On the Prowl: “Cougars” and their “Cubs”

“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me.” The infamous line from The Graduate refers to a recent trend in love and dating that seems to have just emerged from the closet – or bedroom. Cougars: they are sexually and romantically active middle-aged women who seek “cubs,” younger men usually in their early twenties and thirties. Are cougars a recent phenomenon or a long-standing tradition? Cultural ecologists and feminist anthropologists have different opinions.

To the cultural ecologist, the recent Cougar phenomenon is not recent at all. Pressure from environmental stresses – warfare, disease, famine, etc. – forced women to remain sexually active for as long as possible for a greater chance at offspring survival. Prime fertility years for most women occur in their late teens to mid-twenties, and due to the ease of conception during this slim time frame, younger women do not have to spend much time having sex. But this is not true for the middle-aged woman! Due to her advancing age, an older woman’s eggs may not be as viable as they once were. To increase the chances of conception, the middle-aged woman responds by having more sex. But why do cougars go for “cubs” rather than men of their own age? From the perspective of a cultural ecologist, an older woman’s best chance at conception would be with a sexually healthy and active male; typically, a younger male. (The availability of older men was probably slim due to deaths incurred from high-risk activities like hunting.) Competition from other men for younger females may scare off some younger males, compelling them to seek other women in the group to help pass on their genes. The practice continues today probably due to the reduced availability of eligible middle-aged men. They may already be married, have interfering health problems, or may not be attractive options for cougars.

To the feminist anthropologist, the recent attention shift toward cougars can be explained by the increased scholastic and financial independence of women in the past few decades. Women of all ages and marital statuses are no longer tied to their male counterparts. With increased education and economic autonomy, women who were once thought of as romantically and sexually unavailable have reentered the dating scene and are viewed by many as mature, romantic, and experienced partners. With economic success no longer limited to men, many women are taking on the traditional male role of household provider. Delaying marriage to focus on careers and increased divorce rates among middle-aged couples are reasons why many older women (re)enter the dating scene. Due to the increasingly important roles of women in the community, taboos of age disparity in relationships are slowly breaking down. Once thought of as unacceptable in Western culture, relationships between older women and younger men are now thought of as empowering for the woman; taking charge of the relationship and representing an equal portion of the concept of the “couple.” The prospect of a sexually dominant partner can be appealing for the often inexperienced younger man.

— Jessie M.

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95 Responses to On the Prowl: “Cougars” and their “Cubs”

  1. Robin Fiore says:

    I thought it was very interesting how you brought in the cultural ecology perspective and said that cougars weren’t a recent phenomenon. It makes sense from that perspective that during times of population stress women would want to keep having children later in life. But I think the problem with this is that being a cougar is so socially stigmatized even now (though as you say it is becoming less so) that it would be very difficult to find evidence of it in history. You probably would never hear about it. Another interesting view of this would be from a feminist perspective to view the inequalities when it comes to dating people younger than you. When a man dates a much younger woman he is patted on the back and told good job. When a woman does it she is called a “cougar” and is stigmatized for it. This inequality might exist because we see women as caregivers, and our society is disturbed when older women give up that domestic job to reenter the dating scene.

    • Sarah Zall says:

      I agree with Robin that there is probably little evidence throughout history of cougars and that it is still being stigmatized even now. The name itself is somewhat negative. What is a cougar? A female cat, yes, but a violent one! I do agree that society is more accepting of cougars – there are tv shows and the word is constantly being thrown around, but I don’t believe it’s a positive label nor do I believe it is empowering for women. Yes the cougars themselves might feel more sexy if a younger man wants them, but to me “cougar” sounds like a dangerous animal who devours her prey. Instead of being symbolic of a woman who chose success, education, career, or money, I think “cougar” sounds like a woman who is insecure and couldn’t get any one better than the little boy she is now dominant over.

      Though I do believe its important for women to feel empowered and have equal rights, I feel like this term makes a woman’s intimate relationship illegitimate based on all the negativity that “cougar” implies. This is just another example of Sherry Ortner’s thoughts on women being nature and men being culture. It is as if women being named after an animal are actually being labeled by society (or culture, which is considered male) as a threat and society should be wary of such violent, natural, and uncontrollable creatures.

      • Brenna Hokanson says:

        I think that the term “cougar” is only negative because of the male bias in American culture. Cougars (the human kind) are characterized by traits like confidence, aggressiveness, and open sexuality. These are all traits that our society values in men, and generally tries to repress in women. This would be interesting to explore from a Poststructuralist point of view, especially in regards to the female seizing power in sexual/romantic relationships, and how this represents a deviation from the norms of our society.

    • Alexis Bell says:

      I think the modern American notion of a cougar you would not find in other contexts, but that doesn’t mean older woman weren’t sexually active before. For instance is some societies if a man died, his brother was expected to marry his widow so that she would still have support. There’s an example of this in the Bible when someone asks Jesus who is married to the woman when everyone is dead and in heaven.
      Also widows have sometimes held a special space in society. They no longer have to worry about a virgin status, because it is assumed that they lost their virginity, but in a culturally approved way. This means that a widow is a lot more free in her sexual activity because as long as she doesn’t get pregnant she will not harm her status.

      • Courtney Antone says:

        To continue from Alexis’ comment on virgin status- I recently read two books (Demonic Males & Our Inner Ape) for a primate behavior course which discuss the origins of many cultures’ obsession with female virginity. They theorize that the origins have to do with male desire to have assurance of paternity, which comes from our inherent urge to pass our genes on with the most success under the structure of natural selection. This has greatly influenced a domination of female sexuality by males, who, as the theory postulates, provide protection and subsistence for females who are vulnerable through out pregnancy and while they care for young infants in return for their assured paternity. So to tie it in to the subject of cougars, it seems that since cougars have ways to care for themselves and are typically dominant, virginity is unimportant from this aspect as well.

    • Samantha Verrill says:

      What Robin had to say about historical evidence was very interesting. There actually have been reports recorded in history of women who have taking younger lovers. Catherine Howard, King Henry VII’s third wife, was a promiscuous woman that took multiple lovers after she was married to Henry VIII. The fact that she had these lovers was not a secret among the court and Catherine was not stigmatized for having younger lovers. In fact being married to an obese and disagreeable man it was probably expected that Catherine would take lovers and when they happened to be younger than her no one objected. Except of course the King but that was because he desperately wanted a legitimate son. The court however did not penalize her for choosing to have younger lovers.

    • Maddie Sweeney says:

      I agree with Robin that from a feminist perspective, women dating younger men are not treated in the same way as are men who date younger women. For example, Hugh Hefner, who is now in his 80s, dates at least three younger women at a time, usually in their 20s. But if this situation were flipped around and an older woman around Hefner’s age were to be dating three younger men at a time, she would most likely be looked down on by the rest of society.

  2. Halle Bennett says:

    I was very interested in your cultural ecology view of cougars. I was thinking that there would have been a lessening of men, in general. The younger males would have also been hunting, involved in warfare, and they would have probably been on the front lines because of their greater levels of testosterone, which has a correlation to greater levels of aggression. I was wondering if there was a way to link the attractiveness of young males to cougars because of their greater levels of testosterone? I was also wondering if we could look at it from a structuralism point of view? The idea of psychic unity might be able to apply in the way that we (as humans) have the same physiological makeup and through biological reasons we might be able to find reasons as for why older women would go for younger men? Perhaps in terms of levels of testosterone or levels of sperm production rather than the lessening viability in a woman’s eggs?

    • angie larson says:

      I was thinking the same thing as you Halle as I read this paper, that there would be less men in general and that the younger ones would be maybe even in more danger of dying. I’m not sure that this cougar-cub relationship is due to older males dying off and the females only being left with young men, I think maybe it has to do more with chemistry or just cultural rebellion in a lot of cases. People enjoy testing the limits of their culture and the authorities around them and this is a way of living (or loving) out of the norm. Maybe it’s just experiment. Or maybe it is like you said Halle, that due to the egg and sperm counts in women and men there is a biological reasoning behind the attraction. I think this is a very interesting subject and there could be very many Anthropological studies and views on it.

