Cougar is an English slang term for women who are looking for a significantly younger man either for a relationship or as a sexual partner. In ordinary language, the term means puma (silver lion). The concept represents, on one hand, the hair color, and on the other hand, the image of “hunting” for partners.
Concept and genesis of “cougar” term
The exact origin of the term is in the dark. It found its first use in the Canadian ice hockey team of Vancouver Canucks in the 1980s as a term for “older single women who went to the games of the team to sexually recruit players.” According to other sources, “Cougar Annie” (Ada Annie Rae-Arthur, 1888-1985) was also responsible for the development of the concept in British Columbia. Rae-Arthur, who was married four times (including to a twelve-year-old man), was considered independent and self-confident; her nickname comes from the fact that in the course of her life she shot about 100 pumas.
Allusions to predators and hunting are often found in the sexual concept world. Other expressions associated with cats (such as “pussy”) tend to express a cliché of the female role as “small,” “weak,” or “passive.” Cougars reverse this field by using the name of the largest cat-like predator in North America. The woman is not passive in this case, but on the contrary, she actively pursues “hunting” for younger sexual partners.
Spread of the term
The US television series Cougar Town (2009-2015), which was marketed in some countries with the subtitle “40 is the new 20”, was influential for the distribution of the term. In 2008, Donna Moore released a musical called Cougar in New York as an off-Broadway show, which was also shown in the New Berlin Scala in 2016. In the title, it was said: “A cougar is an empowered, strong woman with loot. She looks fine while sipping wine in her Armani suit.”
The term made its career: in 2007 it was studied in Oxford, after which it appeared in books, mainstream films and in popular newspapers such as the New York Times, and it was even the subject of debates in the New Zealand Parliament.
According to researchers at the Victoria University of Wellington, the media attention is, however, exaggerated, although the number of couples in whom a woman is significantly older than a man has increased since the 1980s. According to a study by the American Association of Retired Persons in 2003, one in three women living alone in the US, aged 40 to 69, had younger partners. According to the US Census Bureau, in 1997 and in the US, less than 500 000 couples, had the man who was at least ten years younger than the woman. In 2003, there were about 3 million couples, where a man was at least six years younger than a woman. A study by McGill University conducted in 2015 concluded that approximately 13% of 35- to 44-year-old American women had slept with a man who had been at least five years younger. The author Mark J. Penn describes this phenomenon and the social trend in his book Microtrends, published in 2007, in a chapter titled Cougars.
Criticism of the term
However, the term also applies to criticism: the use of the word Cougar was criticized by Brigitte Macron, wife of the French president Emmanuel Macron, as sexist, because one could see in it “a kind of admiration” for the subversion of transgressed norms. In general, the term may represent an offense but also serve as a metaphor for sexually emancipated women.
In January 2010, the New Zealand channel Air New Zealand produced a controversial commercial in which “cougars” didn’t mean just “older women dating younger men”. In this video, cougars appeared as aggressive, promiscuous, tragic, and addicted women. The campaign was so controversial that it was discontinued.