Exploring the World of Cougars and Cubs

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

May 16th, 2009 • Living with Chronic PainPrint Print

Two of my most significant boyfriends were five and nine years younger than I, respectively, so getting involved with younger men was nothing new for me. What’s more, proper radical feminist that I am, I easily envisioned myself as a 40 or 50 year old woman happily involved with a man half my age.

When it really happened, however, I was slightly freaked. Dating a guy 19 years younger? That was definitely stepping outside the box of social norms. “Oh, that’s been going on forever,” my friend Melissa responded, nonplussed. “It just hasn’t been talked about. But now those kinds of relationships are getting more attention because of celebrities like Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.”

In places like France, I was knew, older women/younger men couplings were utterly ordinary. Yesterday’s news. A snoozer. Once I hit 35, in fact, I toyed with the idea of moving to France, simply to be able to date without having to lie about my age or hang with the bald, pudgy set.

To my delight, Melissa informed me of a burgeoning “cougar/cub” counter-culture right here in the good old US of A – older women and younger men who only date each other. I looked into the phenomenon and found that indeed, it is a vibrant and growing movement. So I emailed one of the cougar pioneers who was planning a mixer:

I find the standard American dating norms to be offensive among other things – as if women have an expiration date… I feel that so many relationships between women and men are about men asserting dominance and control – thus always needing to be with a “girl” and not a woman. As a strong, self-actualized woman on every level, I absolutely cannot be in those kinds of relationships.

 It seems to me that a man who is open to dating an older woman is a man who is secure enough in himself that he doesn’t need someone to be less than him. It seems to me that with these men, there is more of a chance that they are looking for someone to learn from and grow with – which is what I always look for in a partner.

I attended the cougar/cub mixer and spoke extensively with several men – informally interviewing them, both for personal interest and a potential article. Through those discussions and continued research after the event, I found that there are a whole host of reasons that older women and younger men pair up – often having nothing to do with social revolution.

Cougar/cub sites, in fact, frequently hyper-sexualize older women and fetishize the relationship between older women and younger men – hardly cracking the social nut of gender roles. (To be fair, sexualizing older women at all is something new, though the way it’s typically done is hardly outside the patriarchal mold.)

I was singularly interested in gathering together the hard-core social pioneers. I saw in the older women/younger men formation so much potential for subverting the dominant paradigm — including the following:

  1. Ripping up the social script for dating
  2. Following the heart and spirit first and foremost, in pursuit of authentic connection
  3. Shifting the power dynamic of male-female relationships
  4. Creating new ideas of masculine and feminine behavior
  5. Recognizing women as sexual, desirable, datable, and marriageable well past the age of 35
  6. Developing a “female gaze” to meet “the male gaze”
  7. Responding positively to women as pursuers and initiators
  8. Changing expectations around the dating-marriage-childbirth model
  9. Rethinking women’s worth without children
  10. Developing new concepts of birth/creation and motherhood/family

So I created my own group for older women/younger men – with the goal of building community, creating friendships, developing romantic relationships, and providing a forum for discussing the personal and socio-political dynamics of older women/younger men relationships.

Then tonight I went to a gathering for singles involved in social justice. The rhetoric for the group was all about getting the “cultural revolutionaries” together under one roof. But when I threw out a question, asking what the group thought of older women/younger men relationships, I saw how deeply entrenched are the old-school patriarchal norms of dating behavior – even among the purportedly progressive crowd. The implications are tremendous.

But more about that in another post. I’m trying to get to sleep before the morning hours.


Ronna Alegre December 24th, 2009

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