  3. Elizabeth Myers says:

    I really liked both of your perspectives on “cougars.” I however disagree with the post ahead of me. I think because more people are cougars now a days it is becoming more socially acceptable. For example Demi Moore is not stigmatized for marrying Ashton Kutcher, women are jealous she pulled that off. I think older women not becoming passive housewives or single mothers is a good thing. Women are taking control of their lives instead of listening to the “rules” of society and going after what they want. A mid-life crisis for a man might be a hot girl or fast car. Now a midlife crisis for a women is not only a younger look, but also a hot young man. Also cougars are cool animals, if it was a creepy animal then that would be a stigmatization. Women and men are getting closer and closer to being seen as equal, and cougars are helping.

    • Jodye Whitesell says:

      I don’t know that I entirely agree with this post, but I do agree with the last sentence. I think that cougars are very much helping to level the playing field for gender relationships in the same way that the rise of stay-at-home dads evens it in the opposite way. Gender roles in general are becoming more (not completely, but more) even because of both the rise of female sexuality and the increase of the domestication of males. Perhaps this is another reason women are looking to younger males – men who do not have children and thus lack the potential to fill this “feminine” role, making them stronger representations of masculinity.

    • Veronica Vang says:

      Elizabeth,
      I would have to disagree with you on your comment of “women and men are getting closer and closer to being seen as equal, and cougars are helping” because I think the term “cougar” in a deep, constructed way is used negatively against women who are considered “cougars”. I say this because in general, American culture still support more women dating elder men rather than women dating younger men considered their “cubs.” I feel like there is a hidden, embedded feeling/criticism when women who date elder men comment on women who are “cougars.” In addition, in American culture, men who date elder women are praised while women who date younger men are not really, thus demonstrating that men and women are not at all close to being seen as equal.

      Thus, regarding your comment of Demi Moore, I think a reason of why Demi Moore might not be criticized or stigmatized for her relationship with Ashton Kutcher is probably because she and he are well known actress/actor [celebraties] -possibly excusing them from having a “cougar-cub” relationship.

      • Alex McNa says:

        I find this debate about this post extremely interesting and raising several interesting points. Linguistic anthropology plays an important role in this discussion. Equality between men and women is a continual process, and I first want to say that while we have come a long way there is still a lot that could be done. But you can’t argue that today’s environment in the United States is more equal for men and women than 50 years ago and surely 100 years ago.

        I disagree that the term cougar is a derogatory term that is intended to hold women down. In any culture there is a need to place an identifying word on something. The word cougar stems from the term fox or foxy. Something that is portrayed in contemporary American music and a symbol of a beautiful woman and certainly a term that nobody raised any issue about. The cougar is an identifier of the same qualities only in an older woman. Obviously there are social stigmas about older men (sugar daddies the equalitive term for men in this case) chasing after “young women”, or the reversal young women pursuing these “sugar daddies” for money or love, or young men (cubs as the original post calls them) pursuing older women for various reasons. money or love.

        The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis states that categories and structures of a language influence how humans are able to experience the world. Without these particular terms how do we know what we are talking about? Are they the best terms? Maybe not, but if you talk about a cub, sugar daddy, cougar, or fox people know what you mean, making these terms a means of social interaction, a medium for thought, and a vehicle for cultural transmission.

    • Anastasia Turner says:

      I am not sure if I agree with the post directly above me. Although women have achieved a higher standing in society when compared to men, I do not think we are closer to being equals. If we took a Linguistic approach and compared the different terms for men and women, depending on if you view the term “cougar” positively or not, the terminology used for sexual men is very positive and there is a vast array of words to pick from. For females, the terminology cougar is one of the few that portrays female sexuality positively.

    • Maddie Sweeney says:

      I do not agree that women and men are getting closer to being seen as equal because there are many aspects in society that degrade women and their potential. The shows about “The Real Housewives of Atlanta, New York, etc” praise that these women live off of their husbands’ money, and many of these wives do not have jobs of their own. I also do not believe that “cougars” are helping the process of women and men becoming equal because these older women are merely looked at as “hot” or “sexy”, and are not at all praised for their other accomplishments.

  4. Alex Bayer says:

    I really enjoyed reading about your approaches to look at cougars. But was wondering what might a structuralist anthropologist say about this practice and how it is reproduced and how different cultures respond to it?

  5. stephanie ahlgrain says:

    I really enjoyed this essay. I think a feminist anthropologist could also say that gender roles are changing so that middle aged women do not necessarily have be homemakers and mothers. They can be single and have maybe not-so-serious relationships if they want to. I think it is more accepted, though not entirely, for a woman to unmarried and childless in her forties toady than it was a generation ago. However, the general assumption about this woman is that she has chosen to be a “career woman”. Some Americans may think of this term as opposite of being devoted to a family, but that is not necessarily true.
    I also think traditional gender roles are relaxing because of a growing feeling that life is short and we all need to make the most of it. This is allowing women to act as young as they feel, whether this means wearing trendy clothes, dying their hair to cover the gray, or dating much younger men.

    • celia anderson says:

      this essay was very interesting to me and i like both the standpoints that were taken . another thing i thought of looking at the cougar cub relationships through a marxist point of view. what i notice about many of the cougar cub relationships is that many of these cougars are from a higher socio-economic standing then the younger men. Maybe there is the attraction of the younger men to the older , more well off woman and that the man may be seeking or have a desire to be with a higher socio-economic status and they can attain that by dating these older richer women.

  6. Brenda Camenga says:

    I thought this essay was very entertaining and a good read overall; however, I wonder how some feminist anthropologists might take a different approach on the idea of a “cougar”, and how they might find it a bit demeaning. Not demeaning towards the “cougar” herself, but towards the younger man, or the “prey”; it seems as though, from what I read here, and from what I’ve witnessed on “The Real Housewives of…”, that older women categorized as “cougars” aren’t looking for anything serious necessarily, they’re merely in it for the thrill of the chase. This might not seem too unorthodox or offensive, but when we think about an older man scoping out a hot young woman to take home for the night, we find it, for lack of a better word, creepy. I agree that this new era for older women is empowering in some way or another, but I just thought it was worth playing devil’s advocate. Good job!

  7. Rebecca Powell says:

    I think this essay was really interesting and that the whole concept of the cougar is very relevant to contemporary US. From a linguistic approach, however, I think it should be noted that there is no male equivalent word for a “cougar.” I think that it’s good that a woman now has the opportunity to be with younger men, to be single, and to make herself look good in a society that for a long time has pushed women into the domestic housewife role as the only acceptable way to be.

    However, it has been fairly socially acceptable for older men to date younger women for years and years, and because of this there has never been a necessity for a word to label this. Men are not called cheetahs or bears or any other animal because in our society we see men dating younger women and think of it as natural. Although it is positive that women are now socially allowed to date younger men, it is sad that there needs to be a whole movement and the labeling of a woman as a “cougar” in order to deem this acceptable to us as a society.

    • stephanie ahlgrain says:

      I think analyzing this phenomenon from a linguistic perspective is really interesting. I like that you brought up that there is no male equivalent, but I have been thinking a lot since I first read this essay about what the words cougar and cub suggest about the relationship. When I hear these words I think of the relationship as being mother/baby because that is what they mean in relation to the animals. Does this imply that in these relationships the woman is taking on a motherly/nurturing role to the younger man, her “cub”? Does it reflect a middle-aged woman’s need to have a subordinate rather than a partner? I would say this is not the case, but I have to admit I do not personally know anyone in this kind of relationship so I am not sure how it actually works for people. To me it seems like the term “cougar” is meant to show a fierce, powerful figure for the woman. I think this is more the case in these relationships, but regardless this is an excellent example of how language can shape the way we interpret our world.

