Among the Cougars: What does a cub wear to a cougar party?

Among the Cougars: What does a cub wear to a cougar party?
By Troy Patterson

Indigenous to the Americas, the puma or panther or mountain lion—Puma concolor—is further known as the catamount, the mountain screamer, the night crier, the sneak cat, the swamp devil, the purple feather, and the ghost walker. In Canada, as in other, more interesting places, they skip the colloquialisms and go for cougar, and therefrom oozes the word in its slang sense. Dictionary editor Jesse Sheidlower cites anecdotal evidence establishing that cougar—meaning a woman of a certain age who pursues men of a tender age—was in currency in British Columbia and Alberta by the early 1990s. Etymologists have yet to confirm the delightful tale that the NHL's Vancouver Canucks originated the term to reference a mature subset of puck bunnies.

In nature, cougars are a highly adaptable species found in every American habitat. In civilization, the situation is much the same. Who knows how many women have embraced this term of disparagement (or at least diminishment) like Cubists and queers before them? How many men now fantasize about cleaning the pool for a heavily tanned hedonist? Experts agree that the cougar's breakthrough moment came with the 2005 marriage of Ashton Kutcher (then 27) and Demi Moore (then 42)—a union effectively sanctified by Oprah, who is frequently pleased to have the pair as guests. Some members of Oprah's core demographic must get a vicarious kick from the thought of seasoned Demi ravishing under-ripe Ashton.
Other folks are more difficult to impress. Last week, Salon's Rebecca Traister called bullshit on the talk of liberation attending to this voracious new archetype: "Cougars, as we portray and celebrate them, are mimicking the midlife crisis-penis-car-crippling-insecurity version of mature masculinity." We celebrate cougars for their rapacity, with the soft call and hard growl of the word connoting a prowl and a pounce. We portray them as faintly deviant and at least slightly pitiable, like a randy batty aunt. Typical is the attitude of Travel & Leisure, which once led off an article with a scene set at a cougar-friendly bar in a Pacific Rim town: "In Vancouver, [cougars] are viewed affectionately, as just another segment of a broad-minded, dizzyingly diverse society." As opposed to what? Isn't that a bit much? What is the deal with the Canadian libido?

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