Trendspotter: are cougars nipping at younger men?
More older women are wooing younger men on prime time and reality shows
Some say older women who date younger men are living in a fantasy world, and that it is an unnatural relationship, but for whom? It is safe to say there is a stigma attached to older women who get involved with younger men – heck, there is even a term coined for them: cougars.
More and more, the traditional relationship of older men with younger women is being flipped on television and in the media. Shows like Desperate Housewives and Lipstick Jungle have written older woman/younger man relationships into their storylines. And let us not forget reality shows such as Kept and Ivana Young Man, in which successful women specifically search for a young buck they can call their own.
Is this a growing niche in society that’s being reflected on TV?
Professor Jean Golden, chair of the department of sociology at Ryerson University, thinks not. “The relationships between the older woman and the younger man are a real minority – in the 2001 stats data it was the smallest group.”
Then why do these shows focus on this dynamic? I think it all boils down to the new levels of success women are reaching that allow them to choose this otherwise unthinkable option.
First, let’s talk about the profile of these women portrayed on TV and film. They’re usually Caucasian, extremely successful in their careers and come from middle and upper classes.
These women are also youthful-looking and take care of their appearance, so despite their age they fit modern standards of female beauty. Not to mention the fact that their funds allow them to keep up with the latest cosmetic advancements, like Botox and implants.
But since these women are reaching financial peaks on their own, they no longer need older men to accomplish these goals as past generations did.
“These are women who have some or gained some kind of success, so when they are looking for relationships with younger men they are not necessarily looking for someone who can provide an economic ladder for them,” says Golden. “They are more looking for someone who can provide good sex and be able to communicate with them.”
This is certainly reflected in Ivana Young Man, in which Donald Trump’s ex-wife Ivana helps another independently wealthy woman chose a young man for companionship and fun.
Companionship and fun are also seen as part of the reason why on Lipstick Jungle, Kim Raver’s character Nico – a married woman – found a new life with a younger man. Her husband stopped paying attention to her, so she was tempted to look elsewhere. On Desperate Housewives, Gabrielle (Eva Longoria Parker) also sought some spice with her teenage gardener while she was still married.
Even the 2005 movie Prime, in which Uma Thurman’s character gets involved with her therapist’s son, reinforces the theory that an older woman chooses to be with a younger man for these more emotional reasons.
And what is wrong with that? Why is this an unusual paring? Isn’t the purpose of every relationship to find someone who can be both a companion and a lover?
I think it is unusual because it is the opposite of the traditional roles of dominance between the sexes.
Golden agrees: “Is it about power and dominance, just like men always [being] taller than women is a reflection of what the expectation is in the society? And then people raise their eyebrows, smirk, make jokes about older women with younger men, assuming that it could only be about sex … and that’s why you get jokes about cougars.”
The role reversal pays a price in stereotypes. Terms like “cougars” cast these women in an unfavourable light, labeling them as some type of predator hunting younger men. And shows like Lipstick and Housewives no doubt perpetuate the image of these highly sexualized older women who have bodies that look like young women’s bodies.
And about those bodies … Golden says that Tinseltown is to blame for the “ideal” body type women have for themselves, both young and old. “I think it’s a fantasy, I think it’s reflected because there are more women in Hollywood who have been able to maintain their youth, more with the assistance of cosmetic surgery and the chemicals that go along with it.”
This skewed perception of what an older woman can look like only makes sense when we consider how few women can actually afford this kind of upkeep. Thereby making the number of these women who pursue younger men even smaller.
In the reality show Age of Love, 30-year-old tennis star Mark Philippoussis looked for love in two different female age groups: the kittens (women in their 20s) and the cougars (women in their 40s). Now I was not surprised that Philippoussis choose a “kitten” out of the two litters, but I was surprised by the concept and that “cougar” has become an acceptable term to use.
I don’t think older women/younger men relationships are increasing, despite the mainstream exposure they’re getting. I do think they are getting more exposure because of the increase in older women who can choose to have these relationships, especially those in the public eye.
As for the “cougar” stereotypes and whether they will ever go away … I’m not so sure if they will, just because they only account for a small slice in the pie of society. Plus all the tongue-in-cheek innuendos that go along with them are still taboo.
In the end, it’s good to shake things up once in a while, and if bringing the older woman/younger man relationship into the light helps break down negative stereotypes, then so be it.
Who says a powerful woman can’t find love and companionship with a younger man? Successful men have married much younger women for generations, so it can’t be all bad.
GUY D. BREAU