Stuff We Should Stop Doing: Calling Women Cougars

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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11 Responses to “Stuff We Should Stop Doing: Calling Women Cougars”

  1. Avatar of Stephen
    Stephen June 1, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    I wrote a note about “Cougars,” but more importantly it is an affirmation of Women’s lib. Curious to hear responses. Not sure what to do about the name.

  2. Avatar of ShikaG
    ShikaG January 31, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    Hi there,

    I guess I was leading a sheltered life, because I never heard of the term cougar until about two years ago. My involvment in a MMORP game introduced me to a world made up mainly of 20-29 year old men, most of whom seem a bit lonely, but a bit more equipped to pursue women due to the anonymous nature of the forum we find ourselves in. I will be 50 this month, but even more attractive than I was in the last two decades, when I was having and raising children. I still find it hard to believe that younger men find older women attractive, but I think that is the case with most women generally. Even when I was an extremely hot 20-something, there was always another young woman prettier than I.

    In any event, I found the term derogatory, even while I try not to take offense at most things. I suppose any term which serves to categorize someone can make them feel “put in a box”, and all of us are multi-faceted creatures, deserving of our individual status. All that being said, I have had an online relationship with one young man for 2 years. I don’t wish to leave my marriage, but having this friend/love relationship satisfies me at a very deep level, where my real life relationship with my husband is stale and functional. I did not chase this young man; it was his commitment to pursuing and seducing me that led to our relationship.

  3. Avatar of Bleedingviolin
    Bleedingviolin January 24, 2013 at 2:54 am #

    I get what you’re saying, and in that light, I agree.

    But I see things a little differently. I’ve always viewed the term ‘cougar’ a little differently. When I hear the word ‘cougar’ I imagine a strong, graceful creature that is associated with wisdom and independence. So that’s what I always took the term to be referring to when applied to an older woman. She is strong of personality, wise enough to know what she wants and how to get it, independent enough to not need to be taken care of and beautiful enough to still be able to attract the kind of younger men who still haven’t grown past the desire to only see skin deep.

    Granted, I can be naive at times, but I prefer my viewpoint on this matter, as I hold both cougars and older women in high esteem!
    That being said, I get the impression you think men are ok with being called ‘sugar daddy’. We’re not. Now, there are some men who don’t mind so much, as it calls to attention their ability to keep a vapid creature’s attention with their wealth, but those men that enjoy being called ‘sugar daddy’ are the kind of men that really deserve to be called such. To us, the term ‘Sugar daddy’ refers to a man that can’t keep a woman with anything but his pocketbook. To us, these men are shallow, abusive boring pricks who use wealth as a substitute for more important endowments. We use that term as an insult for one another, as in “Dude, you’re nothing but a sugar daddy to her”.

  4. Avatar of Litotes
    Litotes January 23, 2013 at 7:46 pm #

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I was dating a much younger man who was new to Canada. I told him that when we were seen in public together I would probably get called a cougar. He said, “What’s a cougar?” I said, “It’s a derogatory name for older women who chase after younger men.” “But you didn’t chase after me; I chased after you.” “I know,” I replied, “in all the older women/younger men relationships I know of it’s the man who’s done the pursuing.” “Okay,” he says,”then what’s the derogatory name for younger men who chase after older women?” “There isn’t one.” “Then what’s the derogatory name for older men who chase after younger women?” “There isn’t one.” “Canadians are crazy.”

    I really believe that relationships between older women and younger men are at the same place that interracial relationships were in the 1950′s. My boyfriend was right. I’m pursued by much younger men all the time but there’s no derogatory name for them. Not that I think there should be. But what’s up with the inequality?

    Interestingly enough, while the older women/younger men couples I know of are usually happy with the synced sex drives, I don’t know any of them where sex was the only, or even the main, reason for moving into a long-term relationship or marriage.

    You’ve really nailed it with this piece. I’m going to send it to a bunch of older women who hate being called cougars and their younger male partners who are usually also pretty ticked off by that designation.

  5. Avatar of eimaj09
    eimaj09 January 23, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

    While I don’t support using the term “cougar” (or any of the misogynistic terms listed above) I have frequently heard (and admittedly used) the terms “manther” (male equivalent to cougar) and “silver fox” (very attractive older man). Both of these terms have been in use for quite some time and I don’t believe they’re incredibly obscure.

  6. Avatar of sqrlgirl
    sqrlgirl January 23, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

    Well said, as always. I remember reading about the Ashton and Demi break-up and their age difference was challenged as “she was too old for him ultimately”. The final fate for a Cougar. I disagree and do not believe that is why their relationship ended, but of course the media was all over it with a vengeance. Wonder what Rod Stewart would have to say about huge age difference break-ups? Cougar is a very unflattering, ill-applied definition for anyone or any life form other than the animal itself. As you said, many women over 40 are attractive and perhaps more attractive than their younger counterparts. Is it then a judgment about the woman’s ability to procreate that is what drives this collective consciousness belief about older women and younger men not being a ‘good fit’?

  7. Avatar of classroommanagement
    classroommanagement January 23, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    Yashar, great! Great great great! I knew the term bothered me but l could never have put it into words like you can – great!

  8. Avatar of summerfox
    summerfox January 23, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    Thank you for articulating what I have been trying to express to others for some time. Well said and completely accurate.


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  3. "Stuff We Should Stop Doing: Calling Women Cougars" by Yashar Ali - January 23, 2013

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