The New York Times' "Generation B" column profiles a newly-divorced 57-year-old woman who, she says, is finding the dating landscape dismal.
She has tried social networking, going to dance clubs, reconnecting with friends at her class reunion (all married), waiting for something magic to happen and online dating. "When you're 18, you just jump in," she said. "Now, I worry. What do I need to know about him and what do I need to share about myself - with a whole lifetime to pick from?
Where her husband quickly found a new girlfriend, Christine Shiber is having a hard time meeting a man her age. And, says the piece, this is consistent with grim statistics.
According to 2001 census data, 41 percent of women 50 and over who've been divorced have remarried, while 58.4 percent of divorced men that age are remarried. "That's the biggest remarriage gap for all age groups," said Dr. Francesca Adler-Baeder of the National Stepfamily Resource Center at Auburn University. "Among the divorced, the least marriageables in our society are older women, highly educated who make a good salary."..."Studies show men tend to marry down - someone slightly younger, less educated, making less money," Dr. Adler-Baeder said. "Women in their 50s literally don't have a visible pool of eligible men around them."
It's funny that this piece should appear just as we're starting a fall in which network TV seems determined to overturn the stereotype - or at least firmly embed a new one. Says media writer Julie Zied, this fall's TV lineup is all about "the epic battle of female seduction between the mature (cougars), and the young (kittens)." First, and most glaringly, there's Cougar Town, whose premise and title are cringe-inducing enough to send us running to the safe confines of Lifetime. Courteney Cox is a divorced single mom who, with a short supply of men to hand, sets her sight on the legions of young bucks eager for her experience and wisdom. It's not just Courtney: Zied identifies a whole pack of femmes fatales who seem to fall into the 2-D trap of "sexxxy predatory older woman," from Melrose Place's Laura Leighton to Jenna Elfman in Accidentally on Purpose to Elle MacPherson's steely agency head on The Beautiful Life. All of them are set against ingenues whom they presumably eat for breakfast. The "cougar" trope is as old as The Graduate, but the modern iteration - whose mother superior might be SATC's Samantha Jones - is, theoretically empowering. Whereas Mrs. Robinson was a male fantasy, the cougar is supposedly a woman's, what the Urban Dictionary defines as " A woman who is 35+, sexually cunning, that prefers to hunt rather than be hunted."
The cougar is all about using and losing hapless men and besting less wily younger women. This isn't the First Wives' Club, nor even someone getting her groove back - it's an every-woman-for-herself band of Real Housewives and powerful vigilantes whose creators confuse objectifying men with empowerment and maturity. With, as the Times reminds us, an ever-growing pool of divorced women over 35, do the TV execs this this is what the demographic wants? A woman who's essentially an asshole man, but who presumably has more sexual secrets under her garter belt? And is is an empowering fantasy - or more male-engineered cat-fighting? And does setting up equally ludicrous and superficial standards for women of all ages really do anyone a service? Cougar Town would probably suggest women throw back a few drinks, put on a tighter skirt, hire a sitter, and stop thinking already.