Let's say it's a warm summer day and you're sitting at an outdoor café sipping a Prosecco and watching the people parade. A 55-year-old guy who looks his age (in spite of the dyed hair and sucked-in paunch) strolls by with his arm around a sexy, scantily clad woman who looks to be about 30, perhaps younger. You're not the judgmental type, but you can't help but leap to several conclusions. You're thinking that the woman is a trophy wife, a Bulgarian mail order bride, a spoiled sugar baby or his rob-the-cradle girlfriend.
If it's any one of those possibilities, you will probably decide that the guy is a dirty old man. You're not being judgmental -- you don't really care, live and let live etc. -- but you can't help but feel some revulsion for the guy and some pity for his date. If May-December Guy has a daughter, she might be his date's age. Ugh. Disgusting. Clearly, he's a creep. Feh.
Okay, so let's try that again only this time the genders are reversed. It's a 55-year-old woman and a 30-year-old stud in tight jeans and the standard tattoo of a meaningless Chinese symbol on his muscular bicep. From a distance, the woman looks younger than she really is. But as she gets closer, you can tell she's at least 20 years older than her date. Maybe she's had some work done; maybe she just has good skin. Botox. Whatever. Clearly, she's old enough to be his mother. Are you disgusted? Is she a dirty old lady? A creepette? Not really.
She's just a cougar.
Of course, a lot of people would have no opinion whatsoever about either of these scenarios. Some older men might just be envious of the May-December Guy, just as some older women might envy the cougar. But that's not the point.
Here's the point: Why are guys labeled dirty old men and women cougars when they're doing exactly the same thing? Men are pathetic creeps but cougars are thought of as naughty and roguish. Her proclivity for younger men is just a form of impish mischief. Wink, wink -- she's a cougar.
Sure, cougars in the wild are predatory but so are most animals. Cougars are sleek, feline creatures. The image when applied to women oozes a sense of exciting jungle adventure. Me Jane, you Tarzan. Most people don't find cougars that objectionable. Even the press seems to treat the subject with a certain comical curiosity, a far cry from derision or shock, more of a nudge, nudge sort of attitude. Hell, the cougar phenomenon has even sparked a sitcom, a reality show and a big screen comedy.
Then there are the terms "creep" and "dirty old man." There is no way to make those names sound even remotely appetizing. "Sugar Daddy" isn't that appealing either.
In other words, May-December Guy is not a sleek, feline-like creature. He's a poisonous, slithery snake.
Seriously, is that fair?
Let's put it this way. Don't expect to see a sitcom called "Dirty Old Men" any time soon.
It's pretty obvious why men and women seek the affections of the young -- in most cases, it's because they're getting on in years and they yearn to feel young and desirable before they turn wizened and decrepit. There's nothing wrong with that. It's human, although a trifle narcissistic.
Sure, there are predatory men out there who do evil things, but we're not talking about them. We're talking about consenting adults whose motivations are in no way disrespectful or aggressive. They might be a little insecure, but who isn't? Or it might be a midlife thing, Doesn't matter.
Some urban dictionaries claim that the male equivalent of a cougar is a "manther." Manther? Really? This is clearly not a term that has caught on and even if it ever does (doubtful), it's meaningless. A male panther? By that logic, a cougar should be a wougar, which is also idiotic.
As long as we're in the cat category, maybe we should call May-December Guys lions. Kings of the jungle. Manly and proud. Dignified and stately. How about tigers? Cheetahs? (No, that sounds too much like they're cheating on their wives.) Leopard? Wildcat?
Hmm. Wildcat's not bad. Has a sort of rowdy, untamed, rakish, ex-frat boy ring to it. Cougars and wildcats.