She is a woman, NOT a cougar

10 04 2009

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.

cougar-s

To set the record straight, this is a cougar:

cougar1

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.


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15 responses

17 04 2009
Jason

…You make interesting points that I wouldn’t have otherwise considered.

To me, calling someone a “cougar” was like calling someone a “kitten”- as in, terms used in the same places by the same mentality and people.
A kitten (when applied to women) usually means an energetic, vibrant young woman who goes out a lot and enjoys life. And a cougar- from my understanding- means an older woman, of the age where she’s seen enough of life for it to potentially reduce her enjoyment of life; but that she hasn’t let it. She’s still vibrant and energetic, she’s still going out there and enjoying life, and looking great doing it.

It’s an interesting flipside to read your thoughts on it- it always seemed to me that the sort of people who end up with those labels actually desire them, since it’s a clubbing-type scene that seems to attract the labelled women, who tend to dress and act in such a way as to gain the labels. And, of course, they tend to see the labels as a compliment.
The “kitten” title comes from a young woman being cute and playful- like a kitten. I always assumed the cougar title was essentially the same, but a more “mature” version.

Maybe that’s not the case. You’ve certaintly given me food for thought.

(And for my part, I always preferred “mature” women, for no reason other than that experience tends to lend wisdom, and age is often required for experience.)

19 04 2009
feminist2

I’m glad that you took something away from this post!

Regarding labels, the ability to label others (and have that label stick) exemplifies power and privilege. By labeling, we are ascribing and inscribing meaning onto a person, object, comment or action. Some women who are labeled as “kittens” or “cougars” may indeed perceive those labels as a compliment because the dominant group in society (upper-class, white, heterosexual cisgender men) has ascribed that label to them and socialized them to internalize these labels. Specific to “cougar”, society tends to be very aging-phobic – we are afraid to age and do not want to appear “old”. Since calling a woman a “cougar” implies that though she is old, she is still vibrant, vivacious and good looking (therefore also implying that older women are not vibrant, vivacious or good looking). Our attitudes towards aging make being called a cougar seem like a compliment.

Thanks again for reading and commenting!

13 05 2009
Anto

You know me as someone who advocates gender blending and the like, thiking we are very similar. But some men in Italy, where I live (Uomini 3000), thinks womens render it difficult to relationate, and pretend men to do the whole burden about flirting and the initiating, (therefore objetifing themselves as passive in spite of feminism, I may add). What do you think about it.

13 05 2009
feminist2

I’m not quite sure what you mean… Please elaborate?

16 05 2009
brianna

I am a cougar and I find the name to be quite silly and amusing. But them I make it a point to not take myself too seriously anyways. Life is a lot more fun that way.

20 06 2009
S.B.T.A.

I never thought of the word cougar as having a negative connotation. When I think “cougar” I imagine a sexy, mature, experienced woman who has taken control of her sex life rather than let age rob it away. Cougars are powerful, alert and on the prowl for something that is better and more fulfilling. If anything, the term is empowering, not demeaning

14 07 2009
Sedate Me

While I find the Cougar marketing strategy tacky, (and it can be ageist and sexist because the marketers are ageist and sexist) it is no more offensive than any other way of labelling people and marketing to them. Specifically, we’re talking about Reality TV here. My daily toilet flush has more cultural value than this garbage.

I completely agree with SBTA.

When I imagine a cougar, I imagine a mature, intelligent, self-confident, in-control woman who is attractive, in large part because she has those qualities. I have always preferred cougars to brain-dead, pretty, little girls with nothing to offer but their “perfect” young bodies. And I always will.

You’d think this would score me some points. But no! It seems am to be ashamed for being attracted to women who don’t fit the classic definition of female attractiveness.(Youth based looks and submissiveness.) How dare I be so ageist and sexist that I am attracted to older, more assertive, women? Shame on me! Perhaps I should start chasing after skinny High School girls with big boobs and tiny brains who will do whatever I tell them to? If I’m going to be a sexist pig, why not go full boar?

Or maybe I should just cut off my balls and have no attraction towards anybody.

14 07 2009
feminist2

I am sure that there are several people who do not feel that cougar has a negative connotation. However, what irks me most is the marketing of “The Cougar” and similar shows – it most certainly is tacky, ageist and sexist.

18 08 2009
anonblonde

As the mother of two young men and the good friend of several women who do not “do the club scene” but have adopted the ‘label’ of cougars, I find this whole topic a bit amusing.

