OK. Steel yourself for a massive humble-brag flex. There’s a point. I swear.
I’ll never forget the first time I was called a “silver fox.” (Steady now… Don’t bail yet.) I was in my late 30s, and my shoulder-length brown hair was trending quickly toward salt ’n pepper. I was a regular at my local teahouse, stopping by almost daily. One of the tea-tenders and I had enjoyed a convivial, flirty customer/server relationship for a couple years, but I never had the chance or inclination to explore that further as we both had a boyfriend/girlfriend either at the same time or when the other didn’t. Plus, she was young. Yooooung. I guessed she was about 20 when we first met to my 37.
Then one day a different vibe emerged. Our interaction was still convivial and flirty, and also had an air of possibility. Turns out she was single, and she knew I was too. Nothing happened that day, but I sensed the game was afoot. The next day she asked me to a party that night. I walked away, sipping my chai, thinking, Am I about to hook up with a woman who, had I been more cavalier in my youth, could be my non-existent daughter’s age?
I’ll save the gory details except for one: While we’re hanging at the party, where almost everyone was her age to maybe 25, she tells me this story. After I left the teahouse, she too was having the same, are-we-actually-going-to-do-this thought. (a.k.a. Am I really going to hook up with/date an old fuck?) She told a coworker her quandary, and, the coworker said, “That older guy you flirt with who comes in all the time? Oh… You should. He’s a silver fox.”
It’s the ultimate S&M moment. I’m attractive—and old. I’ve just been called a silver fox. It stings so good. And, taking away the growing sense of my own ultimate demise and the sadness inherent in that, there’s no way to frame this as anything other than awesome. It drove my ego into the stratosphere.
Now, consider the gender flip on that experience. Young man tells friend he’s thinking of hooking up with/dating an older woman. Friend says, “Oh… You should. She’s a total cougar. A MILF for sure.” I imagine that hypothetical woman hearing the story at a party filled with 20- to 25-year-olds and thinking to herself, “I’m either predator or fuck doll to these kids.”
I blasted off on an ego-boosting rocket to planet nude. That hot, 40- or 50-something year old woman? I’m guessing she had a different response. Sure, she might’ve ended up in the same general planetary orbit, but using a very different, corrosive fuel.
MILF seems to have hit the general lexicon somewhere in the early 80s, but really took off with the 1999 movie American Pie. The term has since spawned several sequels—GILF, DILF, SMILF, and so on.
Cougar seems to have originated in Canada in the early 2000s, and was then brought into the mainstream when former Toronto Sun sex columnist Valerie Gibson wrote Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men in 2002.
You might also find a puma or two out there in the wild, which seems to mean either a slightly younger woman who likes younger men and is training to cougar, or a younger woman who likes older men. Just don’t tell anyone pumas and cougars are the same thing.
I have to admit, even many years later, I think fondly of my silver fox moment. Then a friend suggested I was only looking at the view from one side of the ship, and it made me wonder how we got here.
Depending on your ethnicity, you can expect to go grey somewhere between mid-30s to mid-40s, with most going more grey than whatever color they were by 50. While statistics are hard to nail down, upwards of 70% of U.S. women dye their hair. It’s recently closed in on 10% for men. Could it be that, simply, men tend to go grey while women, since the 1950s invention of Clairol home hair dyes, don’t? Harder to call a woman a silver anything if they aren’t silver?
It just sounds like more of the same gendered, misogynistic crap to me.
And isn’t that the point? Some women seem to relish in the predatory and blandly glorifying terms and the power inherently implied. It’s easy to see why some might latch onto a term or terms that in whatever small way claw back some sense of power. Some decidedly don’t. However, there’s just no way possible to put silver fox and MILF on the same footing. Praise vs. objectification. Glorifying vs. demeaning. I don’t need a Gender, Women’s, or Men’s Studies degree to figure that out.
Let’s take stock. Men: silver fox, sugar daddy, or zaddy, which apparently means hot and fashionable. Plenty of pleasant-sounding and uplifting terms. No terms (in popular use at least) that convey a sense of the predatory or disposable. Women: cougar, puma, MILF. No words that I can find that spin an attractive older woman in a wholly positive light.
My take on that is pretty simple: We give ourselves away with words we use and words we don’t. The foundational sense of this debate is of course men are sketchy pigs looking to score young tail. We don’t need a word for that. We already have it—men. Yet a woman who wants sex in her 40s? God help us all.