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Why ‘Cougar’ Doesn’t Mean Cool

Awhile ago, it popped up in a conversation and sparked off a wave of laughter. I glared. He grinned and said,

“But the cougar is a beautiful animal!”

No, the man just did not get it.

Here are some of the descriptions I found of the word, on Urban Dictionary:

Cougar:

“A 35+ year old female who is on the “hunt” for a much younger, energetic, willing-to-do-anything male. The cougar can frequently be seen in a padded bra, cleavage exposed, propped up against a swanky bar waiting, watching, calculating; gearing up to sink her claws into an innocent young and strapping buck who happens to cross her path.”

“An older woman who is past her prime & who is attracted to younger men, often as an act of desperation or as a last resort.”

“A Cougar is a female, usually between thirty and fifty years-old, who enjoys the sexual company of younger men. Cougars are only usually interested in men under the age of twenty-five. Also, Cougars are non-committal, choosing to move from mate to mate without ever settling down. It is not uncommon for the same Cougar to attack (sleep with) many different men in the same group of friends.”

I struggle with labels and for one single reason – because they rarely evolve as human descriptions should and often stay limited to the associations that they started with. This is also why I’ve never liked most popular descriptions of men for women, notably one that reminds me of a fluffy, yellow-feathered bird.

A cougar describes an older woman and one who it is acceptable to see as a sex object. This much is actually fine and inoffensive. But overlaid on that are perceptions of desperation, of cheap behaviour, of non-committedness and a generally predatory aura. While some of those may seem appealing within an erotic fantasy, no one (man or woman) wants to be described in those terms.

There is an almost tangible movement in popular culture today, pushing the idea of an independent woman acquiring male attention from the always most attractive age group – the 20s. That prototype has existed for years (think Hugh Hefner surrounded by nubile bunny-eared beauties). This is no more than a female version of the same archetype and it’s not pushing sex or freedom, it’s about power.

As a recipient of all the benefits of women’s liberation and empowerment, I enjoy financial independence, the virtue of fabulousness, the heady high of choices and control over my own body. My only problem with this, is that it’s cold when it gets into the realm of relationships. I don’t like the idea of treating human beings, male or female as acquisitions or status symbols. Whether men have been doing it for decades or not doesn’t change things. I can’t see how a relationship that is about exchanging power for money/fame can have anything to do with love, trust or any of those things that make a relationship great.

To come back, that’s why the description of cougar stings. If the original thought be true, it shouldn’t matter what
gender a person is, for them to be appealing to a large number of the opposite sex (younger or otherwise). It’s not an age no-bar situation. Age and experience have after all molded one into a person of confidence, ease, polish and independence. Attraction is flattering when it happens because I’m me, not because I fit the current fashionable norm of appealing. So yes, ask me my age by all means. But don’t call me a cougar.

XXFactored! Dec2010 – Social Networking, Relationship Dilemmas, Fashion Follies & A Masulinist Edge

December has been full of drama and dazzle as always…a wonderful way to finish the year! I’ve been running ragged between parties, lunches, brunches, dinners, meeting out-of-town friends and family and celebrations. But I have managed to keep up with what’s hot and happening on the internet as well. And here’s what I was warming my fingertips with this month on XX Factor:

  • Financial independence, earning capacity…What’s sex got to do with it? (via Yahoo! Real Beauty)
  • Does this mean I can claim my romcom DVDs under ‘Education Expenses’? Lessons from 90s romcoms (via YourTango)
  • Grrrlllll power! Or maybe men are just easier to pick up than women! (via RhealityRings)
  • We’ve seen ChickLit and then DickLit (or LadLit). Now here’s to GadLit (which is my truncation of Gay Lad Lit)! Tell what is thunk? (via Gaysi Family)
  • Other people’s mistakes almost always provide a laugh…especially when they’re bigtime celebrity types. So here’s appealing to the inner cat in all of us. Miaow to that! (via Yahoo!)
  • Maybe a lack of flexibility is the cause for most of our problems. That, and the fact that we expect people to love in exactly the same way we do. (via Twitter)
  • My post on Yahoo! Real Beauty and a version of it that appeared earlier right here on XX Factor. I’m still asking for your thoughts.
  • Five secret tests guys use to evaluate you while on a date (via Glamour).
  • You can outsource anything in today’s day and age!! (via idump4U)
  • Of course, this has a misogynistic air about it but it is funny. How to spot (and save your wallet from) a golddigger. (via The Bachelor Guy)
  • Earlier posted on The XX Factor and now also on Yahoo! Real Beauty – the world’s most popular social network adds another layer of complexity to the already-intricate labyrinth of relationships.
  • If our relationships are a reflection of the games we’re used to playing, maybe the people we date, are images of our favorite toys. Who then are we, by the toys we play with? (via Yahoo! Real Beauty).
  • I can’t vouch for the people but the idea sounds interesting. For all you single bibliophiles out there! Alikewise is a dating website that matches you with people of similar book tastes.
  • Really interesting how many of the roles depicted on this list tackled gender stereotypes. Ten ladies who’ve cross-dressed for roles. (via TheFrisky)
  • Revolutionary or ridiculous? You tell me. I’m going with funny. “French Women Who Like To Swim Topless Protest By Asking Men To Wear Bikini Tops” (via TheFrisky).
  • I tend to avoid risque on The XX Factor but this one was too good to pass up! TheFrisky‘s Sexy Rating Chart!
  • Eh heh heh. This site makes fun of the Forever 21 brand. But this post likened superheroes to hookers. Funny, that resemblance never occurred to me. (via WTForever21)
  • Earlier on The XX Factor and now on Yahoo! Real Beauty: Why do we trade in the attention of a hundred men for the indifference of one?
  • A rather looooong article but it brings up some salient points. Gender equality isn’t quite as simple as it sounds, is it?”A modest proposal for male reproductive rights” (via MensNewsDaily).

If you found yourself featured here, if you’d like to be or even if you just enjoyed anything on this list (or…umm, didn’t), hop over to the XX Factor Facebook Page and talk to me about it! A very happy new year, everyone! XX Factor will see you on the other side of 2011.

What’s Sex Got To Do With It?

The recent India Today poll looks at the importance of financial independence, sexual satisfaction, romance and emotional security in a relationship. I’m most intrigued by inference that about half of urban India links sex & earning capacity while the other seems indifferent. That’s a neat but disturbing split right down the middle of this generation.

Most people now accept that it is important, almost necessary to be a double-income family in order to be able to even consider having all the benefits that urban life has to offer. We’re still struggling with the emotional upheavals caused by the changes in societal order but the need of the hour is to bring in the bucks and fast. So we’re all getting into the workplace as soon as we can and racing ahead at our best pace. But we haven’t quite figured out how that makes us feel about each other, have we? Does the average man feel emasculated by the equal or better earning power of his partner? Does the woman feel like the man is falling short of the deep-rooted standards of male superiority? And how does the relationship endure the burden of these frustrated expectations? I think the jury is still out on that one and where else would the confusion make its presence felt but in the bedroom?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Everyone Wants To Get Into My Wallet!

Late one night as I was driving down the city, I looked up at a huge billboard of Sushmita Sen, an advertisement for Kiah jewellery, which said,

You are the occasion
You are the celebration

I told him,

I really love that ad!

He smiled and said,

You would. It celebrates you, after all.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Earlier in the month, I wrote about my first experience with luxuriant self-indulgence, the retail therapy way. I wear my diamonds with pride, a pride that comes not exactly from their aesthetic value but from the knowledge that I earned the power to buy them for myself.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

A few years ago, I wrote about the Superwoman. I don’t know whether to be happy or not that it’s turning out to be prophetic. Take a minute to think about my words..

I am the center of a marketing model titled “High income single decision maker”
I am the brief given to fashion houses when they design the new Prada suit
I am described as ‘Joan of Arc meets Helen of Troy’

We are indeed, the hot new consumer demographic. Urban women, financially self-sufficient with all the trappings of our successful professional status – the need for new status symbols combined with the ability to pay for them.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Our parents’ generation saw the upsurge of women at work and all the initial beginnings like the glass ceiling, women bosses et al. Our generation in contrast is the one that gets to enjoy it (and be taken advantage of). We’re prominent for our purchasing power and marketers have been quick to pick up on the need for our own set of status symbols and paraphernalia. I speak as the target group of a woman who earns and has the independence to spend. I also speak as a marketing professional, seeing the other side of it, so to speak.

