Who knew Jennifer Anniston was a cougar? I certainly didn’t.

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When she
started dating John Mayer, all I knew is that it might alleviate her
suffering over the whole Brad thing which has weighed heavily on me for
years and distracted me from more pressing issues like learning what
carbon trading means.

I’d heard the term ‘cougar’ and I understood it referred to older women
pursuing younger men. However the predatory overtones (cougar [koo-ger]
– Puma or mountain lion known as a stalk-and-ambush predator) brought
to mind a different kind of woman. You know, older. Samantha from Sex
& The City. Dina Lohan, Mrs Robinson in The Graduate, Ivana Trump.
Joan Collins.

Apparently, the term originated in the bars of Vancouver around 2001 as
a put-down for the older women who would go home with whoever was left
at the end of the night.

But these days, a website for older women, wowowow.com, defines a cougar more specifically as “any woman, typically 35 or older, who is in a relationship with a man younger than her by eight to ten years or more.” By this definition, Jennifer is therefore a cougar because she’s 39 and John Mayer is 30.

There’s a long history of women being called animal names as a way to denigrate them. Bitch. Dog. Bird. Chick. Cow. Mutton. Cold fish. Whale. Mole.

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There’s also a long list of disparaging words used to demonise women’s sexual behaviour. Slut. Whore. Skank. Prick-tease. Grave-digger. Gold-digger. Cradle-snatcher. Frigid. Loose. Hussy. Nympho.

How wonderful then that ‘cougar’ has clawed its way onto both lists as yet another way in which we can describe women in a derogatory way. I’m over-joyed.

Poor men. It’s terribly unfair that we have so few words available to describe their sexual behaviour. In fact, I can only think of one: stud.

There are no catchy, demeaning terms to describe the way 80 year old Hugh Hefner has three live-in girlfriends aged 21-31. Or how Woody Allen hooked up with the daughter of his ex-girlfriend when he was 56 and she was 22. Or how 64-year-old Michael Douglas is married to Catherine Zeta Jones, 39. Or how Tony Curtis’s fifth wife is 42 years younger than him. Or how 84-year-old Tony Randall was married to a 34 year old at the time of his death. Or how John Singleton has been married six times. I guess the word ‘stud’ will just have to apply to them all, poor buggers.

“Older men who date younger women are looked on with admiration by other older men,” points out Valerie Gibson, author of Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men. ”Older women who date younger men are looked on with scorn by both sexes and called foolish.”

Of course, not everyone sees ‘cougar’ as a derogatory term. When you look at some of the women called cougars for dating or marrying younger men – Demi Moore (15 year gap), Susan Sarandon (12), Halle Berry (10),  Madonna, (10), Kim Catrall (27),  Goldie Hawn (10) – it’s a fairly aspirational bunch.

The cougar concept is certainly hot right now. A recent survey by the American Association of Retired Persons revealed that 34 percent of single women aged 40-60 are dating younger men.
Since most men aged 40-60 are looking to date younger women, this seems like a smart move by the older women (although it certainly makes it harder for women in their 20s and 30s trying to date guys their own age if they have to compete with their own divorced mothers.)

Meanwhile, an on-line poll by a match-making agency found that 65 percent of single guys in their 20s actively seek out women who are at least five years older.

Helpfully, specialised dating websites like gocougar.com and thecougarconnection.com have emerged to cater for this mutual desire between older women and younger men.

Former star of “The Nanny’, Fran Drescher, 47, whose ex-boyfriend was 16 years younger believes the cougar trend is driven by increased self-sufficiency among older women. “We no longer have to evaluate a man based on whether or not they’re going to be a good provider and take care of us.”

I know a cougar couple who’ve been dating for about two years. She’s 42, he just turned 30 and I asked them how it’s different. “Older women know exactly what they want and aren’t afraid to make that clear,” he said. “Sometimes it can be a bit confronting but it’s mostly great not having to play games. I find older women are less needy, more independent.”
She concurs. “The game playing is over. By the time you get into your late 30s or 40s, you’ve learnt a lot and made mistakes so it’s easier to be honest. I found the older guys I’ve dated have been more set in their ways. Maybe they have a more traditional expectation of how a woman should be in a relationship. Younger men are more open and less threatened by a smart, successful woman.”
As for sexual compatibility, her boyfriend says this: “Younger women might have better bodies but sex isn’t about cellulite or stretch marks, it’s about confidence and experience. I’ve found that older women have more of both.” At this my friend giggled. “Yeah, but younger guys are more shocked when they see grey in your hair if you forget to do your roots.”

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