I’m a big believer in love. I don’t tend to think in categories, but rather individuals. How do these two people love each other, and what are the obstacles to their love? So I’ve written all sorts of romantic combinations. One of the three relationships in Strange Sabbats, available now from Loose Id, is between an older woman and younger man.
I never heard the term “cougar” used to refer to a relationship between an older woman and younger man until last year, and I’ve been curious about its origins. I’m suspicious about labeling relationships with terms simply because they fall outside “norms” defined by “mainstream society.” Love is--simply and beyond labeling--love.
I’m especially suspicious when a woman is described in animal terms. Chick, barracuda, pet, kitten, playboy bunny, etc. Of course, a negative term always presents the opportunity for reclaiming, similar to the way the gay and lesbian community has embraced the word “queer” in an empowering manner.
Women now speak enthusiastically about “chick-lit” and “chick flicks” as a reflection of power to sway the entertainment industry. Look--there’s this whole genre out there driven by our wants and needs! I’m still a bit wary of the word “chick,” being just old enough to have experienced it in its raw form. But I think reclaiming uncomplimentary words is great. Go women!
Still, before reclaiming a term, it’s important to understand where it comes from. In my online research, Wikipedia gave a basic definition of the slang term “cougar,” and listed TV shows and movies which have used the term, but didn’t go into origins.
So I searched some more, and came up with an article by a lexicographer (someone who puts together and edits dictionaries). In his article, “Time for a Cougar,”click here for article, Grant Barrett writes, “In slang use…“cougar” is a term for an older woman who prefers to date younger men. There’s a connotation there of a wily, experienced feline going after a toothsome little rabbit.”
That about sums up my initial impressions of the word. When women acquire animal descriptions, we’re invariably cast as either predators (“barracuda”) or prey (“bunny”). “Cougar” falls into the predator category.
As for the origin’s of the slang term, Mr. Barrett writes:
“I found a March 3, 2001, article in the Globe and Mail of Toronto which credits “cougar” to a Canadian website called Cougardate.com, which the story says was started in 1999. It is, as you have guessed, a website where older women can meet younger men.
“The story given in that article is that one of the two women who founded the website was told by a nephew that the two ladies were like cougars in search of small defenceless animals. The nephew said he picked up the term from players on his hockey team. So, 1999 is the earliest probable date we have for the term and it’s fairly reliable.”
What’s interesting here is that, assuming the account is accurate, though the term was originally credited to male teen hockey players who used it in an uncomplimentary fashion, the reclaiming of the term by women occurred almost immediately. The male teens spoke of predators “in search of small defenseless animals.” But the women starting the dating website must have been thinking something to the effect of, “Hey, we’re cougars, and we’re powerful, and we’re proud!”
Again, go women! As with “chick lit,” the industry has picked up on what women want, and e-publishers are starting to contract more older women/younger man (ow/ym) stories. I’m a big believer in love--all sorts of love--so I think this is awesome. The term “cougar” may leave me with an uncomfortable aftertaste, but I’m all for the sub-genre.
What about all of you, do you enjoy a spicy older woman/younger man story? Do you prefer the term “cougar” or the older woman/younger man designation? Know any happy real life couples where the woman’s older and wiser?