Cougars Inc.: The Lady Predator Lifestyle
The phenomenon of older women dating younger men has expanded beyond the Web to a transcontinental economy around conventions, travel agencies, love coaches, marketing firms, and other profit-seekers
arryn Russo goes by “Jerzee” and refuses to divulge her age. She also has a very dark, unhealthy-looking tan. On Apr. 29, Jerzee—who appears to be in her mid-40s and, not surprisingly, hails from New Jersey—was at the Manhattan nightclub Greenhouse in an extremely short tie-dyed skirt adorned with peace symbols. When younger men stopped to talk, Jerzee started to dance. “She’s a cougar,” crooned the rapper on stage, “I think I love her, I put no one above her.”
Jerzee was one of more than 30 contestants vying for the title of Miss Cougar America, the marquee event of the third annual National Cougar Convention. And she appeared to be the odds-on favorite until the pageant’s emcee, Rich Gosse—donning a black shirt, a yellow and orange paisley tie, and a thick, unmanicured mustache—announced the shocking news: The crown had gone to Aalsa Lee of Palm Springs, Calif. “We was robbed!” yelled a crestfallen Jerzee supporter who paid the $20 admission fee. Lee, who does not make a secret of her age, is 73.
In the decade since Valerie Gibson published Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men, the very notion of older women dating younger men has gained acceptance in popular culture, in part, due to the emergence of high-profile women—such as Demi Moore, Katie Couric, and the fictional character Samantha Jones on Sex and the City—who have no qualms about dating younger partners. “There is a new archetype that’s emerging,” says Amy Luna Manderino, the reigning Miss Cougar International. “There have always been free-thinking, vital women over the age of 40. The difference today is our numbers have reached a critical mass.” Christine Lehtonen, a principal at Asterix Group, a marketing and advertising agency in San Francisco, says there are more women in the U.S. aged 51 than any other single age. “Can you imagine what could happen,” she says, “if all these women were marketed to?”
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