According to Grant Barrett, a lexicographer who published an article about it two years ago, the term cougar, as it refers to women over 40 sexually pursuing men 10 to 20 years younger, was popularized by Valerie Gibson's 2001 book. It originated in 1999 by the woman who founded the Web site known as CougarDate.com, a dating service for older women.
There was a video submitted to Current TV that I watched this month on the late night series Max and Jason: Still Up about a Web site called UrbanCougar.com. It's not a dating site, but it does foster the cougar community in an environment that stigmatizes it still. However, the level of TV coverage and curiosity may change that.
On Sept. 21 on CBS, I saw the premiere of Accidentally on Purpose. It starred Jenna Elfman, who despite being a woman of a certain age, could easily be mistaken for a ditzy blonde. Except her character Billie is a lady after my own heart. She's a film critic, who's a little Ally McBeal-ish.
Rejected by her age-appropriate yet commitment-phobic boyfriend, she gets drunk one night and meets an aspiring chef named Zack, played by Jon Foster, who on that night becomes her Naked Chef. Unfortunately, the May-December one-night-stand gets her pregnant.
Zack, the once boy toy, has his testicles descend and decides he wants to be a father. Billie hesitantly agrees to share parenthood with him but she knows they'll be problems. The film critic in me would then describe her situation as being like 2007's Knocked Up but only for cougars. Just imagine Katherine Heigl 15 to 20 years from now still doing clueless, romantic comedies and you'll get the idea.
There have been one or two TV shows in the history of the medium that have depicted this idea of older women pursuing younger men, not for any prolonged period though. For example, an episode of The Golden Girls dealt with it but that's about as much as I could find. There have been a ton of movies that have explored the idea of cougars. Actually, there's been about 40 films. Some of which have been nominated and even won Oscars.
They include Sunset Boulevard (1950), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), The Graduate (1967), In the Bedroom (2001), Being Julia (2004), Notes on a Scandal (2006), and The Reader (2008).
Not all of the cougar films have been as successful as Angela Bassett and Whoopi Goldberg traveling all the way to Jamaica in How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998), or Kim Cattrall, the sexiest cougar ever, dressing herself in sushi for Sex and the City: The Movie (2008), but most have been notable.
On Sept. 23, Courtney Cox starred as Jules, a real estate agent who notices the post-Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher style becoming more prominent, in the series dubbed Cougar Town.
Jules sees the emergence of so many cougars. She also sees the double standard of how older men aren't demonized for chasing younger women, and how men like Hugh Hefner are made into heroes, while women like Anne Bancroft are seen as villains. Divorced and mother to a very sardonic teenage boy, Jules is frustrated until she spills a drink on a handsome waiter one night.
With the insistence of her friends, Jules eventually brings this waiter named Matt who's not too much older than her son, back to her bedroom. Matt, played by David Clayton Rogers, doesn't have a problem. He's ready, willing, and certainly able. In the video on Current TV, most of the young guys were overjoyed to be with a cougar.
E! Entertainment channel aired a 2-hour special this past month called 25 Hottest Hollywood Cougar Tales. It spoke to the same point. In the special, the most dramatic was probably Barbara Hershey and her relationship with Naveen Andrews, star of the TV show Lost, who himself is in his second cougar relationship.
Earlier this year, during the Spring, the TV Land channel aired a reality show titled The Cougar, which basically mimicked The Bachelor, or rather The Bachelorette, where a cougar had to choose between 20 young men. If you're curious, the 40-year-old, single mom of three teens ended up choosing a 23-year-old personal trainer from San Francisco, which I'm sure had nothing to do with the numerous, shirtless, make-out sessions they had.
Other examples this year are the summer headlines that the daytime soap All My Children made when it was announced that veteran actress Susan Lucci and her iconic character of Erica Kane was entering cougar land. Her relationship with Cameron Mathison's Ryan Lavery, who is 23 years her junior, was quite the shocker.
But, it wasn't the only soap that had cougars pouncing on their prey. On General Hospital, Lisa LoCicero and Brandon Barash play lovers respectively named Olivia Falconeri and Johnny Zacchara. On the Emmy-winner for Outstanding Drama, The Bold and the Beautiful, Lesley Anne Down and Brandon Beemer play lovers named Jackie Marone and Owen Knight. In both those instances, the two women were twice the age of the two men, yet it didn't stop them though from having regular sex scenes.
In the HBO series True Blood, Michelle Forbes who plays Maryann, is technically a Maenad and not a cougar, but seemingly at the age of 44, she did have sex with Sam Trammell's character when he was only 17.
Of the other new shows on broadcast TV, Laura Leighton became a cougar with co-star Shaun Sipos on the revamped version of Melrose Place. He's about 15 years her junior. Then, there's Rebecca Romijn and Matt Dallas on the ABC drama Eastwick. Dallas is 10 years Romijn's junior. Yet, according to TV Guide magazine back in March, Romijn's character of Roxie will be seen as robbing the cradle.
I personally don't see it as cradle robbing. Such a description should be reserved for pedophiles, or statutory rapists like Mary Kay Letourneau. Cougars aren't like that. We can't equate these women to Roman Polanski.
My assumption would be that the increase in the portrayal of cougars in the media is a good thing. Hollywood has a reputation of being sexist, as well as ageist. The rise of cougars would seem to negate that negative reputation. The trend, however, won't last forever, so if you're a young guy who's into cougars, get them now while they're hot.