      • Courtney O'Rourke says:

        Stephanie-
        I like how you applied the terms “cougar” and “cub” to linguistic anthropology because it is such a good example of how words can shape an understanding of relationship.
        However, from both a linguistic and a feminist perspective, I wonder whether the word ‘cougar’ is used negatively towards woman and how that might apply to other areas of society. For example, women in American politics tend to be percieved and negatively accepted as masculine, such as Hilary Clinton. On the other hand, women are sometimes projected as overly feminine for the masculine world of politics, like Sarah Palin. In relation to the article then, I wonder how the words that are used to describe women in traditionally masculine roles shape our acceptance of them and/or inhibit their ability to transcend these roles.
        In the realm of a woman taking on a more sexual masculine role, it seems that the word “cougar” is negatively connotated with woman “preying” on men. In a society that is use to older men preying on younger women, with women playing the role of the victim, can we learn to accept women as the aggressors?

  8. Everett Warner says:

    I thought this was a great essay because the label “cougar” has become so well known in today’s society and is very relevent. One thing that has been mentioned a couple times earlier and in the essay through the feminist anthropology outlook, is the fact that is has become much more acceptable for women to pursue careers instead of families. In modern times men and women alike have slowly moved away from the idea of creating a family and into the mindset of becoming a bachelor or bachelorette. I would also like to point out how the younger men have excepted their roles as “cubs.” When they go out many men declare that they are going to go “cougar hunting,” or find an older women to connect with. Our society has become much more open to personal preferences and people are free to do watever they want with whoever they want without being looked at differently afterwards.
    One more point that I wanted to bring up was how older men that date younger women have been given no label as the cougars have, but more importantly, that the youn women dating these older men are labeled as “gold diggers” or something of this sort. Why are the women consistently labeled while the men are not?

    • Alexis Bell says:

      I thought the same thing as you, that woman as labeled and men are not, but someone did point out that older men may be sugar daddies. It is still more normal to label woman then men, and I think it is interesting how often we use animal terms to label woman. Woman are bitchy, and or catty. Although I have heard men referred to as stallions, that’s not a common phrase, like cat-fight.

  9. Kelsey Robb says:

    I found your essay very interesting and informative. I agree that the label “cougar” has become increasingly more recognized and accepted in the U.S. today and I think this increasing acceptance can be traced back to television shows. Many shows like Desperate Housewives make a statement to the public by having these middle aged actresses go after younger males. Television obviously influences how people act and how people view certain actions and I think since this fad of having a younger mate is seen everywhere on TV, we’ve come accustomed to it and are beginning to see it as the norm.
    I also think that a feminist anthropologist would not only look at the “financial independence of women” but also at how there used to be a double standard for men and women when looking at who was acceptable to date. I think that in the past, it was more likely (and more socially accepted) for a man to date a younger woman than it was for a woman to date a younger man. Looking at this difference and how it has changed throughout the years would maybe be something a feminist anthropologist would be interested in.

  10. chrissa maury says:

    I think it would be interesting to see how a feminist anthropologist would reply to the idea that it is always women who get the labels. Yes, we find it creepy when an old man dates a woman half his age, but at the same time, we all sit there looking at her with the words “gold digger” running through our minds. Whether women date up or down in age they are still judged regardless.

    • kellyloud says:

      I don’t know if I agree. I mean look at the phrases “sugar daddy” and “kept man,” which are the male equivalents of “cougars” and “gold diggers.” they aren’t exactly concepts that are approved of by our culture. I’m sure that Hue Heffner has some fans out there in the male-oriented world, but over all he isn’t what you would call a cultural icon. When Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13 year old niece in the fifties he was shunned by the public and blacklisted from the radio. Yes, many women are judged for their choices in men, but so is the other half of our culture.

  11. Tanya Fink says:

    I thought this essay was fun to read, and intriguing to see very different perspectives of “cougars.”

    It was interesting to hear your argument from the lenses of a cultural ecologist. But I couldn’t help but get stuck on the idea of fertility as the motivating factor for a cougar to “prey on younger men.” In this modern age, sex is a lot more than reproduction, especially with birth control. I cannot see these older women going for younger men mainly because of fertility. Sex is more than just procreation, it’s about pleasure too, and that’s what these “cougars” are looking for.

    • Veronica Vang says:

      Tanya,
      I agree with what you say of sex being more than just fertility because I feel like in addition to “cougars” seeking pleasure, they are also seeking a different style of relationship and different ways of pleasure because younger men are different from older or men the same age as these women who are “cougars.”

      I wonder what a feminist anthropologist would say about “cougars” wanting more pleasure from younger men rather than men their own age or older.

  12. Hannah Chatelain says:

    I found it interesting that the reason you gave under feminist anthropology for women to date younger men is that they want to have a career before the family. I always think initially of a woman in her 40s and 50s who has been divorced as a cougar. Since divorce is on the rise and is seen as more socially acceptable I wonder if that is why the number of older women looking for something different in a younger man has been occurring more and more.
    I know there have been more and more young men who say they are looking for older more experienced women, but give the chance I would think it would interesting too see how many young men would actually go after a woman in her 40s and 50s and then out of the ones that do go after them see if all they are looking for is a hook up (to use the term from the other post). If you use the practice theory you could see the differences between what people say based off of celebrities they see and what they actually do.

  13. Anna Hermann says:

    It’s interesting to read this article about cougars from the perspectives of anthropological theories when I always assumed cougars to be the result of older women who were simply wanting to feel younger again. With the obsession with youth these days, it wouldn’t be surprising if older women had found their youthful niche through their sexual expression. In your essay you focused on the attraction of older women for younger men; however, why does it seem like more and more young men are preferring these cougars over girls their own age? It could be that older women looking for younger men is a very apparent sign that they are purely interested in the sexual aspect of a relationship, while younger girls may want more of an attachment, for instance be looking for a man she could potentially marry. Or is there something else about 20year-old women that has become less attractive to the guys who are opting for older women? Are women who are more likely to have had children appealing to a evolutionary drive in young men?

    • Alyssa Paylor says:

      Anna,
      I like that you discuss the sexual freedom that women are expressing through being cougars. I really like that this essay touches on the evolving view that women have of themselves. I think the emergence of the cougar phenomenon is an indication that women in their post-childbearing years are no longer being views a dried up old maids, but as sexually experienced and mature women, still considered to be a sexual object. I feel like when discussing female sexuality there is a dichotomy between the fertile young woman and the infertile older woman, and the sexual roles of these two are specifically defined. I think that cultural acceptance of cougars is an indication that society is finally viewing women as not just childbearing vessels, but as humans, who just like men enjoy recreational sex.

  14. Zoe Adelman says:

    I found this post to be very interesting. One thing it made me think of was cougars from a different feminist perspective. While I agree that it can be seen as women becoming more powerful in the workforce, I would add to that thinking about it specifically in relation to men. Why is it that men for centuries have had significantly younger wives and that has been seen as completely normal, but when it suddenly becomes more common for women to date younger, it becomes a new craze? Men often date a decade younger and they don’t have a “cougar” equivalent term. I think a feminist anthropologist would be interested in this aspect of the emergence of the “cougar” craze.

  15. kellyloud says:

    Before reading this essay I had never considered the idea that there actually might be a biological necessity for having the cougar phenomenon. It’s bizarre to think that we may not be alive without the existence of what is now a cultural oddity- that the Demi Moores and Mariah Careys of the past may be what led to our lives being possible. I also really like the feminist approach that you took towards cougars. It seems as though we have progressed from from voting to working as CEOs to taking control of the more typically male aspects of love.

  16. Rachel Nussbaum says:

    I found this essay very original and fun to read. I thought feminist anthropology was a great way to approach the current cougar phenomenon. I think symbolic and interpretive anthropology would be another interesting way to approach cougars. The symbolism of a woman dating a younger man could instill a sense of domination and power for the cougar. It could also symbolize the attractiveness of the older woman and her ability to harness a young cub. The younger man who looks to date older women could symbolize his lack of a mother figure and need for someone to take care of him. Although the cougar and cub relationship is somewhat magnified these days, it is not a new relationship. Cougars and cubs get what they need from each other without much drama and when it is time to move on, it is typically an easy and mature break.

  17. Bryan Daino says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article, i really liked how you chose cultural ecologists and feminist anthropologists. I think as time goes on, there are more and more “cougars” out there trying to find a younger man for a number of different reasons and its almost becoming a norm. I find it interesting and agree with what Chrissa said about if a old man dates a younger woman the woman is considered a “gold digger” and how the woman is always labeled as something and never the man. Couldnt the man be considered a “gold digger” if hes dating a rich older women? With reading this article i wonder what would a post-structuralist anthropologist think about this, because it relates to power? If a young man is dating an older woman, the woman would most likely have more power then the man. I also wondered if there are any cultures where this would be totally against the norms?

