I was walking around in some park yesterday with a friend and we ended up discussing the utterly stupid phenomenon of people calling women who date younger men “cougars.” We agreed, of course, that the term is totally passe and is usually deployed by the kinds of people who think having “Shake and bake!” as their MySpace headline is clever. But that, obviously, is not all; “cougar” is yet another dehumanizing term that our culture uses to reduce female human beings to gross and blunt stereotypes based on their sexual choices.
Let me tell you a small story. Wednesday night I went out to some asshole party at the local pub where Americans pretend to be English while drinking Guinness and watching sports they have no business being into (English soccer). The asshole party was called Trivia Night. I’ve never been to pub trivia before because I usually don’t have the chance to get wasted on a Tuesday, and because I’m not on a co-ed softball team, so it was a real experience. Myself, my friend Nate, and my other friend Gay Steve formed a little team called Lambda Lambda Lambda and we did pretty well considering the fact that we were playing against teams with 10 or 15 people on them. Still, we blew it because we didn’t know how many emirates made up the United Arab Emirates. Weak, I know.
When the trivia was all over, I had some spare attention to spread around the patio area and I saw something that nearly blew my mind. Some dude had a beard that had more net volume than Osama bin Laden, Fidel Castro in his heydey, and Scott Ian could muster in a cooperative effort — and not only that — he had on some plaid emo cowboy shirt with the sleeves cut off, and a trucker hat with a patch on it urging me to buy some tractor or other (I say trucker hats are unacceptable and always will be — they’ve used up their irony cachet at least four times over, and will never, ever be cool). I didn’t check, but I’m sure he also had on a giant belt buckle that said something stupid about guns or bourbon on it. I wouldn’t have been able to see it, anyway, because he had the gut to match the outfit. He basically looked like he’d been in the forests of Idaho doing nothing but cutting logs and motorboatin’ for about four years, but he hadn’t been. The whole thing was some kind of kit he put together to let everyone know what a hip motherfucker he is. For this guy, every single day is Halloween, and he trick-or-treats for hipster points (which I think can be cashed in at Urban Outfitters for books of drinking games or forty cozies). Shameful.
What you may not know about me is that I’m kind of an asshole, especially when I’ve been drinking in a room full of people that bring me close to fainting with embarrassment. As such, I decided to go tell the guy I was really impressed with his kit and that he should definitely keep the look up, no matter what anyone says. Apparently, though, my sarcasm didn’t make its way through and some bald dickfore that was hanging out with the guy took my completely backhanded compliment to mean I was interested in the faux motorboatin’, deer huntin’, Jim Beam swillin’ trucker. The bald guy made some hand signal that, as far as I know, is the SCUBA diver signal to indicate that there’s a barracuda nearby, so I asked him what it meant. I was curious, you know. I wish I hadn’t asked, though, because the trucker apologetically told me that it meant Kojak was calling me a cougar in code. Uh huh.
I’m only 30. Plus, I don’t even look 30, because I haven’t been abusing myself with beauty rituals for the last 15 years, and because I don’t wear make-up and refuse to dress like a responsible adult. In fact, I’m pretty sure I look younger than the trucker, who, despite being only 21, looked about 40 due to his ridiculous fashion choices. And I might be and look a decade younger than the bald cockface who made the signal in the first place. Added to that is the fact that I’d sooner get a tribal tattoo than hit on a dude who thinks dressing up like someone named Cletus or Skeeter is cool. I’m not telling you any of that to impress upon you how purty I am or how much cooler I am than anyone else, but rather to point out one small bit of the absurdity of this ass clown thinking he was witty for using a term to insult me that didn’t even apply to the situation.
But, of course, germanity isn’t the central issue here. The central issue is that this guy thinks he’s cool/funny/edgy/impressing someone by being snarky by trying to shame me for having the temerity to be a woman outside doing what I feel like doing, including talking to a dude without having been spoken to first. As such, I deserved to be put back in my place, and how better to achieve that than to verbally reduce me from a human being to an animal/undesirable sexual stereotype? This stupid, drunk, mouth-breathing, bald, old asshole conceived of himself as a bigger deal than me, as higher in the hierarchy than I am, just because he has a wiener (which is, unfortunately, true, no matter how much smarter, cooler, and better I am than he is – IBTP), and he was threatened enough by my refusal to fulfill his expectations of what women ought to act like in public to put down his drink, stop trying to show off his spider web tattoo, and dehumanize a total stranger. Fuckin’ A. I made some witty-as-fuck reply like, “At least I have all my hair and don’t have to take out my frustration over my impotence, baldness, and low IQ on people I don’t even know.” I’m sure there was a “fuck you” and some mention of his stupid tattoos in there, too, but it all just happened so faaast.
So I’ve been thinking about the term “cougar” for the past few days. Well, really, I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I used to have a friend named Leo who was in a New Wave band (in 2002) called Cougar!, and the first time I heard someone use the term “cougar” to refer to an older woman who dated younger dudes I got really pissed because I knew one of the coolest New Wave band names ever had been ruined. I also knew I was going to be hearing a lot more of yet another derogatory term for women that had arisen out of yet another double standard. SNORE.
