Catch a Cougar by the Tail

Friday, April 30, 2010 | 6 Comment(s)

So, I'm torn with this term "cougar." The term now used to characterize older women as sexual predators out for young meat. On the face of it, my gut reaction is that this is bad. I mean, you are continuing of a tradition of portraying women as animals (look at that in advertising-both in the prints they wear and their poses). And as dangerous predators, out to devour young unsuspecting boys. Please. 20 years ago entire movie plots were base on trying to snare an older woman. Sheesh. And, as a term, it's kinda gross and demeaning. I mean, right? There is even a show now, "Cougar Town" where our old friend Monica from Friends is now a cougar in the city (I haven't watched, so that's about all i know [or plan to know] about it).

But then i think . . . the way we usually portray women in their 40's and 50's is one of two ways:

1) The nurturing mother. Ask any aging actress in Hollywood, the moment they all dread is when they are first asked to portray a mother. It all de-sexualized from there. And that's kinda my point. This reinforces the idea that once a woman loses her sexual appeal, she has lost her value.

2) Not at all. In general, besides breast cancer awareness, aging women get the super short end of the stick (and if you are a minority aging women . . . good luck). They are practically invisible. With the exception of politicians, older women aren't really visible in our culture. They aren't spokespeople (except for yogurt to make you poop), they rarely host shows (Whoopi was the exception here), and they are not longer a "key demographic" for most advertising (Maybe the slap-chop?).

In both cases, the concept of a strong powerful older women is totally lost. So then I think back to this "cougar" thing. And I think, " At least powerful assertive older women are being portrayed as sexy. And while this still buys into the idea that a woman's value is closely tied to her, shall we say, "sexual viability," at least this term is widening the definition of what is considered sexy to include more women. And that's a good thing. Because we have the sicknesses of body dimorphism and beauty myths in this country and all it's doing is making us all feel shittier. The longer we can help people believe they are beautiful the better.

Even if we have to objectify them to do it?

Rock the comments with your thoughts.


  1. Love this. I will say this, though...I work in television advertising and target demos vary greatly in each region. I'm in the south, therefore there are a lot of clients that might target this age group (it's actually very important since they are predominately the "decision makers" in the house). Everything else is so on-point. Even strong, independent women oftentimes feel that their worth is derived from their "sexual viability." But you have to wonder how many women might use this to their advantage. It's a cycle. The more women use their sexual viability, the more it's going to slap them in the face later. And I can say that...Because I'm a chick.

  2. my perception has been (perhaps only one side of it) that the term 'cougars' (based on SNL sketches not the tv show, which i've never seen) is a joke about how pathetic it is that older women lust after young men they are no longer attractive enough to get naturally. It subconciously reinforces the notion that you better get married when you're still young because nobody is going to take you seriously as a sexual partner if you're still single and bed-hopping after age 35... all you can hope to be is a slutty old whore who has to pay for young men to pay attention to them, meanwhile everyone will laugh at the guy (and you) for being so lame. I'm not sure if there's another side to this that's empowering. I mean, at least we've taken the step to recognize that women are still interested in having a sex life after they're no longer in their 'prime', and this recognizes women as subjects and not just objects, I suppose. And I can't really tell if the joke of cougars is supposed to make men laugh or women laugh or both... but it's an uncomfortable laughter i think. Because the truth is so sad. Men can and do openly and successfully pursue young sex-object women well into their 50's and 60's (given wealth/power/status/viagra to enable them most will am i wrong?) and nobody makes fun of them for that. The reason they make fun of women for doing the same thing is that it's seen as pathetic and obviously wrong. which is an annoying double standard.

  3. Ms.C: You are totally right. I was a little out of my knowledge zone with the marketing stuff, but i still think having middle aged women sell mostly household products sends its own bad message.

    Sarah2: I actually have to disagree with you on some of the characterizations of cougars. I don't think that they are considered to be paying for sex. Sugar momma? Maybe. But not "paying for sex." (and this def. happens with reversed genders.) I also don't think that cougars, in general, are being laughed at. There are literally "Cougar cruises" catering to older women and younger men. I think this is actually trying to undo some of the double standard in dating a younger partner if you can. I think of the women i'm seen in Vail or the Vineyard. Because i also think that being cougar is also connected with financial independence (again--for better or worse). But i TOTALLY agree with you that the concept reinforces this stereotype that women have to either "get married or get slutty." Which is bullshit.

  4. A friend posted this on fb and I thought it was approp to share:

  5. annnnnnnnd . . . there's the line. oy vey.

  6. Oh for sure...It's pretty wrong to see middle aged women shilling for Lysol Disinfectant Spray and Tidy Bowl, solely. And there is a point to be made here...If you took the same advertisement and replaced the "cougar" with a really cute 20 year old co-ed I think it would probably sell better.