Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Aging and Power: The Cougar Effect

I posted this article awhile back, but this article in Forbes. com made me want to come back to it. It is imperative that we as a culture begin to consider the ways that we are diminishing women as they age by promoting youth at any cost. See also my article on Ageism in Hollywood.

Recently, many have been riveted to the declining fortunes of Demi Moore as she and her younger husband divorced and she seemed, according to the rumor mill, to spiral downward in an unhealthy cycle of substance abuse. In this article in Forbes, the writer indicts our culture that promotes beauty as youth for women.  In previous posts I’ve written about the way that the enlightened sexism ideology in popular culture has equated power for women with their sexuality. One of the main difficulties with this idea can be seen when a woman starts to age. If her power comes mainly from her ability to attract the opposite sex, as her appearance begins to change as she ages, she may begin to sense a lessening of her own personal power. The rise of the “cougar” persona is an example of what happens when a woman who has previously seen her power linked with her sexuality has to face the realities of an aging body and face. The Cougar Effect is what I call the desperate grasping and fighting to retain one’s sexual power as one ages. Women who embrace this idea go to great lengths to maintain their youthful appearance, using means such as plastic surgery, extreme dieting and exercise.

What I wonder is this: What if we, as a culture, saw age as something that empowered men and women? What if we viewed the older woman as being powerful because of her knowledge and wisdom? There are cultures where age is venerated, where both men and women are given more respect and treated with dignity as they age.

I believe that women who embrace the Cougar persona do so because they have bought the cultural tale that tells them that the main way that a woman can be powerful is through her physical attractiveness. I think it’s important for women to retain their physical strength through healthy diet and regular exercise as they age. However, one has to wonder at the psychological health issues involved in trying to claw one’s way back into youth instead of embracing your age. The most visible instances of this unhealthy way of living can be seen in celebrities who have had extensive plastic surgery as they have aged in order to try to retain their youthful appearance. Think of Joan Rivers before and after plastic surgery.

It’s imperative for our culture as a whole to reconsider the message that we are sending to girls and women about power. It seems clear that the focus on sexuality as power does not lead to physical and emotional health. When we have more women who are determined to age with dignity, when we have more men and younger people who will respect the older woman’s power and wisdom, then maybe women who hit 30 won’t start thinking about how to look 20 again. Who wants to be 20 again? Life is full of things to learn and adventures to be had. Let’s enjoy moving forward!

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2 comments on “Aging and Power: The Cougar Effect

  1. Raye
    November 22, 2010

    I agree. And what confusing messages women send by wanting power and attention that is based on physical attractiveness and sexuality, yet disdaining the unwanted advances of the opposite sex!

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      November 22, 2010

      Raye, thanks for your response. I believe that the sexualized messages aimed at women lead to all sorts of confused responses. In truth, it demeans everyone.

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