Monday, June 18, 2007


I first heard the term 'cougar' last week from a younger woman at work. I figured it was just another in a seemingly endless list of terms the generation just below mine has generated over the past 10 years or so and, as usual, I kind of pretended I understood what she was talking about until I figured it out from context. Once I managed that, I was surprised by how much it bothered me.

'Cougar,' for those as out-of-the-know as myself, is a term applied to single women in their late 30s or early 40s - women who are, presumably, desperate and 'on the prowl' for a man. The sense of the word is that this is a truly pathetic state of affairs.

I can't actually account for why I found the term so viscerally repugnant. The obvious answer would be that I am a single, 36-year-old woman who will, according to the lights of our culture, become completely obsolete in the next four years, if I weren't already beneath notice for my weight. But, because of my weight, I have already spent so many years of my life as a punchline, being a joke for another reason should not be so hard for me. Should it?

In the usual way of these things, I have suddenly started hearing 'cougars' discussed everywhere, usually followed by gales of laughter. The word has featured prominently in ads for a rancid new reality show called "Age of Love" (NBC). In it, a group of 40ish women (the cougars) are arrayed against a group of 20ish women (the kittens) in a battle to the death for the affections of a famous and incredibly boring man (Australian tennis pro Greg Philippoussis), aged 30. I made the mistake of watching the show tonight, and it depressed me for so many reasons that I don't think I can muster the energy to write about them all right now.

The 40ish women are genetic marvels - all gloriously beautiful, freakishly youthful and groomed to within in an inch of their lives. Philippoussis' initial response upon seeing them? Dismay.

Okay - so, I don't actually think there is any reason to expect a younger person of either sex not to think someone 10-18 years their senior is too old for them. Normal, healthy as far as I am concerned. The thing that depresses me is the sinking feeling that Philippoussis could have been 10 to 18 years older and his reaction would have been the same.

The other depressing thing was the squealing. Oh merciful god, the squealing. I stopped punctuating my conversation with squeals somewhere in my mid-20s, and I think I stopped using that self-consciously excited 'omigod!' voice some time in junior high. When did 40 become so incredibly old that you had to sacrifice all your dignity to be forgiven for it? When I was 10 years old, I had my first celebrity crush - on Harrison Ford, who was 40 at the time, and starring in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." In the old Mediaeval concept drawings of the stages of life, 40 sits at the pinnacle, dressed in robes and at the radiant peak of human development - and this was when people, even wealthy people, did not live so long as we do now. My Aunt Mette lived to be 104. My grandmother lived to be almost 100. That means I could have, conceivably, 60 years, almost twice again as many as I've lived so far, in which to be completely beside the point.

Are we all frickin' insane? Nobody gets younger. Youth is not something anyone deserves. We all go through it, and we all get old, and the American qualifying threshold for youth goes down every year. I now know 28 year olds who talk as if they are about to enter the geriatric ward. You would think some of us would start paying some big-time attention to older people, if for no other reason than self-preservation.

Oh well. Time for bed.


Blogger PastaQueen said...

The definition of a cougar is actually a bit more specific. According to the Urban Dictionary it's an older woman looking specifically for a younger man. It's still somewhat sexist though since there isn't a comperable term for a male looking for younger woman. Actually that's pretty much accepted as normal so I guess it doesn't need a term? It's like trying to find a male equivalent for "slut."

8:09 AM  
Blogger Mary Garden said...

Yes - or bitch, or whore. Even motherfucker and bastard manage to insult women. Arg.

Hm - well, that makes a little more sense re: cougar. But I agree - why does it have to be ridiculous when a woman does it and normal (even admirable) when a man does? A man doesn't even have to be in the unbelievable state of preservation that those 'cougars' are.

12:07 PM  
Anonymous littlem said...

I think part of the critical part is that it's male-defined and male-centered (like both ends of the age spectrum orbiting around that odious tennis pro you mentioned).

I particularly like this part, though:

"Nobody gets younger. Youth is not something anyone deserves. We all go through it, and we all get old, and the American qualifying threshold for youth goes down every year."

It's like Logan's Run and GATTACA blended well with a healthy dose of the Weimar Republic demise, isn't it? Maybe if enough people draw the parallel (and you keep writing - HINT STRONG HINT) perhaps enough of us will wake up to stop it.

8:32 PM  

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