  18. Kate Barry says:

    Many of these comments seem to put “cougars” in a negative light because they “prey” on young males. My opinion on cougars has always been neutral. We should take into consideration that this is a preferential choice that these women are consciously making. While it is interesting to observe these situations through the use of dominance in the household, I think older women may just simply be attracted to younger males. Since everyone has different tastes while looking for their partner, cougars should be seen no differently from a “typical” relationship.

  19. Mia Sadowsky says:

    I can see how a cultural ecologist could view the new cougar phenomenon as a way of greater offspring survival for a woman and having sex with many younger males may increase her chances of conception. I think the stand point taken with cultural ecology is more directed towards the animal kingdom rather than human beings. Having lived in Aspen Colorado my entire life I have had first hand experiences with the epitome of cougars. In reality the last thing on a cougars mind is pregnancy. In my experience if a cougar was to be impregnated by their younger male partner it would be absolutely detrimental both to their fun single way of life and their social standing in the community. All the cougars that I know are happy to have a younger man for sexual needs and just as happy to show off their young hot man to the rest of the house wives. A large number of cougars have already been married, had kids, and are in some-what of a mid life crisis. They’re not looking to reproduce, just have a hottie to hold onto!

  20. Luke Nelson says:

    As someone who thought cultural ecology was a fascinating concept but had difficulty applying it to their essay topic, I want to congratulate you for finding what I think is a good example of cultural ecology in our modern world. I also think though it would be difficult to find examples of this throughout human history, but if we instead look deeper and examine our closest primate relatives, I’m think we can find examples of female primates mating throughout their life, and in some cases with younger male primates. This could show how this cultural behavior has deep roots in our evolutionary history, and early on was a way to adapt to the environment. I also thought your point about empowering women was important, because in all the spoof’s I’ve seen of cougars (30 Rock, Cougar Town) its depicted as women taking control of the sexuality even during middle age, albeit humorously in those cases.

  21. Jordie Karlinski says:

    I like how you analyzed cultural ecologists to cougars. I agree with your points in how a cultural ecologist would defend a cougar, but I disagree with cougars wanting children. I doubt a woman who may have been divorced previously with a family and is 45+ is wanting children. I feel like whenever the word cougar pops into minds, negative things are associated with them. But in reality, “cougars” are making their own decisions and doing what they want to feel happy.
    I like what you said about the feminist anthropologists prospective. But why is the name cougar associated with women? Maybe there is, but why isn’t there a name for older men who date younger women? I would think that a feminist anthropologist would look more in depth at questions like those.

  22. Hilary I. says:

    The “cougar phenomenon” is fairly interesting. By studying primates we might see a bit of a correlation: if a male ape is looking for a mate he won’t choose the youngest female with no offspring even though she might be more fertile than the older females. Instead, they are more attracted to the older females who have offspring – they are attracted to the obvious fertility and success at raising offspring. Humans are closely related to apes and we may have developed this same instinct of being attracted to older women. Though those might not be for the same reasons, it is wired into us for the survival of the species.

  23. Kelsey Ross says:

    “Why do cougars go for “cubs” rather than men of their own age?” I think that another aspect is that women have a higher life expectancy than men. Obviously life expectancy is after middle-age, but it still leaves women without men of their own age. What is available is younger and healthier men that will live as long as the woman does, if not longer. Another idea is that cougars chasing cubs balances out all the older men going for younger women. Unless EVERYONE is with someone their own age, things are going to be out of balance unless both ends of the spectrum are accounted for.

  24. Megan Long says:

    I thought this was a very interesting essay. Up until this point I have perceived cougars as women who are unwilling to give up their youth and embrace their aging. I have always pitied them that they could not find a man their own age who is mature and presumably financially stable, so they have to settle for an immature, young, and attractive man. I have never before thought of the fact that in the past cougars were necessary because the males were not living long lives and the women needed to reproduce, so they turned to any male who was willing(regardless of age). It still grosses me out a bit to really think about it, but it seems to make sense to me more so than before.

  25. Kaitlyn Clure says:

    chrissa maury- After reading this essay I thought of the same idea, what would a feminist anthropologist think about this “cougar” term. When I think of cougars I think of older women on the prowl for younger men, not just because they are younger and better looking, but because they have money to provide for them. If someone was going to write another essay, it would be a good idea to look at it from the opposite view, younger girls who try to date older men, maybe known as a “sugar daddy.” It would be interesting to see how women are viewed from this standpoint.

  26. Calvin W says:

    Speaking as a cub who got around in my own culture, and in many others, back in the day let me offer a few fact based comments to this slightly overwrought, over thought, conversation. First, younger men having sex with older women is certainly not a recent invention, nor is it limited to American or European society. At least in the 1970’s and 1980’s older Japanese women were certainly appreciative of the charms of younger men, and so were Thai, Indian, Nepalese, Tibetan, Swiss, English, French, Norwegian, Italian…if anything that trend has increased today… and my impression is that this is ancient ape behaviour. I found as a younger man that liaisons with women my own age were often so complicated, with so many fears, so many hopes. At an age where I wanted sexual gratification and the freedom of the road, and needed to avoid entanglements, older women were happy to provide me a temporary home, and did not ask for much in exchange— except that I not disturb the status they had already established for themselves, in their communities. They gave many things I needed, and had little of, and asked for only one thing– they gave nice meals, entree to new social circles, a place to stay– and wisdom. Its obvious to me that a young man, passing through a town, would be far safer in a widows bed, than in a virgin’s.

    To the “Cultural Anthropologist”– clearly you have not slept around in a dozen societies or you would have more facts to base your thoughts on. The fact that I was passing through and their liaison with me could be at least officially denied was a positive thing (with a knowing laugh to some, with a haughty straight face to others)… societies assumptions about the appearance of a difference in age was a good disguise for allowing two people to enjoy themselves, without complicated longer term relations, it freed us from many social constraints. Her sons, if they found out, knew I was leaving soon, so I was no threat to their inheritance. Her relative infertility was a good thing– one more reason she was preferable to a younger woman for me– since our lack of reproduction was not to be mourned; reproduction was never in my experience the desired outcome. It would have complicated, not improved, her life. I was there to provide pleasure —after her reproduction was done– when her reproduction partner was gone. She was there to provide non-reproductive comfort to me, before I settled down with a member of my age cohort, to reproduce. And if you don’t believe me… ask Demi about this? Is she having kids with Ashton? The celebrity press keeps talking about it… but so far they seem to have had a lot of pleasure without the complications of reproduction… and for my money its still quite possible that Ashton will actually reproduce, (if at all) with another partner….while Demi, well, she has already done the deed.

    To the “Feminist Anthropologist”– your theories are getting in your way. The status of the older women I slept with was always something they had already shaped– Buddhist, Atheist, Hindu, Shinto, Feminist.. be dammed. Powerful women, who brought the money to the marriage and maintained a strong hand over weaker, compliant husbands, powerful women who were married to homosexual men (in marriages of convenience), powerful women who were loved by men strong enough to allow their spouses to have a pleasant dalliance in their later years (after reproduction with them)– you think these human complexities of the heart are recent inventions? You really think that its a modern invention to speak of “ Women of all ages and marital statuses .. no longer tied to their male counterparts” ? Individual women found a way…. no matter the power structures offical prounoucements… and young men, fast on their feet, moving through… they found a way too…

    The world is larger than the bland conceptions of it I read above… there has always a way for powerful women (married or not) in every society, in every time, to bed a cub for their mutual pleasure. Nor were all such powerful women always dominant in bed, either– women with years of experience know better than that, while a younger man with little experience is happy to meet the reverse as well… There are many shades of grey here… just like the human heart. But never, never, underestimate a powerful woman. The stupid ‘cougars’ on TV do not seem to be having much fun…they seem embarrassed about their ‘good luck’… the women who blessed me when they were older, and I was younger, knew what they wanted, and took it. I was glad to cut the chase…

    • cmcgranahan says:

      Calvin, welcome to the anthropology2100 blog. It’s nice to hear from a self-described cub on the topic of cougars. In case you didn’t read the “Welcome” page and only read about cougars, this is a cultural anthropology course blog designed to provide a space for student conversation outside of class and for students to apply anthropological theories to topics under discussion. I’m the professor of the class.

