The ‘cougarizaton’ of America – Empowering or Desperate?

cougar town Every time I turn on the television these days I’m bombarded by images of, and conversations about cougars. Just so we’re all clear, Wikipedia (the most reliable source of information on the planet) defines a cougar as:

A woman over 40 who sexually pursues younger men, typically more than eight years her junior.

Yeah. About that… This TV season is rife with cougars. Over on ABC, Courtney Cox Arquette stars in Cougar Town, a sitcom about a forty-something, newly divorced mom returning to the dating game. Jenna Elfin’s upped the ante over on CBS by getting pregnant by her much younger, one night stand. Her show Accidentally on Purpose, follows Elfman as she deals with the ups and downs of becoming a first-time mom later in life and by a much younger man. These women are beautiful, smart, and empowered, or at least trying to be.

Both shows are comedies and they’ve got their funny moments, but somewhere in between all the jokes and laughter there’s a little bit of desperation and sadness. Elfman’s character even alludes to it on her show as she’s preparing to mingle at a club (pre-pregnancy) and asks her girlfriends whether her look is “empowering or desperate.” Who knew the line between empowering and desperate was that thin? And if you have to ask…

The thing is, as women, I kind of feel like we should be beyond the stage where empowering behavior equals acting like men. Especially when acting like them involves behavior that we used to frown upon. For years when we saw much older men with younger women, we secretly, or not so secretly, wondered about the nature of the relationship. We questioned its sincerity, calling her a gold digger and him a perv. And look, I’m certainly not saying that all relationships with a significant age difference are questionable, but Anna Nicole Smith and her 80 year old husband for example, really? Of course that’s an extreme example, it’s not so cut and dry when the age difference is 10 years or less, but when men buy their convertibles and leave their wives for younger women, we all groan and mumble things about mid-life crisis. So, why are we now celebrating the behavior when women do it?  And before I start getting hate mail – Not every older woman who dates a younger man is a cougar. Many of these relationships are not predatory as the term cougar suggests.

So here are the questions of the day. Why are so many people, men and women alike, embracing the term ‘cougar’ and why is the definition of ‘cougar’ morphing to include all women over forty who date younger men? Am I the only one who notices the ‘cougarization of women in their forties?’  And is the term cougar empowering or desperate?

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Image Source: ABC Cougar Town