Last week I wrote about how Cougars aren’t just a tacky pop culture phenomenon, but that the Cougar Vote was going to play a crucial role in the upcoming 2012 presidential election.
First, in case you’re asking, what do I mean by “Cougars?” Single White, financially stable women in their late 30’s to early 50’s (who are open to dating much younger men). Believe it or not, they are the fastest growing voting segment in the country.
However, for all the Demi/Ashton, Courtney/David and Gwyneth/Justin talk out there, Black women are almost never considered Cougars, either in the pop culture sense or even in the voting demographic sense. So the question is: Why aren’t Black women Cougars and why aren’t candidates chasing the older Black women’s vote?
Before someone starts attacking me as a Neanderthal troll let me point out the fact that the term Cougar, a predatory animal, isn’t necessarily sexist. Literary and pop culture metaphors for women and big cats aren’t new. A woman as a Lioness protecting her cubs; those annoying (and somewhat racially questionable) Tiger Moms from last year; and who could be mad about being compared to a leotard wearing super–fast Thundercat?
But, while the big-cat metaphor is gender specific, Cougars themselves are race specific. They are unquestionably, unalterably White. And there are several reasons for this which goes to the heart of the Cougar phenomenon.
Women having romantic relationships with younger men has always been viewed with more skepticism than older men pairing with younger women, and this as much to do with genetics and aesthetics as it does with sex and power. While progress has been made in America regarding the status of women in the workplace, socially and economically on many levels the patriarchal attitude that permeates our society still values women for two main things: Physical beauty, and the ability to bear children.
Both traits are much less likely to be in play as women age. As the sexist old saying goes, “Women, get old, Men get distinguished”. Men can have children up into their 60’s while most women’s best child bearing years end in their late 30’s to early 40’s.
Basically, our culture is just acting out our animal instincts. Why else do you think Harrison Ford, Sean Connery and everyone’s favorite old man action hero Liam Neeson can consistently have on and off-screen love interests with women young enough to be their daughters and no one blinks? When this type of relationship happens the other way around, everyone starts humming the chorus to Ms. Robinson.
Cougars are a result of various social and economic forces that are new and disruptive to political life in mostly White America. While I mentioned in my previous piece that higher divorce rates, later marriages and greater financial stability are all at play in the White woman Cougar explosion there is one other serious issue that cannot be overlooked: Declining Birth rates.
While the alarmist narrative is mostly from the far right, the fact remains that the White population of America (and Europe) is on a steep decline. Within less than 10 years the majority of children under the age of 14 in America will not be White, and within 15 years White Americans will be a numerical, if not cultural and financial, minority. Thus, we see the rise of Cougars: a desire for White women to retain value long past previous cultural norms. In the past, due to sexism and demographics, single older White women were ignored by politicians and Hollywood, no longer cute and perky but not old enough to be seniors.
Now there is a huge drive for White women to have more children, and if that means teaching young men that a few extra wrinkles and stretch marks are sexy in order to preserve the race, so be it.
Seriously: This isn’t right wing conspiracy theory. It’s nature playing out in popular culture and politics. Do you think it’s a coincidence that the Octomom, Jon and Kate plus 8 and MTV’s Teen Mom are suddenly so popular? Moreover do you notice that Republican candidates have gone out of their way this year to promote their Malthusian-Crisis level large families?
This in large part explains why African American women aren’t counted as Cougars in the pop culture lexicon. When you lay out the factors driving Cougarism: Physical attractiveness into later age, fertility, population and financial stability – none of that applies to the Black woman in America today.
Consider physical attractiveness for example. Black folks weren’t surprised that Taye Diggs went after Angela Basset in “How Stella Got her Groove Back” because at 40 years old she was still fine. As the old saying goes “Black Don’t Crack.” Most Black women, with a nominal amount of healthy habits, can retain their looks well into their 40’s. More crassly as Chris Rock put it on his Bring the Pain Comedy album:
If a woman tells you she’s 20 and she looks 16….. She’s 12!
If a woman tells you she’s 26 and she looks 26……. She’s damn near 40!
Tomorrow: Hunting the Cougar Vote, Part III: I’ll lay out how Cougars and African American women will leave their tracks on the 2012 electoral landscape.
DR. JASON JOHNSON, Politic365 Chief Political Correspondent, is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and author of the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell. You can read more at www.drjasonjohnson.com or follow him on Twitter @Drjasonjohnson