      To dive right in: an anthropologist would argue that your cross-cultural sexual exchanges differ from the cougar trend the students are discussing. Discourses (and perhaps practices) of the contemporary cougar phenom are specifically situated in current U.S. culture, rather than being independent of culture or history. Context is key for any anthropological analysis. So, while yes, older female/younger male relationships are found throughout space and time, this is not a universal practice that can be discussed as if it is independent of cultural, economic, historical, or political contexts.

      I would argue that a single, young American man traveling through foreign communities, spending a night here, a week there, sleeping surreptitiously with older women from a range of different cultures is very different from contemporary U.S. cougars who publicly celebrate and legitimate their relationships (whether they end up in marriage or are over by morning). Your experiences seem to me not the cougar trend we see at present, but a different and older trend of sexual freedom or experimentation (or availability) facilitated by travel and/or cultural difference. Being on the road, meeting people who you know you might never see again, and about whom you only know their name (if that), opens all sorts of possibilities for relationships—sexual or not—that often aren’t available at “home.”

      My own knowledge of the backpacker scene in Asia fits better with your experiences. Female trekkers sharing their sleeping bags with good-looking Nepali trekking guides. Backpackers signing up for Tibetan Buddhism courses because of rumors about opportunities for horizontal meditation. And so on. Are such relationships devoid of meaning? Not at all. Nor is sex. But the meanings given to such relationships by those involved are rarely singular or even shared. Here’s where cultural anthropology comes in: getting at the range of meanings attributed to and experienced in relationships. Surely the women you slept with did not share entirely your interpretation of that relationship, nor would they have shared it across cultures as women, older or not.

      I’ll leave other questions such as gender, possibilities for reproduction (especially given that the average age of menopause is 51), varieties of feminist responses, and other issues for the students to bring up. You’ve given us a good opportunity to think theory out loud here. Also, I don’t disagree with some of the points you’ve made. I’m absolutely with you on “don’t underestimate a powerful woman.” There’s a reason why they say it’s good to be the queen.

    • Adam Sammakia says:

      It is definitely true that the experiences/relationships that Calvin described do not fit in with the general understanding of a what a “cougar” is, tends to be. However, I think this is part of the problem with this discussion as a whole. The term cougar, as I understand it, stands for a fictitious character of a collective cultural imagination. In this way the term exists in the same realm as our ideas about iconic cowboys or gangsters. These are characters who we all (as members of the culture in which these ideas were created) can envision and describe clearly, and they are not based on real people. So, while I agree that Calvan’s experiences do not fit in with the general idea of cougarism, I think we’d all be hard-pressed to find any relationships that do.

  27. Noah Starburner says:

    Jessie,
    Great topic to choose for your essay. Cougars have emerged as an interesting topic in the media, but it was a good connection you made between modern cougars and the cougars of the past. In both scenarios they are women who were forced to seek out younger men due to external stresses.
    I do have one question for you, and for women in general. Are all cougars seeking relations with younger men strictly for procreation, or is it possible that some are doing it for the “thrill of the hunt”, if you will?

    • Clair Trousil says:

      I was wondering the same thing as I was reading this. Of course, I have no personal experience with the subject of “cougars”, but just from media representation it seems like “cougars” searching for “cubs” is moreso focused on the sexual side of a realtionship and are not looking to have children. In fact, (again from media examples), it seems that most cougars already have children and are coming from divorce situations and the like. Maybe they are not so much looking for procreation and not for “the thrill of the hunt”, or sex, but simply for a loving companion that they can’t find in men their own age.

  28. Jessie Kronke says:

    I think it would be interesting to look further into a linguistic perspective as mention in a few earlier comments. It seems to me that in calling these women cougars, making a name for them in theory places the responsibility of the courtship on the women. I would also think that this is the case in which older men date younger women, as the ladies typically get called gold diggers. I find it interesting that the women in both types of relationships, whether they are dating significantly older or younger men, are labeled in a way that to me denotes that the relationship is all their doing. Just as we ask why older women are seeking younger men, I think its important to recognize that two people have to comply to make a relationship occur, and in turn ask maybe why young men seem to be increasingly targeting older women as possible mates.

    • Casey Shea says:

      If the term “cougar” is in fact a mis-labeling, looking beyond that label would provide a means to consider far more possible causes and factors in the cub-cougar relationship.
      Labeling the younger man a “cub”, a target, a weaker individual in the relationship, shifts the power dynamic in a way that is (while probably accurate in some cases,) certainly not balanced.
      Maybe cougars shouldn’t be called cougars. Maybe they should be called Jocastas. While that is another biased name, it would certainly open up the debate to more perspectives from a psychological standpoint.

  29. laine smith says:

    Sweet essay. It makes me think about the guys getting “preyed” upon too. From their perspective, older and more experienced women could be a huge attraction. If your an insecure guy, maybe a little self-conscious, what is more flattering than a woman picking you out of the crowd? I’m sure the attention is flattering. And for an older woman, perhaps also feeling worried about her age or whatever else she has going on, finds a young guy you responds to her chase, flattering? Uplifting? I think yes.

  30. Lila Zwonitzer says:

    The term “cougar” is a highly taboo one in my household–owing to the fact that my mother is 12 years older than my father. I never really noticed the stigma attached to that until only recently when popular culture started advertising it with a typically negative connotation. The way I see it, my parents are married because they fell in love, not because of my mothers desire to reproduce or because of her financial successes. I understand why my mother cringes every time she sees something regarding “cougars” because she always says it makes all women with younger husbands out to be “prowlers”. I think when looking at the “cougar-culture”, it’s unfair to lump them all together. Especially with my parents being who they are, it is hard for me to see them as anything other than just another married couple.

    • Clair Trousil says:

      I completely agree with this statement. Its funny how people give age and love boundaries as if there is no way that two people who are a few years apart in age can have anything in common. I think that sometimes maintaining meaningful relationships with such an age difference can be hard, but not unheard of. If two people genuinely care about each other, age shouldn’t make a difference. In fact, in the adult world that involves established families, careers, and homes couples with large age differences are no different than anyone else.

  31. Kylee Smith says:

    I find it very interesting that you feel there are cougars because middle age men “may already be married, have interfering health problems, or may not be attractive options for cougars.” However, you don’t mention that older men go for younger women. I find that this practice is even more socially acceptable than a young man/older woman relationship. This is also a concept that a feminist anthropologist would be interested in, for it reflects the different gender expectations that we have for men and women in relationships, and how these expectations evolve with age.

  32. Alexis Bell says:

    I think feminist anthropologists and linguistic anthropologists would also be interested in why we need a word for this behavior. As a culture, we tend to label women by their sexual behavior, but not men. We don’t have a word for the older man dating a younger woman, but she may be called a gold digger, or a trophy wife, if he has money. We have common words for woman who are sexually promiscuous like slut, but not for men. Woman can be whores or prostitutes, but if a man sells sex for money we have to go out of our way to call him a male-prostitute or man-whore.
    We constantly label woman by their sexual activity, but one of the only times we label men is if they are homosexual. I think it shows an assumption about male sexuality, that our cultural norms are defined by it, so we don’t bother to label it, while female sexuality is still seen as outside the norm, whether the woman is a slut, or a prude.

