be human beings in the dating/romantic situation as well in all other parts of their lives. Women have to be labeled somehow because they can’t stand on their own.
So enough with the labeling. Women have the right to stand on their own, so let’s not feel the need to categorize them or name them.
I think we should start off by putting “cougar” to bed.
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