Monday, August 10, 2009

Meow: Etymology Of A Wild Thing

So, I'm reading our local paper the other day, and there's an article about the Del Mar Racetrack and a contest to find Miss Cougar 2009. This title was handily captured by one Rosie Goldstein, a lady of burnished gold and tousled blonde, who is...well, let Walker McBride, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club promoter, tell you: "an attractive woman in her prime."

That doesn't sound like a bad thing to be, does it? But what should we call "an attractive man in his prime?" A Siberian white tiger? A Burmese warty pig? But no, there doesn't seem to be a companionate term for the male of the species. We'll come back to that.

The article further describes a cougar as "a woman who looks young, dresses young and dates young." With all that looking and dressing and dating, we can infer that she ISN'T, in fact, young. What exactly young means, we're left to speculate.

Goldstein is proud of the appellation, and defines it for herself: "a woman who's independent, in control and not afraid to take chances." That's nice. If I were a 200 pound ambush predator, I wouldn't be afraid to take chances, either. Chances, schmances--whaddaya gonna do about it? You're just meat to me, baby.

On that crazy internet, I found some more, um, specific definitions of the cougar. She likes clubbing and showing her cleavage. She can range from "an overly surgically altered wind tunnel victim" to a "milf." (I'm not going to parse that one--suffice to say it's an acronym and rather flattering, in its way.) True to her namesake, the cougar is "on the hunt" for "innocent" males. When she finds them, she will "sink her claws" into them before "going for the kill." She is also alluring to young men who are looking for sex because she won't play games--she has plans for that "strapping buck" once she "bags" him.

Cougars are riding the wave of the zeitgeist. There's a reality show called "The Cougar," and Courtney Cox will star in a sitcom this fall called "Cougar Town." Courtney, who is married to David Arquette, says: "David is much younger than me. I think it's great to be a cougar, if that's what they're called. I just don't know what the term is for a man who dates a younger woman." Right, Courtney. I already said that.

But the way I know for sure that the cougar is having a pop culture moment appeared in the paper the same day as Rosie Goldstein: "Panda cub makes debut in early morning at zoo." San Diego's star brood mare (brood bear?) Bai Yun welcomes her fifth offspring--what could be cuddlier? Perhaps the zoo's description of Bai Yun as "something of a cougar--not the cat, but the contemporary female of a certain age who keeps herself in great shape."

Okay. Let me get this straight: Pandas are not cats. Pandas are also not bears. But Bai Yun is a cougar because fuzzy black-and-white babies spring from her loins every two years. Sounds like being a cougar is a lot of work.

The cougar thing has come a little too close for comfort in my own life. Last winter, I was chilling (literally--there was no heat) backstage with my castmates during a show, and the discussion turned to a girls night out. "We can get all dressed up and go out on the town," said Shelley. "Just us cougars." "Ewww! Don't call me that!" I yelped. She was joking, but I think she found my instinctive disgust kind of over the top. It just sounded so icky; I wanted no part of it.

Perhaps I just can't get it out of my head that in a recent issue of US Weekly, Lisa Rinna--she of the platypus lips--admitted to having a little work done because: "I do what I can to stay fresh."

Now I am all for freshness. I would prefer to be fresh, rather than--as my Australian husband adorably describes old milk--"gone off." But when I think about achieving freshness through procedures with recovery time after which I will look perpetually startled, I balk. Hell, I can't even sit still for blonde highlights. I can barely make it to the gym. I'm happy to donate my (unretouched) cleavage to the cause, if that helps. But otherwise, my pursuit of freshness involves a session with my little electric friend from the bedside drawer, followed by a nice, long nap. The sparkle in my eye and the spring in my step may be temporary, but at least I enjoyed the ride and didn't spend any money.

Interestingly, the actual cougar is an unprepossessing sort, with a plain, beige coat and non-picky taste in snacks. Not into calling attention to themselves, those cougars. They're also reclusive and solitary. Maybe it should have been cheetahs? At least they're the fastest animal in the world.

But the raunchier definitions of the human cougar certainly speak to what makes me profoundly uncomfortable about the name. I mean, if I claim to be a cougar, what exactly am I agreeing to? I'm wild and can't be tamed--sure, sure. Majestic beast of the open plain--I'm okay with that. Have an insatiable need to sink my teeth into small animals and rip them to bloody shreds? Not so much. Because I think we know who the defenseless creatures in this scenario really are. And that's why there are no male cougars--men are "natural" hunters at every age, right? It's what they do--it's why some scientists have even argued that men are not capable of monogamy. Cougars are women who aren't doing what's "natural" in captivity--caring for children, shunning sex and letting themselves go all soft and squishy. That last bit is only decent, after all. All the men are doing it.

Transparently, cougars are cougars because they are hungry. Hungry for something men are expected to crave at any age--fresh, young flesh. But when women get a little more mature and still have a hankering for the juicy set--well, now they require a whole new name.

Let me be frank. I'm as uncomfortable as the next domestic cat about aging. I fret that I have to work twice as hard for half the results. I remember once waiting in line for the bathroom at UCSD between classes--glancing in the mirror, I checked us out, 10 undergrads and me--and determining the one thing that looks good on every girl, short and tall, plump and skinny, big-nosed and bushy-browed: YOUTH. Youth looks so sweet and creamy and delicious, you want to lick it. Youth looks FRESH. And I was thinking this? Ten years ago.

But I'm not ready to be a cougar. I don't think I ever will be. When I look in the mirror, I don't see a trickle of blood in the corner of my mouth. If you like, call me a panda. Or I'll hold out for the next animal. I'm sure one will be along soon. In the mean time, I'll be over here, fluffing my cleavage. Throw me a steak, will you?


Janelle said...

You should seriously submit this to a magazine. Loved it! So funny, so true and so well written. I'm serious. Pitch it!!!!

Jen said...

Yeah, pitch it! It's GREAT. You really nail it. I am SO disgusted with the whole cougar thing! Thank you. ;-)

Miss J

The Wades said...

Milk "gone off". I like that. :)

Anonymous said...

Funny and true! I didn't see the article you mentioned, and I wish I had, because that is way different from how I have heard the word used. In Palm Desert, a group of us women went for a bachelorette party (and none of us were 40 yet), and these young 20-something boys called us Cougars. Most of the women were pissed off, because they weren't even 40 yet!, but I felt that the "kid" used it to describe women who were much older than he and his friends but whom he considered hot. So I just felt flattered to be considered hot. And let's face it, 40 or not, when you're 20-something, anything over 30 seems OLD! :)

Cheri @ Blog This Mom! said...

So if one were to have an imaginary young husband, would one be considered an imaginary cougar?

Seriously? Well said, Sam.

erin said...

'call me a panda' is my new favorite line ever in the history of the world. I adore it and you. Excellente Poste Miss.

Stephanie said...

Well done as always. Labels are hardly ever a good thing, unless of course it is 'brood bear'!

Marlene said...

I wish I could say something intelligent and thoughtful, like you have. I can only say that I hate the way women are targeted as animalistic for aging and still being attractive. You must just want sex, right, if you are over 30 and date a man who isn't fifty. Because don't women really just want security and cuddling, and if there's anything else in the picture, doesn't that make you an animal? The fact that two people have asked me if James if MY SON is enough to make me snarl when I hear the word.

Anonymous said...

Well said! It's such an offensive concept, I just can't wait for it to fade back into the ether... lix