First, to address the label, I’m not certain where all of you are located but here in the heart of the Midwest, cougar does not just refer to a woman’s age & sexuality, she is someone who has taken control of her life, usually is financially independent and seeks pleasure where SHE chooses, likened to a huntress. Of all the labels women have been handed over the years, this one actually is the most flattering.

Second, to address the young men. I personally know, as they have both told me that many young men now find the whole ‘cougar’ mentality incredibly attractive. These women know what they want, they are intelligent, they have experience (and not just in the bedroom), they have confidence and they are usually willing to share some or all of that with these young men.

Lastly, to address concerns over “Reality TV” all I can ask is why not spend this much energy coming up with something to replace it, get rid of it or show it for what it really is. Can we hear a big giant FLUSH, please!

31 08 2009
alleyesandears

As a 40-year old woman, I have to say that I agree with the author of this article 100% – it’s so nice to see someone else raise an eyebrow at this term.

After reading the comments, I’m kind of surprised to see so many see it as a compliment. I guess there’s a surprise upside to this after all, I have personally never heard it used in a way that didn’t seem like a belittling chuckle at the person being labeled. As in “look at that silly old broad, thinking she can compete with young girls.’

And it’s a weird thing, I’m personally attracted to men my age or older, but it seems the only men ever attracted to me are anywhere from 2-10 years younger. I guess that’s another reason I bristle at the term – I don’t want to be labeled that, because again, I’ve heard it used derogatorily and snickeringly, and also because, as mentioned in the article, why do we have to have a special label for it when someone younger than me asks me out? It’s just two adults going out.

2 09 2009
Cougar Town – more on why I hate the word cougar « The Gender Blender Blog

[…] – more on why I hate the word cougar 2 09 2009 I’ve shared my thoughts about the cougar label before, so I’ve been really annoyed at all the ads I keep seeing on the New York subways for […]

21 09 2009
poetess

I don’t like the term either. I think there may be some younger men feeling free to pursue older women because of the cougar term and what it implies: that an older woman is an easier lay than a younger woman precisely because she is older and desperate.

24 09 2009
Hippie2MARS

As a 46 year-old woman who is currently dating a man 21 years my junior, I find the term somewhat insulting as well, but must admit, I prefer it to “cradle-robber”. The double standard for men and women drives me to distraction. Donald Trump can have as many trophy wives as he likes, but Demi Moore is a “cougar”. Whatever. However, I must admit, it turns me on when my “boy-toy” calls me his “cougar”!

30 09 2009
ponderer

It may be well that for some they take it and may mean it as a compliment, but that does not change the fact that for many and in many ads and television it is used in a degrading and belittling manner. Take for instance the show “Glee” one young man on the show has begun sleeping with “cougars” because while yes they are vibrant and experienced they are also desperate and have been unsatisfied sexually for a while. Doesn’t sound all the positive to me. Not to mention the man is not interested in her for a long term relationship, just to benefit of the “desperation” he sees. Many times I’ve seen on shows like the new one called “Cougar Town” starring Courtney Cox the women are often humorously depicted as being over sexed, almost indecent. I have to agree with the poster above that at least at times it is a double standard, that women have to be labeled at all, especially one that could and many times have be taken so wrongly.

10 11 2009
mradventurer

This is an angle I had yet to consider- being raised in the south, I have a love of wildlife and especially the mountain lion. “Cougar” to me always meant something powerful, graceful, and entrancing. I do support the notion that it challenges the general notion of femininity as passive and/or demure. I can say outright I can barely stand women my own age (I am 19) and I frequently seek out women in their late 20s. In fact, I am dating a 30-year-old and sexually, she drives me wild. Emotionally, we get along swimmingly; we understand each other and have a meaningful connection. People may give me crap about it, but I’ve been called a “Cougar Hunter” and that does not bother me one bit. I like being around women who are vibrant, intelligent, and single. That fits this term to a tee, in my eyes. I admit, by and large, I have been turned down, with such women admitting to being flattered, but seeing me as naive. Nonetheless, I have a fondness for this term and I support lighthearted jabs at the cultural idea as much as I do anything else. Truly mean-spirited ridicule I stand firmly against, but I cannot say I give a damn about what is on television. I no longer own one.

One more thing: thank you for such a stimulating conversation piece!

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