I fucking hate Sex and the City and refuse to watch it, but I knew when a show came out that revolved around women who weren’t 22 fucking dudes who were — and when that show became a huge cultural phenomenon among the kinds of women I don’t want to hang out with — that we’d be hearing a lot of bullshit about some purportedly “new” sexual trends among women spawned by the show’s popularity. That doesn’t mean I have a problem with women who want to go out and hose around with younger men, it means I don’t think it’s anything new, and that I don’t need to hear any more ill-informed, misogynistic, ham-fisted speculation in the mainstream media about women’s sexuality that amounts to nothing more than translucently-veiled condemnations of women who don’t adhere to patriarchal mandates for female sexual behavior; there’s nothing more insulting to women’s intelligence than some fool in the media pretending to celebrate the “spunk” of “women who break the rules” when he/she’s really just telling us why such women ought to be ashamed of themselves and worried about their man-less, lonely, desperate futures.
“Cougar,” like “whore,” “slut,” “bitch,” “nag,” “ho,” “skank,” “cunt,” etc. (golly-GEE, there are so many), has no counterpart that can be leveled at a dude. I mean, you could call a dude any one of those terms, but it wouldn’t carry the connotations, the baggage, or the power it does when directed at a woman. It’s kind of like the difference between the n-word and “cracker.” You can call a white guy a cracker, but it’s not going to sting too bad when he can reply, “Whatever. I still run everything.” There’s no power to dehumanize in calling a white guy a cracker, because white guys, being as they are the default humans, are always human beings. Similarly, you could call a dude who dates younger women a cougar (or something similarly stupid), but you’d have a hard time bumming his party out because being able to hump younger women is, like, the ultimate indicator of prestige among men.
Not so with women. The Sex and the City people may want to portray humping dudes half your age as empowerful as fuck, but it just isn’t. If you’d like some evidence as to why that’s so, see if you can find a clip from an April episode of SNL called “Cougar’s Den.” I, unfortunately, was present at the taping of that episode. I got some free tickets and decided I’d go, just to see how they pull of the stage changes and whatnot, despite the fact that I’m pretty sure there are episodes of Touched By An Angel that are funnier (and maybe even less boring) than anything SNL’s done in the last decade, and despite the fact that Ashton Kutcher was the host and the musical guest was Gnarls Barkley.
Cameron Diaz was apparently in town for some reason and decided to stop by and do a cameo, and that cameo was a fake talk show called “Cougar’s Den.” I’m sure you can imagine how groaningly stupid the skit was, but I’ll give you the pertinent details: it was basically three women who were supposed to be about 40 swilling multi-colored drinks out of martini glasses, swapping tips on how to bag younger men, and making idolatric (coinage?) references to the Sex and the City character that fucks the most young dudes on the show (I think she’s the one that was in Mannequin and the first Police Academy). The tips included going to bars late, when the “prey” are all too drunk to notice how old (and hence worthless) you are, doing it with the lights off, and taking off before they find out you’re not actually fuckable. Then one of the cougars brought out her “boyfriend” (played by Kutcher), who talked about how he liked dating cougars because you could treat them like shit and they’d still fuck you any way you asked them to and give you money. Niiiice.
I realize that making an SNL skit a central part of an argument might seem ill-advised, but it just seems that way because you haven’t thought about it. SNL skits are a fairly decent indicator of what the LCD in this country thinks. As such, I’m pretty sure I’ve got a grip on what the average dude who does Borat impressions is thinking when he calls someone a cougar.
In case I haven’t already leaked what that might be, here it is: when someone calls a woman a cougar, he (or she… fucking appeasers) is saying she has lost the one thing men find valuable in women in this culture, her fuckability (which derives from youth and how closely one matches whatever absurd beauty standard Bebe and Maybelline are flexing that day), and has thus become an object of ridicule. Even though the term assumes that the woman being discussed is a successful urban type who has most likely achieved something in life and is probably interesting to talk to, she’s worthless. Because she has lost her one source of esteem, she has no real power over men, and no ability to get anyone to love or even like her, even dudes her own age. As such, she must be desperate, and what’s more repugnant in our culture than a desperate unfuckable woman? Desperate women resort to trickery: cougars go out and try to entrap younger men with alcohol, offers to service them sexually, and the money that a mature career woman can offer.
So, once again, a woman attempting to go out into the world and exhibit the exact same behavior men exhibit in droves is derided, dehumanized, and humiliated by a culture that won’t stand for women acting like full human beings. When a woman oversteps the bounds of acceptable female behavior and dares to pursue something she desires, men get threatened and have to remind her that, while she may be able to fuck a dude who is young enough to be her younger brother, she’s still powerless and worthless; because she’s not young, hawt, and demure, he may fuck her, but he’ll never place any value in her as a human being. And neither will anyone else.
You know what that is? Terrorism.
(Please, one of you dumbass MRAs, try to tell me how that’s the same thing as an older man dating a “gold-digging” younger woman.)
I’ll be back later with a sloppy attempt to discuss my vacation in the context of feminism.
UPDATE: Some people have been giving me a hard time for making fun of these two dudes and then getting mad at them for insulting me. The difference is twofold: my making fun of them does not deny their humanity, but rather their judgment; and my insults all revolved around things they have control over (not their gender or age, but their foolish fashion and tattoo choices). Duh.