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To some, they are objects of empowering modern feminism. To others they are an example of misogynistic male fantasy. To yet others they are simply titillating. One thing, however, is not in doubt: cougars are prowling all over the American cultural landscape, and they are not the mountain-lion kind.
Cougar is a term used to describe an older woman who uses the same predatory sexual techniques as men, including focusing on members of the opposite sex who are much younger than she is. Think of The Graduate 's Mrs Robinson, but updated and without the psychological hang-ups. It began as a term of thinly veiled abuse, considered a derisive insult to older single women. But now the term has gradually entered the mainstream, especially through television. That has stirred a fierce debate over whether the term is a triumph for women, or a disastrous setback.
Last week saw the debut of the new sitcom Cougar Townstarring former Friends actress Courteney Cox, who plays an older woman, with a teenage son, who relentlessly goes after younger men as sexual conquests. She flashes a paperboy and eyes up a younger man with the words: "I'd love to lick his body. The show, which was aired on ABC in prime time and received generally good audience figures, was described as "ridiculous and belittling" by a New York Times columnist. Yet Cougar Town is just the thin end of a cougar invasion of television. Another sitcom, CBS's Accidentally on Purposefeatures Jenna Elfman as a late 30s woman impregnated by a year-old on a one-night stand.
Then there is the reality TV show called The Cougar in which a year-old real estate agent and divorced mother-of-four chooses from among a pack of young men in their early 20s eager to date her. Neither is it just TV. Jennifer Aniston, apparently without irony given her media status as the symbol of older single women in America, is preparing to feature in a film called Pumas. She and her co-stars are women in their 30s who enjoy the romantic attentions of much younger men.
Pumas are meant to be slightly younger cougars-in-waiting. Michelle Pfeiffer, 51, recently played a woman courtesan tasked with the seduction of a much younger man in the film Cheri. She received great reviews, based mainly on her continuing beauty. Then there are those who have been branded "real-life cougars" by the media, such as Madonna, 51, who is dating year-old Jesus Luz, a Brazilian model, and Mariah Carey who is 11 years older than her new husband, Nick Cannon. Bizarrely, the Indian actress Freida Pinto, who is just 24, was given the label in some parts of the tabloid press when she started dating her co-star from Slumdog Millionaire Dev Patel, The phenomenon has crossed the Atlantic: one newspaper recently crowned year-old actress Amanda Redman "Britain's favourite Cougar".
Redman, whose long-term partner Damian Schnabel is 40, said the men she had found to be most caring, sensitive and nurturing Why is an older woman dating a younger man called a cougar all younger. boyfriends include Oliver Boot, who is 22 years younger than she is, and the actor Adam Rayner, 20 years her junior. As for non-celebrities, a growing of people are ing up to dating websites deed for older women and younger men. Even holiday operators are trying to cash in. At the same time, numerous dating evenings for self-declared cougars are held across America, where older woman can meet and date the younger men who desire them.
Some commentators have hailed the entry of the term cougar into the mainstream as a of female liberation. They say the TV shows, films and events are showing off a powerful female sexuality. For example, few would bat an eye at a dating show featuring a man picking from women much younger than himself. Cougars, perhaps, are simply claiming the sexual high ground from the sex that has traditionally held it.
Author Valerie Gibson, who has written a book called Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Menhas defended the term as an example of liberation: "A cougar is the new breed of single, older woman — confident, sophisticated, desirable, and sexy.
She knows exactly what she wants. What she wants is younger men and lots of great sex. What she doesn't want is children, cohabitation or commitment. Former magazine editor Bonnie Fuller ed the debate, declaring: "It's official. Age is irrelevant… when it comes to women and beauty, that is. Of course, cougars have long existed. Some high-profile celebrity couplings may have helped to inspire the acceptance of the word.
Foremost among them is the marriage between Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, who appear happily wed despite Moore being 16 years older than her spouse. Adding to the spice is the fact that the union is often reported as being one of the most stable and happy in Hollywood.
But elsewhere cougars are facing a backlash. The real tipping point for critics appears to be Cougar Town. Late last week, in the wake of the first episode of Cox's new show, several leading women critics decided to speak out against the label. They called it a backward step for women's rights and said the type of feminism that it represented was based on what men think of women, not what women might think of themselves.
So it should come as no surprise that Jules [Cox's character] will search for self-esteem in frequent sex and the proof that she is still 'hot'," seethed Wall Street Journal writer Nancy Dewolf Smith. Such a slamming was mild compared to that dished out by Judith Warner, the New York Times columnist who writes the newspaper's Domestic Disturbances blog. It's ridiculous and belittling. So very pitiful. British commentators have also ed the debate. Kathryn Flett, the Observer 's television critic and star of the BBC's Grumpy Old Womensaid the problem was the label itself: "The term cougar is horrible — it is demeaning.
It is the whole predatory, feline, sexual thing.
Moreover, it was hardly empowering for women to see the phenomenon played out on screen by glamorous celebrities who had little in common with a typical fortysomething, she said. It is drama, it is escapism. But the trend did exist, she added. It is always writ large and cartoonish, but nevertheless it has emerged from a genuine phenomenon.
I can tell you that there are a lot of single women — for the sake of argument, in their 40s — having relationships with younger men. And if the phenomenon is a reality in the US, then psychologists say it is sure to be thriving here as well. If an older woman showed him a few tricks they could experience the same level of intensity. Shuttleworth argued that another reason young men and women sometimes sought older partners was that they were leaving home and wanted a paternal or maternal figure. That could result in problems, however, when they reached their mid or late 20s and decided they wanted a playmate instead, he added: "The danger in any relationship is that we change in our needs.
Others agreed, including Warner, who said it was not just Cougar Town that had made her angry. She pointed out that the TV and movie industry championing the wave of cougar-themed shows and movies was overwhelmingly male-dominated. The image of the cougar, she argued, was more a product of an adolescent sexual fantasy among male studio executives than anything to do with women themselves.
I'm sure we can generate better fantasies for ourselves," she concluded. Whether the world of television and cinema rises to that challenge remains to be seen. The Observer Life and style. This article is more than 11 years old.
They're over 40 and on the hunt for a younger man. Now they're starring in a series of popular TV shows — causing fury among commentators. By Paul Harris and Anushka Asthana. Paul Harris and Anushka Asthana. Reuse this content.Why is an older woman dating a younger man called a cougar
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Female 'cougars' are on the prowl. Or are they just a male fantasy?