Saturday, October 31, 2009

Down From the Hills

Be prepared, Readers … the Sunday at Noon Blog is going sexual. Ok, don’t get too excited, we’re not talking Kama Sutra, but there are real issues to be raised and explored. How, after all, can the topic of sex be divorced from dating in NYC anyway? And we might as well throw the topic of money in there too…

So for this week’s cerebral sexual blog, the pressing question being raised is: What is a cougar? Where did this term come from? How old does a woman have to be to be considered a cougar? How large does the age difference in the liason have to be for the term to apply? (e.g. 38 year old woman with a 36 year old guy – applicable?) … Does the woman have to be “hot?” Does she have to be financially successful? Is she someone so desperate for food she has to go out and get it when it used to come to her or is she a smart, confident woman who is simply comfortable ordering what she wants off the menu? Is being called a cougar an insult or a compliment?
[1] Does its invention signify a positive turning point in the recognition of women’s sexuality or is it a disparaging, derogatory view on women as they age?

Though I personally had never heard of the term until two years ago, my understanding is that this term has actually been around quite a while. Now, through the media and Hollywood examples such as Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, it’s the connotation that’s changing. To provide a window into the parameters of this term, the following definitions of a “cougar” are among those offered in the Urban Dictionary:

An older woman who frequents clubs in order to score with a much younger man. The cougar can be anyone from an overly surgically altered wind tunnel victim, to an absolute sad and bloated old horn-meister, to a real hottie or
milf. Cougars are gaining in popularity -- particularly the true hotties -- as young men find not only a sexual high, but many times a chick with her shit together.

A 35+ year old female who is on the "hunt" for a much younger, energetic, willing-to-do-anything male. The cougar can frequently be seen in a padded bra, cleavage exposed, propped up against a swanky bar in San Francisco (or other cities) waiting, watching, calculating; gearing up to sink her claws into an innocent young and strapping buck who happens to cross her path. "Man is cougar's number one prey."

An attractive woman in her 30's or 40's who is on the hunt once again. She may be found in the usual hunting grounds: nightclubs, bars, beaches, etc. She will not play the usual B.S. games that women in their early twenties participate in. End state, she will be going for the kill, just like you.

A woman who is 35+, sexually cunning, that prefers to hunt rather than be hunted.

The proffered definitions go on and on, but I think you get the point. What came to interest me most was not so much the specific definition of the term (starting age 30 vs. 35 … or is that a “Puma?) though that is also quite intriguing, but even more so the term’s implications for the concept of women & sexuality.

So much has changed in the past few decades in regard to men and women’s roles in the “dating” game. In times past, you had a prescribed way that men should act and that women should act and, though it was founded on a system of inequality, it made for easy guidelines. Here you go, Readers, this is where the sex and money come in.

Often I hear from men who tell me that they do not want to be with women who are looking to “date a wallet.” These male friends, acquaintances, clients, etc. complain about women expecting the man to pay for everything when she may make equal or more than he does. I have had several requests from men and women to write a blog about this topic (e.g. at what point in dating should the woman start paying for things? What should she pay for? How often?) - and rest assured it is in the line-up (timely, baseball reference for fun. Go Yankees!).

Some might respond to the men who lament this feeling of being expected to pay for things, “But you are the man. The Provider.” In fact, I know some men who will not let a woman pay for anything in their presence. Whether the woman is their friend, their sister or their love interest. It is just their personal guy code of conduct. And they are not “old” (many of these guys are in their late 30s/early 40s) or even that wealthy (certainly, they are successful, but not moving around on their lear jets). I know there are guys reading this shaking their heads, branding these guys pushovers and thinking NFW.

So while the guys are rebelling against a set of rules that used to work when their fathers (accountants, businessmen, etc.) were courting their mothers (nurses, teachers, [insert any profession previously viewed as a “woman’s profession” and for which women were paid significantly less]), women are also responding to a set of rules and roles generated in an age that treated women as “less than” and which also no longer works. Society has changed. Because women are more career minded than they were twenty and thirty years ago they are marrying later and, as a result, there are more single women in the 30+ age group. It’s an aspect of our culture that is very different than it was in the 60s, 70s or 80s. The sexual revolution that started in the 60s didn’t wrap things up in a nice and neat bow. Rather, it paved the way for change but there’s no doubt that the path is still under construction.

