Chapter 2: Cougars and Nymphets: Glorifying the Younger Woman
In 2014, fifty-three-year-old George Clooney marriedAmal Alamuddin, a lawyer in her midthirties. The dayafter the news broke, I sat with my coffee, reading a columnby a journalist in her fifties who considered therelationship proof of a mid-life crisis, an ugly realitythat can strike indiscriminately and leaves no aging wifesafe in her marriage. As I came across similar stories,I couldn’t help wondering whether the phenomenon isreally as widespread as they say. I am, after all, aboutthe same age as Amal Clooney. If the phenomenon isreal, that means many women under thirty-five aredating men ten, fifteen, even twenty years their senior. So where are all the single men my age hiding?
Statistically speaking, there should be a single manout there for every single heterosexual woman — after all,the population is fairly evenly split between the genders. If men in their fifties prefer to date younger women,then it follows that there are fewer younger women available. Logically, this should create an untapped pool of singleyoung men who are potential partners for the olderwomen. If this is the case, then why do we often hear aboutthe former situation (older men with younger women) butrarely the latter (older women with younger men)?
Is the older man + younger woman combination reallyso common? And if the answer is yes, wouldn’t it invariablylead to young men and older women coupling up?
Enter the “cougar”: if we’re talking about courtship,age gaps, and the hunt, we can’t gloss over this contemporaryfemale archetype.
Throughout history, women have been expected toabandon their sex drive as they aged, simply because itwas believed that men lost interest in them. A womanwas supposed to pass without protest from spring blossomto fading bloom.
Until recently, this shift manifested with motherhood. A woman would transition from eligible maiden,to bride, to mother. And once the kids arrived, the roleof mother replaced that of sexual being and object of desire. 1 Women were expected to steer their lives accordingto this trajectory. First, devote body and soul to securinga husband; once this has been achieved, raise their childrenwith the same utter devotion. A mother was notexpected to attract men once she had settled down: herlife had taken a new direction, one that desexualized her.
In today’s world, with sexuality being trivializedand multinational corporations constantly hunting fornew markets, the situation has changed. Mothers areno longer encouraged to renounce their sex appeal. Onthe contrary, marketing firms do everything they canto sell women products designed to keep them lookingyoung. The imperative to appear youthful ensuresthat these products (hair dyes, push-up bras, makeup,anti-aging creams, plastic surgery, trendy clothing,etc. ) are in constant demand.
This is partly why becoming a mother no longerstands in the way of a woman’s sexualization. And thishas given rise to two new cultural phenomena: the cougarand the MILF.
The MILF (Mother I’d Like to Fuck) and the cougarare two distinct concepts. A MILF is a woman who isobjectified. A man’s desire is central to the expression:the man is the subject, the “I,” who is acting on the object. The sex drive of the mother in question is not partof the equation.
But while the MILF complies with the stereotype ofthe passive woman, the concept of the cougar is quiterevolutionary.
The cougar is a subject who desires; her sex drive iscentral to the expression defining her. The image of the“cougar” suggests a predatory relationship. The cougaris no prey; she is a huntress.
But even so, does the cougar undermine the cumshotprinciple? This question deserves a closer look.
The cougar is no longer a spring blossom, but noris she necessarily a mother. The word simply refers toa woman who is attracted to men significantly youngerthan she is.
The term entered popular culture around the turnof the millennium to describe celebrities like DemiMoore or Madonna. But New Zealand researchersZoe Lawton and Paul Callister have traced the expression’sorigin to Canada, in the 1980s. 2 According totheir research, the Vancouver Canucks, a professionalhockey team, coined the term to refer to older singlewomen who attended games in the hopes of sleepingwith attractive young players. The expression was thenpicked up by columnist Valerie Gibson of the TorontoSun in 2001. The following year, Gibson published abook providing tips for older women who want to dateyounger men. In it, she related her own experienceswith men ten to twenty years her junior.
The age difference in Gibson’s case is significant, butit isn’t always so for cougars. A woman may be calleda cougar even if she is only a few years older than herpartner. In fact, the unusual nature of any relationshipinvolving an older woman and a younger man is quicklyremarked on — and amplified. Once, when I wastwenty-nine and dating a twenty-five-year-old, an acquaintancecompared our “age difference” to that of herown relationship: she was thirty, her partner fifty.
Yet in our culture, men can easily be older thantheir partner without raising any eyebrows. Peoplemay call attention to a large age gap, but not systematicallyand with less intensity. Why is that?