Years ago, I wrote a post about The Cougar Convention, an extravaganza of botoxed, boob-jobbed, eyebrow-shaped 40+ somethings (and their younger ‘Puma’ peers) who attend presentations, celebrate the crowning of the first Miss Cougar America and mingle at a bass-booming cougar ball (read: prom). And so, when I caught an article in yesterday’s New York Times Style Section entitled “For Would-Be Cougars, the Prom is a Good Start,” I wanted to cry because somehow, the author fails to celebrate what is truly remarkable: young girls who feel self confident enough to make their own choices despite highschool and peer pressure.
The Times piece focuses on the ‘cougar in training,’ young girls who choose to ask boys as much as a few years their junior to the prom. “Call it young cougars, a game of confidence or just female empowerment, but the unthinkable during my high school years is now happening all around me and other mothers of my acquaintance. A growing number of our teenage girls are unabashedly showing their preference for younger boys, saying they are not only more respectful than their older counterparts, but generally nicer to date.”
Later in the piece she writes that this trend continues longer than highschool…“but if Kate Burkhardt, a junior at Dartmouth College, is correct, the cougar-in-training trend could continue as these high schoolers get older. She dated her high school boyfriend, one grade below her, through her freshman year of college. They finally broke up when he went to college.”
Has society finally rubberstamped the cougar narrative?
Therein lies my objection; why do we endorse the image of a desperate older women who will risk all to attract the attention of a ‘younger male prey?’ I don’t believe that there is anything wrong about dating younger (or older) men (or women). However, what is wrong is perpetuating the self degrading myth.
As I wrote several years ago, “These ladies (the women who attend the convention) may be in it for a good time and believe that they have every right to behave in this fashion. They do; it’s a free country. But think about it; as women, we are consistently complaining about how we are portrayed in the media and within society, especially as we age. If this is the case, why are we spending thousands of dollars to literally sculpt ourselves into charactertures of our better selves?
These’ cougars in training’? They may be giving their older ‘role models’ a run for their money one day, merely because they are doing it the right way and the way that our sisters fought to have it done: they are keeping it real and self-respectful, taking care of themselves and listening to their hearts.
So why do we need to make fun? They are doing everything right, aren’t they? And in some respects, they are demonstrating that self love is a helluvalot more attractive than inches of foundation, a lip plumper and a few nips and tucks.
Truly… before we start proclaiming that these girls are learning how to pimp their hides, shouldn’t be step back and applaud them?. There’s nothing wrong with dating a younger man (or woman). Why don’t we take a page from their playbooks and keep the predator at bay where she belongs.
As smart, compassionate women, can we just agree never to use the term cougar again (unless, of course, you are a zookeeper or a park ranger)? It's degrading, imprecise, and sexist. To even think of high school girls as "cougars in training" breaks my heart. Thanks for a great post, Liz.
Thank you Candace. And I agree that it's heartbreaking. And inappropriate. The term "Cougar?" Oy. Time to bury that hatchet as well. Thank you for taking the time to comment!
The whole concept of "cougars in training" made me a little sick, Liz. I read it and applauded girls who are assertive enough (and brave enough) to ask a boy they want to go to a dance out - I never would've been brave enough to have done that in high school. And thought that if the guy they want to take with them is a few years' younger, that's pretty cool, too. To call these young women who are being true to themselves, and confident "cougars in training" well, it pisses me off. As, really, do the whole concept of cougars - a group of mostly insecure women looking for validation by dating younger men. By the way, I feel the same way about men who routinely are attracted to and date women who are much younger than they are. Let's applaud these young women for being true to themselves - but let's not insult them by likening what they're doing to the desperation that is part of what being a cougar is all about.
Best commentary Bob - Labels make great trend stories but crappy realities. I couldn't agree more. And I too, thought that the piece was a sensational stretch, not to mention that it sends the wrong message.
Shelly, exactly my point. I can't image having that sort of self confidence in high school to follow my heart. And I applaud these young girls who do. Their mothers (and fathers) clearly did a terrific job. Their reality is a reality that a lot of us would have liked to have. The label has no place.
A high-school senior dates a junior and is a "cougar-in-training?!" Oy gevalte. This NYT piece seems like a reach. For the purpose of this coment, I'm going to assume people are, in the end, looking for relationships, rather than a roll in the hay. That being said, shouldn't we be looking for people who are simpatico rather than some arbitrary age? And if the RIGHT person is 5 years younger, or older, what's the big deal? Look at one extreme celebrity case: Celine Dion and Rene Angelil. He's 26 years older than her. I find their relationship creepy -- not for the age difference, but because he was her manager from the time she was 13. Labels make great trend stories, but crappy realities.
I covered a cougar convention once for an article and I can totally relate to what you're saying. Also, media is just ridiculous in considering an age difference of say, less than 5 years as 'cougar' behavior. It's such a double standard as no one even thinks twice about the reverse when an older man bangs a younger woman. You know what those conventions are all about. And if the 'older' ladies want to have fun, well, I applaud their choice and gutsiness. Applying the same paradigm to 'younger' women is just ridiculous though. By the way, I never got around to writing that article.
Amen to that. The piece I wrote also includes a link to a photo stream. The portrayal is as ridiculous as the self-portrayal. Time for some balance, don't you think?
Dried up prunes and little boys with mommy issues. Whatever gets you through the night. But remember this - you will end up alone when the morning comes.