Let me elaborate. Despite the strides made in many other areas - workplace, politics, etc. - men and women often still do not stand on equal sexual footing. Women’s sexuality is often still seen as a prize to be taken (gotta love the old adage “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”), and there can still be the lack of understanding of reciprocity - i.e. the concept that most women enjoy sex as much as men and that plenty of women would sometimes like to have sex/intimacy simply for sex’s sake.
[2] So if the man wants to be the “hunter” but the woman has zero desire or need to be “chased,” or in fact might do the chasing herself, then she has altered the “man’s role.”[3]

This is revolutionary in many ways and it brings with it the associated defensive judgments when the status quo is threatened (i.e. the words in the Urban Dictionary definitions listed above re: cunning, calculating, etc.).[4] An effort to categorize this type of female behavior. Therefore, it’s important to note that the term is not applicable to a younger female (let’s say 25) who is on the hunt. That girl might be called desperate or easy … it seems that the green light on a robust sexuality has to be associated with an older, more experienced woman to be seemingly sanctioned.[5] Though one of my guy contacts recently told me that he has seen several 20 something years old sporting "cougar in training" t-shirts. Perhaps this suggests that even younger women in their 20s are embracing the concept of a strong, aggressive, and financially self-sustaining persona.

Of course, if you look at any of those definitions I listed above from the Urban Dictionary, you’d be describing most of the men hanging out at a bar in NYC on any given night. What term is applicable for the old dudes hitting on the 20 year olds? Vultures? Or the young guys chasing tail – dogs? (who will hump just about anything put in their path – your leg, a stuffed animal, the cat…). Sorry guys, I love you but you know it’s true.

Being called a cougar may or may not be considered a compliment - is it the equivalent of saying to a woman that she is officially “old” or is it an appreciation for a woman who is comfortable in who she is and who brings some life experience to the table? - however, the more I analyze the term I find that the creation of this concept is in fact a positive development and reflects the continuing evolution of the recognition of a woman’s sexuality.

The strong sentiment that many men feel that women should be contributing more to the financial equation and women’s rejection of being held to a sexual double standard are just two examples of the shift in norms that is turning the dating world upside down. And rest assured, this blog will tackle many more examples of this shift in the weeks and months to come. It’s clear to anyone in the industry or in the trenches that the Rules of Dating are being rewritten and, unfortunately for those who find it all quite perplexing, the release date for the new edition is still undetermined …

[1]An article I came across about “Cougar” Singles Parties quoted many women embracing the
term. "'Me, a cougar? I love hearing that,' she purred, flashing a mane of blond hair and a white smile." See

[2] I haven’t had an opportunity to watch Courtney Cox’s new show “Cougar Town”, but I understand that one of the main characters breaks up with her younger love interest after he proclaims his love for her.

[3] Someone recently told me a story where a friend of his spent the night with a “cougar” who then rolled over in the morning and stated with a smile: “good morning, my little cougar snack.” Embellishment or truth, I have no idea, but still it’s pretty funny.

[4] And it’s important to note that, as many people understand the term, a cougar is a woman who isn’t looking for a guy to support her financially. In this definition, she doesn’t need the guy to pay for anything – she may even be the sugar daddy in the duo.

[5] Also, you probably wouldn’t call a 45 year old woman who “hunts” a 46 year old man a cougar. They would just be two people having sexual relations, dating, what have you. It seems that there is a judgment in the term “cougar” of a younger male not being safe because of a woman’s overt and unchecked sexuality.

1 comment:

  1. Marni, this is interesting topic again:). As we discussed before, I think the percieved difference between men and women is purely social. It reflects certain social norms, coming from many sources, real and imaginable. The only difference is that women need a bit of time to develop their sexuality and in the past it was not possible because sexual contacts were always followed by pregnancy and women had to perform social roles associated with child rearing. Once women can (and sometimes could even in the past) be financially independent and have control over their fertility, nothing prevents them from being sexual and going for better looking (young) men same as men do. The ability of both males and females to explore their sexuality is a consequence of our indistrial lifestyle that removed many obligations and associated social roles. Many young men may like older women for many reasons and young women may like older man, there are many good things in such relationships, though maybe not from the point of procreation, but we don't need as many children as in the past, in fact, overpopulation is an issue. The people, who don't like it may be opposed to change (futile in my view) or jealous:). As to paying, I kind of treat it as game. Women are expected to be beautiful, dressed, sexy and manicured, it all costs a lot of money and it's ok if men pay for a restorant dinner or two or flowers, these are all pleasant dating game rituals. In married life or in long term couples things would be inevitably distributed more equally. Of course if men want to change women often, they would have to pay more, as they would always be in the beginning:)