Successful men who earn well have been well tapped into as a market and are induced to spend on everything from their own selves (personal gadgets, cars), social settings (restaurants, pubs, sports activities) and all sorts of dating-related paraphernalia (presents for women, tokens of what makes them an ‘ideal partner’). What do their opposite numbers in our sex have?

We have shoes, clothes, bags, accessories, jewelery, make-up and personal grooming services. If the men-targeted products homed in on the traditional masculine need to be macho and an alpha male, we are being targeted for our vanity and need to be ‘the babe’.

Of course, the more complicated dynamics of women actually competing with each other in these stakes is well played out. What else do you think Bhala uski saadi meri saadi se safed kaisi is?

The more expensive products are obviously affordable only to a certain type of woman – she has a career, she’s ambitious and wants to be respected for her intelligence, she doesn’t want to stand in anyone’s shadow, she has a personality of her own. And hence diamonds, super-expensive shoes and clothes come with the messages that they respect your individuality, celebrate your independence and will take Visa as well as American Express.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

I was invited to the premier showing of the big Hollywood release of Confessions of a Shopaholic. I saw the movie with a group of girlfriends and all of us identified with the heroine. We would, she’s based on us after all. While the movie is meant to be a really light-hearted comedy, it points to something deeper.
I got to wondering about the phenomenon of shopaholism. Is it a reality that we’re likely to be facing very soon? All manner of excess is driven towards filling a need that hasn’t been satisfied earlier. So women who binge are thought to be unconsciously compensating for a lack of affection in their lives. What unmet need are we trying to plug with this excessive buying?

Becky Bloomwood in the movie nails it on the head when she explains her addiction,

Because when I shop, it feels so pretty, so nice, so good! And then it doesn’t so I have to shop even more!

True to all successful marketing strategies, this one also gives us a taste of what we like and then leaves us begging for more. Shinier hair! Higher heels! Bigger (and smaller) bags! Cooler sunglasses! Brighter make-up! Lotions, creams, gels, powders, liquid liners, sticks, brushes, concealers, colorants, rinses, crayons, cakes, gloss, sequins, beads, rhinestones, denim, silk, linen, velvet….the list never ends.

So for all our gloss and gorgeousness, we are nothing more than the product of a very successful marketing program designed to relieve us our newly-minted paychecks. ‘Fabulous’ is the bait they use to lure us in and the looming bill at the end of the month is the hook.

It used to be about too many people wanting to get into my pants.
Now everyone wants to get into my wallet!!

Material Girl

I went diamond-shopping this weekend. Last year I received a corporate pat-on-the-back with a financial award. Someone suggested that I spend it on jewelery instead of frittering it away on clothes, books and shoes. It took me months but I finally agreed.

It’s not even the first major purchase I made, even for jewellery. I saved up on my first job and bought my father a new cellphone and my mother, a diamond ring. That was a funny feeling. A memorable feeling, a funny one and one I’ll treasure all my life…the exhilarating thrill that comes from being able to buy something for the people you love, who have provided for you all your life.

A few years later, I’m going big-purchase-shopping again. But it just is different. A different kind of different.

eartops1

I think in my head, despite all the wonderous freedom of financial independence and mental release, my liberatedness has a few gaps in it. Like little stitches still binding me to old ways of being, long after I’ve snipped away the life I want to wear.

Diamonds are usually received as gifts, not bought for oneself. Gifted by a man..a father, a brother, a lover, a husband. If diamonds are a girl’s best friend, it’s because those sparkly stones carry the monetary value that they were bought for, but also the power of being cherished and indulged by men.

Diamonds have been symbolic for years and they continue to be so. Only my diamonds don’t list out the men who will lavish their affections on me. They remind me of everything that I’ve worked for and achieved. The power to buy a diamond as well as the right to wear one that is truly my own. It’s just odd how long it took me to accept the feeling. Not feel guilty about lavishing it on myself, not feel obligated to spending it on someone else or something more important/intelligent, not wonder if brandishing my economic power made me seem like even more of a man-hating feminist than people usually accuse me of being. It took me a long time to accept that it was okay to buy a diamond for myself and feel good about it.

Newfound power doesn’t come easy; it’s scary.

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