  33. Forrest Jensen says:

    I really liked this essay! Im going to have to disagree with some of the previous posts that the term cougar is strictly a negative term. It is true that in some contexts this term can hold some negative connotations, however i think it possesses positive connotations as well. In the wild, female cougars are wholly independent. They hunt for themselves and their offspring. The male is out of the picture as a povider. So perhaps there is somewhat of an alluring quality about an independent and self sufficient woman who does not NEED a younger man, but desires him for much more honest and visceral reasons. There a fewer calculations and expectations made about the male as a potential provider, there a fewer obligatory social roles, there is simply raw attraction. Ofcourse this may deviate fom the conventional idea of a cougar as an older woman “on the hunt” for a younger male, but even in this interpretaion there is a portrayal of woman as the aggressor, a self sufficient and utterly powerful creature that is going to get what she wants. Furthermore, i feel the term cougar is not intended to be hurtful in many instances. The majority of the times i have heard it used it was intended to be a more playful tongue-in-cheek term that demeans the woman in little to no way. However, as a linguistic anthropologist would tell you, how this term is interpreted depends largely on the context. I happen to agree with the above post that there is still a gap in gender equality, but i believe this is a diminishing one. I also have to disagree that men are not labeled or chastized for their sexual behavior. As one post above mentioned, there are many terms like “sugar daddy”, “womanizer”, and my favorite when referring to my college buddy who is dating a highschooler, “crib-robber”. I am not by any means saying that there is equal treatment. I am merely suggesting that stigmatization of pomiscuity for both genders is becoming more popularized, especially with our generation.

  34. Jacki Altman says:

    I love this topic for an essay as cougars are relevant and interesting facets of society’s structures of love. I recently did a paper on sixteenth century England and as I read this essay I found myself thinking about how only the term “cougar” is fairly recent. The practice of older women, especially older women with means and wealth, consorting with younger men is by no means novel. The Tudor court of Henry VIII practiced many forms of “courtly love.” It was all a game to the nobility of the court where one would choose a partner and shower their attentions shamelessly and flirtatiously upon them. It was mentioned that it was not uncommon for matches to consist of older women and younger men. It was even to that man’s advantage because that noblewoman probably had power at her disposal. To align oneself with these powerful women, one would gain standing and even position at court. Being a cougar was viewed as completely normal, as was the old tradition of kings marrying foreign nobility who may be quite a few years older than them.

  35. Paige Block says:

    I like your thoughts on both of the perspectives you chose to further analyze. I have to say, I see the “cougar” moment as more of a latent function to a feminist movement that’s proven to be more prevalent than ever. Just recently, my friends and I got dressed up and headed out to the bars one night. We witnessed a number of occasions where young, attractive men were surprisingly drawn to these older, confident women. We were dumbfounded trying to figure out what was so appealing about these older, divorced women. Either I’d been oblivious before, or this new attention on Cougars really is an up and coming turn in the rules of relationships. Women are clearly feeling more comfortable with going for younger men these days, whether it’s because it’s now more acceptable or it’s just one of those changes bound to occur in the evolution of relationships and attraction.

  36. Michaela Clinton says:

    I would agree that some more women are becoming more confident about going back out and getting into dating again. I think although this can be seen as confidence, I still think that older women dating younger men are looked down upon. I completely agree with an earlier comment that says that cougars are looked at as not being able to get a man of their same age. Also, I believe that in actuality a feminist anthropologist would look at being called a “cougar” as a negative thing. Why do women need a special name for doing something that men have always done? It is just another way to put women in their place and insist that they are not equal to men, and that the few older women who date younger men are in a seperate category all together from other women because they are un natural.

  37. Carson Hughes says:

    This topic is an interesting one, I think that feminism was a good perspective to tackle the phenomenon of cougars, it provided a perspective that dug deeper than popular culture ever would. From a feminist perspective, I think that the phenomenon of cougars is empowering, as it represents women making decisions that may have been previously stigmatized. Women taking unorthodox partners shows change in social structures. I think any change will be looked at with judgmental eyes, but in time it will be accepted socially.

  38. Hayden Griggs says:

    I completely agree that the concept of the “Cougar” is an empowering concept, and would be especially interesting to analyze from a Feminist perspective… but through this analysis it could be revealed as not entirely a beneficial cultural development. The idea is empowering in the sense that it allows women, especially older women who have in the past been outside the focus of the predominant pop culture center, finally take a place in the limelight as a powerful, sexual figurehead. in this sense, the older woman is allowed to express her sexuality and agency in ways that previously culture would not allow. However, representation and interpretation of the idea of a Cougar have been made ambiguous in a lot of ways. Popculture has either presented them as powerful independent women (See Sex and the City or Desperate Housewives) or their image has been perverted in the form of pornography and sexual fantasy. One could even argue that shows like Desperate Housewives stigmatizes these women and portrays them in a light which is overtly condescending. It would be fascinating to delve into a Feminist analysis and see which way the case can be argued: The Cougar as the powerful and independent older woman, or as the object of objectification and ridicule.

  39. Parker Robbins says:

    It’s generally always been socially acceptable for an older man and a younger women to be in a romantic relationship, but the opposite did not used to be true, and even today these “cougars” are looked down upon by many. How might a feminist anthropologist view this inequality? What can be done to make this practice more acceptable from a female stand point?

  40. QT says:

    I’ve noticed a lot of comments about the motives of cougars for going after younger men, whether it be simply for sexual pleasure and freedom, to feel younger, or to take on the more dominant role in a relationship. However, I think it would be interesting to discuss further the motives of why younger males are going for cougars. Of course, it was brought up that these younger males could be drawn to cougars for their financial independence and sexual experience, but at the risk of sounding shallow, I would think that the physical attractiveness of these cougars is a huge component of how successful they are at obtaining a “cub.” I believe Structuralists would agree that universally, people are drawn to pretty things (though what is attractive is defined differently between cultures). I am not saying that someone’s physical appearance is the only thing that matters, but no one can deny that it plays a significant role in the partners we choose. Therefore, I have to wonder if cougars are only appealing to younger males if they are considered “hot.” For example, would a cougar find the young male partner she is looking for if she dressed up, but still looked like the 50 year old woman she is? Would the cougar that is 50, but looks like she could be 30 be more successful at attracting the younger mate she is aiming for (aka Demi Moore). If examining cougars from this particular standpoint, I would think it possible that Post-Structuralists would say the younger males hold a lot of power here. Cougars may be going after these younger males, but it is up to the males to respond (or in Post-Structuralist term, consent) and accept their flirtation. The power struggles in this multi-faceted situation is interesting to observe as we can see it easily shift between “cub” and “cougar.”

    • Lyndsi Wisdom says:

      This is a great point. I think Feminist Anthropology would find that it is equality of both genders, not a dominance over one or the other. By this I mean, that the “cougar” thinks she has a dominant role over the “cub” because she is older, more experienced, and farther along in life in general. However, the “cub” could also feel that they are the dominant ones because they were the one sought out by the “cougar” and they have the role in either accepting or denying the request. So, in fact, it is a game being played by both sides.

  41. Lyndsi Wisdom says:

    I find it very interesting that you would say that a cultural ecologist would say this is a long lasting phenomenon. I would have assumed that it would be more recent, just simply due to women having more rights. However, as I read your essay I realized you had a terrific argument and it made complete sense. The argument about younger men having more testosterone, and therefore being the one’s fighting… I think this is true. But I also think that because of lack of nutrition and proper health, younger men were more numerous than older men. This can also be related to high-risk activities mentioned like hunting. They younger they are, they fewer opportunities a young man has had to be killed, so there could be a resemblance there.

  42. miarizzo says:

    I like this essay because it hits on a lot of points that many people might not have thought of. I read an article recently that talked about how some “cougars” didn’t come to be that way on purpose but more because younger men these days are staying at home longer and then when they get out into the dating world they want a woman that is somewhat like their mother. A young woman, or a woman in the same age-group as this type of man can’t provide what he is looking for. I thought this essay would be a good would go really well with that article in trying to explain this cougar/cub phenomenon.

  43. Amanda Kim says:

    Yikes! It’s fascinating to hear about how younger men are now going for the older women … though this new phenomenon is all new to me. But from what I can interpret about this whole younger men/older women relationship is that men’s testosterone levels go down in their middle age around the age of 40 and women’s sexuality peaks in their late 20s and early 30s and lowers at the age of probably about 50. Older men have far more sexual problems than women, which is reason enough for an older woman to consider a younger man, with whom the sex can be just spectacular for quite some time. The world seems to slowly accept the whole younger men/older women relationship, but this image portrays the older women as the seductress; another negative image and status for women engaging in these types of relationship.

