I just saw a commercial for one of TV Land’s new reality television shows, The Cougar. It is a dating show hosted by Vivica A. Fox where 40-year old Stacy Anderson from Scottsdale, Arizona will “look for love among a group of hot, excited twenty-something bachelors.” These Bachelor-esque shows are so problematic. Not only do they reinforce compulsory heterosexuality and hegemonic beauty standards but reality dating television shows also group people together to compete for “love”. This commodifies them and makes them available for public consumption.
Furthermore, I am sick of the “cougar” label. Calling a woman a “cougar” is both ageist and sexist. This is the star of the show. She is a woman, not a cougar.
To set the record straight, this is a cougar:
An older woman who dates much younger men merits a label while an older man who dates much younger women is fine? The whole (ageist) premise behind the “cougar” label is that after a certain age, women get desperate for men and prey on younger men. Oh, what she wouldn’t do to get in bed with a younger man! Meanwhile, reverse the roles – if you have an older man who dates much younger women (like older men who divorce their wives and find themselves younger trophy wives) that’s not perceived as desperate or predatory. Instead it’s almost like a status symbol, just something more to make the men seem more distinguished and successful.
Calling women “cougars” suggests that women who enable themselves to age naturally, and desire and actively pursue sex are animalistic. It shames them and suggests that they are not properly feminine – patriarchy constructs femininity as forever youthful, docile and passive. Any woman who defies this, any woman who follows her natural aging process and actually wants and likes sex, is vilified, stigmatized and instantly otherized. This maintains male privilege and helps maintain other sexist double standards like the he’s a stud/she’s a slut one.
The “cougar” label also over-privileges youth and beauty, as if those are the two most important things in life. It implies that “cougars” are so desperate not only to get in bed with younger men, but also to cling onto their youth which is quickly fading and escaping them. Instead of celebrating and embracing aging, a natural and inevitable process, the “cougar” label continues to reject it and make it seem repulsive and undesirable.