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Cougars and Cleos Deserve Respect

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My previous Cleo vs. Cougar blog touched off a firestorm of debate. Who knew? Magazines picked it up and bloggers ran with it. I heard from self-professed cougars who love the moniker and embrace the lifestyle (and all the testosterone-fueled, hard bodies that go with it). I heard from just as many women who hate being called a cougar and were thrilled with "Cleo" as it more accurately represents their relationship dynamic.

Cleo is a word I coined in my upcoming book, The Real Secrets Women Only Whisper. Skip the hieroglyphic records and think movie icon -- Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, whose immense power and legendary beauty made her irresistible. A Cleo is a smart, fabulous woman who dominates in her relationships due to a combination of power, accomplishment, beauty, money or age.

Modern day Cleos are everywhere: Oprah Winfrey, Gayle King, Ellen DeGeneres, Cheryl Tiegs, Sandra Bullock, Arianna Huffington, Halle Berry and Barbara Walters are all Cleos. A Cleo can bring home the bacon and share it with anyone she pleases. A Cleo doesn't have to prowl for younger men. A Cleo is always desired -- at any age. The name Cleo is not intended as a replacement for cougar. In fact, Cleos and cougars are more akin to siblings with different personalities. I even heard from a third faction that protested against both terms, citing that such sexist labels are never applied to men. And I don't disagree. But since one word can serve as shorthand for an entire phenomenon, it looks like cougars and Cleos are both here to stay -- and it's time we give them the respect they deserve.

Since so much of this controversy is rooted in semantics, it's important to understand that the word "cougar" came to America pre-loaded with a bad reputation. Cougar is actually a product of Canada. Over a decade ago in Vancouver, being called a cougar was considered the ultimate insult. It referred to a pathetic, lonely (often inebriated) older woman who preyed upon younger men after last call, hoping for a merciful sexual liaison. It's no wonder that, despite Courteney Cox's best efforts in her show, Cougar Town, many women still have a visceral reaction at the mention of a cougar.

A decade later, author Valerie Gibson sought to redefine the word in her book Cougar, A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men. Valerie said a cougar "knows exactly what she wants. What she wants in her life is younger men and lots of great sex. What she doesn't want is children, cohabitation or commitment." This new-and-improved definition resonated with a nation full of independent women. Then along came hot and hunky cub Ashton Kutcher who turned ageless miracle of nature Demi Moore (who really is a Cleo) into the patron saint of cougars and a new revolution was born.

As I was thinking about Cleos, cougars, and all things in between, I had a serious "aha" moment and I realized it's time we give these sexy ladies some well deserved props and shift away from the negative stigma that rightfully belongs to "Weeds" (desperate women who sleep with other women's husbands).

Cougars and Cleos are two different kinds of strong, independent women with one very important thing in common -- they are generally not email waving Weeds standing in a Tiger Woods lineup. Cougars are just out for a bit of fun, and if that fun is between two single consenting adults (even if they're 20 years apart), then why not? Cleos have no desire to be entangled in a compromising tryst with someone else's baggage-laden husband.

The era of cougars and Cleos isn't over. In fact, it may have only just begun. So let's praise the liberated independence of cougars and Cleos. Let them enjoy their steamy sex with hot men, and the new Cougar culture that caters to them, complete with cruises, conventions and websites like TheRealCougarWoman.com, and a whole host of matchmaking sites like CougarLife.com, DateACougar.com, and the cleverly titled DateMrsRobinson.com.

We should celebrate the fact that cougars and Cleos are enjoying their own great lives and aren't interested in destroying someone else's marriage and family -- which is a good enough reason for the 60 million wives in America to give them the respect they deserve. Cougars and Cleos don't want your husband. They may want your son, but that's a blog I'll share another time.

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