    • Tess Porter says:

      Is the seductress such a negative image? A she holds most, if not all the power. Despite her age, she still has the ability to make young men attracted to her. I feel this term is empowering in a culture that makes women feel like being young is the only way they can be attractive. It’s true that many cougars alter their appearance with botax and hair dye, but still… young men are attracted to them because of their age and experience.

  44. kelcy schamehorn says:

    I agree with several of the above comments that a feminist approach to this ideology would have been very relevant to this topic. Although the author takes an approach on how the idea of cougars has been around throughout history, but is just now becoming acceptable in society, by no means are the historical cougars relate-able to the cougars in todays society. Women back then, as the author claims, tended to have more relations with younger men in order to keep their population from dwindling. Today, older women are obviously not having sexual relations with younger men for this sole purpose, and i think it would be interesting to go into further depth on why more and more older women are taking up this practice. Even though there have been movies and TV shows made surrounding their plots around cougar-cub relationships, our culture is taught to see these relationships as humorous and light hearted, not as an actual societal ideology. Women are still continually being looked down upon in all sexual matters, and being a cougar is just another one to add to the list.

  45. Sarah Kell says:

    I really enjoyed reading this essay and all of the comments going along with it. It’s interesting that in the past (and sometimes still today), women feel very proud to be dating an older man. Perhaps this is true, or they believed society would be proud of them, and so they expressed this more openly. Perhaps in the past, women enjoyed the younger man’s company, but felt they could not express this because of the male bias. The fact that it has such a well-know name, Cougar, is very interesting, especially to a symbolic anthropologist. Acts and interactions that have been present in society for years are gaining labels and names that make society more interested on the topic, whatever it may be. We see these names and labels in songs, TV shows, and movies all the time. The individuals give the names to society while society gives names back to the individual members all at the same time. Great essay, and I really enjoyed your cultural ecologist argument!

    • Holly Z says:

      Sarah, I like your tie to Symbolic Anthropology. I hadn’t considered what the term “cougar” really implied. I know I’d heard the reference to cougar on a dating show where younger women (kittens) competed against older women (cougars) for the attention of one man.
      The reference to women for our alleged “feline sensabilities” is an old stereoype in Western culture, and may even represent a binary opposition of female vs. male. Men would take on the persona of a dog while women that of a cat. But why? I would imagine that cats represent seductiveness, mystery, and docility; traits frequently, if not stereotypically applied to the female gender. But that’s only a guess!
      All I can say is that I would very proud to be a cougar when I grow older!

  46. Zoe Anderson Edenfield says:

    Jessie, your essay had a great topic. What I wonder is how a Symbolic/Interpretive Anthropologist would view “cougars” and “cubs”. What does an older woman seeking a younger man represent in culture? Does she represent a sort of freedom to love, or is she something less desired and frowned upon? Something which maybe represents a more sexually oriented society? And what would the young man, or “cub”, represent? Is he more masculine for having relations with older women, or is seen as something perverted from what societies “normal” men should seek in a mate? Do these relationships between cubs and cougars being spread throughout mediums like television mean that they represent something society accepts, or is it something that society frowns upon and just likes to jeer at? I feel like all of these questions would be quite interesting to answer.

  47. Nick Brownson says:

    Robin,
    While your take on a cultural ecologists explanation is interesting(and entertaining) I feel unsure of how historically viable it truly is. From the terminology you utilize — mostly the idea that there would be a lack of older men because many would be lost in hunting and other high risk activities– I can not help be be taken back to almost pre-modern times, before agriculture and mass-society. Even if this assumption is a little too extreme, and you were intending to assert that cougars were historically present within the past few centuries, the problem of life expectancy is still present. Life expectancy in England in 1700 was 37, and had risen to 41 by 1820(http://www.nber.org/aginghealth/spring06/w11963.html). Plainly, I’m not so sure that the idea of a ‘cougar’ is even really viable until the early 20th century when life expectancies began to break into the ‘middle age’. While it is difficult to refute the idea that there were at least SOME older seductresses who singled out younger men, I feel that your suggestion that cultural ecologists might imply that cougars could really be present — outside of a scant few examples — farther back in history than maybe the past 100 years is a little short-sighted.

  48. Lucy Lundstrom says:

    This essay was really fun to read, and really interesting. I think the term “cougar” absolutely depends on the context it is used in. It is heard so frequently today, but in so many different ways. On one hand, there are shows such as Cougar Town, which portrays a successful, attractive, middle aged woman as the main character, who often dates younger men. This show portrays cougars as powerful women who do not let their age stop them from pursuing an active dating life. However, the term cougar is also used as a very taboo term as well, both in popular culture and everyday life. For example, I read an article the other day about how google has banned advertising for cougar dating sites, because the term “cougar” is not family friendly. I thought zoe’s questions about how a symbolic/interperetive anthropologist would think were very interesting to think about, namely the question of whether the “relationships between cubs and cougars being spread throughout mediums like television mean that they represent something society accepts, or is it something that society frowns upon and just likes to jeer at,” although I had a very hard time answering it because I feel like a decision hasn’t been made within our society about whether or not the term “cougar” is appropriate or not.

  49. Michelle LaGreca says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this essay. I thought it opened up a lot of different conversation opportunities. A biological anthropologist would definitely agree with the second paragraph about how there could be a natural explanation for this phenomenon. In the biological aspect, women should try to remain sexually active for as long as possible as an effort to increase her chances of survival and the succession of her offspring. In that respect, it is probably a good idea for the “cougar” to try for the “cubs” so that she potentially could produce stronger and healthier offspring. Too bad most of the cougars don’t have relations with cubs purely for reproductive success. . .

  50. Morgan Piper says:

    I think this is a great topic, mainly because the idea of “cougar” “cub” relationships are becoming more and more prominent in the American culture. Generally within our society we begin to see few select people attempting to change the cultural norms, and if society has a positive reaction to these changes they will often then be dipicted on television. I knew this was a newly emerging form of relationship when I watched an episode of the television show “Bones” where they featured something called a “Cougar Cruise”. This cruise consisted of many women between the ages of 35 and 60 paying large amounts of money to “party” (mostly just mingle and establish relationships) with men (possibly even boys) who are usually half their age. I honestly did not believe that this was actually something that was taking place in America today, so I did a bit of research…turns out both Royal Caribbean and Carnival cruise lines have decided that this would be a lucrative form of entertainment for their customers. I believe that this is very interesting Anthropologically speaking mainly because it is introducing a new kind of love to the American society as well as other societies throughout the world. I believe that a symbolic anthropologist would see this as a symbol of a mid life crisis in a woman, and a symbol of young men trying to show their manhood.

  51. Alex Myers says:

    I liked how you linked disease and warfare with the cultural ecologist point of view. I think it would have been interesting to talk more of this and how many men died at war, while women stayed home, leaving the older women to reproduce with younger available men.

  52. Tim Baker says:

    While I do agree with you that cougars are a current phenomenon, I’m not sure that they are as long-standing as you say; at least not as a cultural norm. You do however make a very good argument for their existence through time with your cultural ecologist explanation. The way you explain it in terms of cultural ecology sounds a lot like Darwin’s theory of fitness. The feminist anthropology viewpoint also has some really good points about why women are now waiting to establish real relationships. The term “cougar” does presently have a very negative connotation so I’m not sure that every woman feels the same about searching for a relationship later in life. Some other good theories to examine this topic would be structuralism and practice theory.

  53. Kathryn Pitman says:

    I love that you brought in the cultural ecology side of it, I think you made a great point that seems to have been silenced in our cultural understanding of women’s sexual desires throughout history. Rather than this being a recent phenomenon, it is simply a forgotten one that women are only now rediscovering. It’s as if it wasn’t written in our history, since it does not follow the construction of what it means to be woman, in hopes that it would be buried and forgotten. But it seems as though the recent rise in feminine independence has unearthed this little gem of female sexual desire/behavior.

