For the record, I'm not a huge fan of the term "cougar." It demonizes older women by framing them as dangerous predators who prey on younger men, and it has inspired far too many terrible jokes. However, I am also not a fan of Google AdSense's recent decision to refuse service to ads for cougar dating sites. Their reasoning? The concept of an older woman looking to date a younger man is not "family friendly." They will continue to allow "sugar daddy" dating sites to advertise online though, because those are way more kid-appropriate.
If Google was just straight-up against taking advertising revenue from adult dating sites (which anyone with an Internet connection knows is not the case), that'd be one thing. However, their purported problem here is with "the 'cougar' lifestyle." That means that the folks at Google AdSense are fine taking money to post links to "Sexy Latina Singles" or "Fine Young Cannibals" but they won't allow *gasp!* ads that promote *gasp!* older women getting it on with *gasp!* younger dudes. For shame!
Oh, and let's take a minute to consider that Google still allows ads from a site called Arrangement Seekers, which bills itself as, "the original Sugar Daddy service catering to ambitious and attractive girls seeking successful and generous benefactors to fulfill their lifestyle needs!" This is problematic on many levels (it's OK to advertise on behalf of old rich guys who want to use their money to get laid yet not OK to advertise for older women who just want to meet younger guys) not the least of which being that the "gold digger" stereotype is waaay less family-friendly than the "cougar" stereotype–and, IMHO, it's more offensive to women. (I'd rather be called a cougar than a gold digger any day, thank you very much. And at age 28 I am already in what some would consider "cougar" territory–yet another problem with the stereotype, but I digress.)
This whole Google Ad thing reeks of ageist sexism (sageism?), something that is prevalent in just about every advertisement aimed at women over the age of 25 (prior to that it's just regular sexism). As my mom says, she knows that if she sees a woman her own age in an ad it'll be for adult diapers or dentures (she's in her fifties), but if she sees a man her age the ad could be for anything dude-related (unless a woman her age is in the ad also–then it's for erectile dysfunction medication). If we relied only on representations found in advertisements to inform our ideas about older ladies, we'd assume women past a certain age–an age that gets younger and younger all the time–are all sexless losers who are one second away from peeing in their elastic-waisted pants.
Sure, this Google AdSense thing might seem a bit inconsequential unless you are a self-identified cougar. Or unless you are Google AdSense, which will be losing over $100,000 per month in the fight to keep out Interwebs safe from older women with sex drives. However, even if you neither a cougar nor a Googler, this is a problem. All of us care about older women in some capacity, whether we are one, will be one someday, or are just big Angela Lansbury fans, and the fact that older women are consistently desexualized and dehumanized by the advertising industry is one that should piss us off big time. Think of the cougars!
This project was made possible in part by a grant from Oregon Humanities (OH), a statewide nonprofit organization and an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which funds OH's grant program. Any views, findings, and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Oregon Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.