  54. Katherine Caldwell says:

    This essay is suggesting that “cougars” are looking to make babies in their forties. I’m not sure if this is true. The only women in my life that are looking to have babies at forty or so have been trying for ages. The cougars I know, however, are sleeping around for any reason but baby-making. I think now women are feeling more beautiful and sexy in their thirties and forties, even fifties, than ever before. I think the public is more accepting now that the “perfect woman” is no longer in her twenties and a size 00. Look at Demi Moore- she absolutely gorgeous. She didn’t marry Ashton to have babies, but she’s stunning. Any man, regardless of his age, would be crazy not to date her. It may also be the rise of plastic surgery that allows “older” women to compete with younger girls. Men, young or old, would love to get their hands on any beautiful woman.

  55. Sean Butler says:

    I agree with the idea that it is in an woman’s nature to seek out younger, healthier sexual partners than a peer of the same age. I think its interesting that competition from older males may incline younger males to seek out older women out of necessity. I think that from a Structuralist point of view, this feeling of the need to find a suitable sexual partner of a different age may be the necessary actions needed to support society when older males are not as common. This could be from the dangers that are associated with being an older male in past societies, such as the hunting example. The most prevalent age group would be the younger males who were still capable of having offspring with the older women that were still around.

  56. Joe Zimmermann says:

    I think that cougars are more publicized and open today, but they are not necessarily a new phenomenon; they are simply receiving more press coverage. How cougars are depicted in the culture today is definitely changed from past times.

    My favorite theory you used was the feminist approach. A central tenet associated with cougars is their “promiscuity” and I agree with your assessment of recent opennenss.

    This essay leaves me wondering how “cougarness” is demonstrated in other cultures. How are older women depicted in European cultures? Has this idea of “cougarness” been around for a longer period of time there?

  57. Landon Shumaker says:

    Nice, and very creative essay topic. Older women are more attractive to some people, because some say they are more intelligent and more mature then the girls of our age. Personally i think that feminist anthropology has a better reason for the recent incline in older women rolling around with younger men. Women are starting to focus more on themselves and furthering their carrier then they are worried about running off with a man and making kids. Women going out and focusing on themselves leads to greater independence so i agree with their new beliefs and morals.

  58. Forrest Jensen says:

    I would be interested to see a diachronic approach to this trend. Is it relatively new?
    Does it have anything to do with changing interpretations of the meaning of love? Does a higher divorce rate correlate with a higher rate of older women re-entering the dating scene and looking for younger and more passionate lovers?

  59. Bryan Rosenau says:

    “The prospect of a sexually dominant partner can be appealing for the often inexperienced younger man.” First of all, who is to say that younger men are inexperienced? I can see how one would assume this, but I would have to argue that a lot of young men who are 20 years old are very sexually experienced. These days, teenagers are experiencing sex at younger and younger ages. I bet cougars come across many “cubs” throughout the day, but I bet it depends on the lady (whether or not she likes experienced or inexperienced young men) and also with the guy (whether or not he is into cougars at all).
    Your discussion on the cultural ecology of courgars couldn’t have been better. The only thing I would have to critique is whether or not these cougars want to “date” these young men, let alone have children with them so they may pass on their genome. From what I see through the media, these “cougars” usually only want pounce on their “cub” for a sexual adventure/one-night stand type of thing. Maybe some do want to have kids with these young men, but that gets more into romantic relationships and cannot be discussed in the vacuum of a blog from merely here-say.
    This essay on cougars is good stuff, especially the cultural ecology part.

  60. douglas sartori says:

    Jessie,
    your paper provides an interesting look at the cougar-cub dynamic. you do a good job describing the relationship from both a cultural-ecologist and feminist perspective. i was wondering how you would interpret the relationship from the perspective of world systems anthropology. i would argue that factors such as socio-economic status, gender roles, and political affiliations affect the distribution of relationships that involve an older woman and a younger man. what are your thoughts?

  61. Rob Peixotto says:

    Women have a longer life expectancy than men. Because of this it could be said that women age better then men. We’ve all heard “a woman is like a fine wine, only gets better with age.” You would never hear such a claim about a man. Men reach a ‘prime’ much earlier than women. Thus it works out that older women still in their ‘prime’ would not want a man of that same age who is well past his ‘prime’ when they could get younger men in their ‘prime.’ I think it’s not too surprising that an older woman lusts after a younger man. But what about the other way around? Younger men craving older women? Could it be an Oedipus complex that has now become socially acceptable? Granted it’s not incest, but the age gap is there and this could satisfies some of the ‘cubs’ motherly desires.

  62. Joseph DeMoor says:

    This is an interesting topic, I guess I have questions on the inverse, older men and younger women. It seems like there are so many stereotypes around people being with other people who’s age is significantly different. Perhaps money, sexual desires, or other fantasies come into play. But I think it should be pointed out that sometimes people just relate better with older/younger people. That is just who they are drawn towards and who they can connect on a deeper level with.

  63. Nathan Scheidehelm says:

    What an awesome topic that you chose to write about! As compelling an argument as you made from the feminist anthropologist view, I do not think that a cultural ecologist would study this phenomenon because cultural ecologists are particularly interested in the actual environment, like land, water, air. This seems like more of a social environment, which I don’t believe a cultural ecologist would really care about. I wonder what a poststructuralist would think of all this, especially because long-standing power dynamics, or the man being the more powerful, is being flipped on its head with this phenomenon, in which older women are constructing themselves as the aggressor and power-holder in this type of relationship. I believe the main reason older women are able to find and, some might say, “take advantage” of younger men is that they know being intimate with an older woman is every male teenager’s and young adult’s dream, and women pounce on that possibility and probably find it easy to pick up young guys.

  64. maximus1090 says:

    I think one of the most compelling aspects of “cougarism” is the power difference between the cougar and the cub. In many interpretations, the cougar is the dominant one in the relationship (or encounter in many instances) and uses her self-prescribed status to seduce the cub into acts that satisfy her desire to be validated not just sexually, but also validated as a person in general. For whatever reason, circumstances have led up to this sense of self image that craves attention in its exodus from younger years of vitality and seduction. In this sense, the cub might actually possesses even more power than the cougar because he has the power to satisfy this need for the cougar’s worth to be validated, but at the same time has the ability to stick more knives into the internal struggles of self image that the cougar may face. Such a dance of power is largely why these instances seem very interesting.

  65. Rosa McAvoy says:

    This essay is really interesting on many levels. The cougar complex has definitely been seen more often in the last few years but it has received very different reactions than what I would expect. People seem to think its okay when older women get together with younger men, however, when I look at it, I see it as younger men going for older women. I think when one looks at it this way that it is obviously of society’s prejudices that are against women. I feel as though when younger women are with males much older than them that they are considered in many cases as gold diggers. Not once have i ever heard of a younger male dating an older woman as a gold digger. Our culture seems to find it interesting but this has been happening for so long just the gender roles have changed. I think it is great if older women have become more independent and can still make it work with younger people, but the two different reactions to two different roles of genders definitely bothers me.

  66. Brian Cortese says:

    I personally find it interesting how the opposite of this relationship is seen totally different. I am talking about older men with younger women. I do not believe that it even has a name yet. The cougars that are talked about here seem to be considered socially and even biologically acceptable. However, older men with younger women are often seen as what I would consider perverted. I am not talking about girls younger than 18. I am talking about maybe 20 year olds with a guy in his late 30’s. It seems that the younger girl is always seen as money hungry. When in fact they may truly be in love or have been seduced by an attractive older man. I do not think this type of relationship can be accepted unless it is accepted on both sides.

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  68. Sophia Kolybabiuk says:

    What i got out of this article was that women that focus their attention on working all of their lives while delaying building a romantic relationship to one day have a family with their significant other, end up being cougars. Being a cougar i wouldn’t consider a good thing because older women that are cougars come off as desperate and them trying to get a younger man is not a real challenge. When you find your significant other, i would imagine, they are supposed to challenge you and make you work for them just like they work for you. Having an equal balance of reciprocation in a relationship I would believe is key, not just being dominant and feeling in power over someone younger and more naive than you are. It is shocking to realize how people actually view younger woman with older men as “gold diggers” but don’t judge younger men with older women. I think this is false judgement because the younger men dating older woman could also just be seeking money out of the relationship.

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