New feline predator on the loose!

Cougar menace yields to "cheetah" threat

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published December 3, 2009 5:30PM (EST)

Hey there, urban hipster columnists! Stuck for a way to meet your word count today and fresh out of lorem ipsum? Time to trot out the old "sexual taxonomy of women" satire you first took a crack at for your college humor magazine. You can fart it out before your first latte has kicked in, and the thing will pay for itself in outraged comments and blog links. And before you insist it's too dumb/obvious to work, I refer you to Spencer Morgan, whose withering New York Observer takedown of "cheetahs" has been setting forehead veins reflexively a-throbbing this week.

"Rrowl! Beware the Cheetah!" is a piece of such cynical, calculated offensiveness that my initial response was to ignore it entirely. But hey, I'm just a predatory female, and when that rodenty aroma of bad writing hits my nostrils, I can't help myself. In it, Morgan -- who pointedly excuses himself from the pack of prey by mentioning his wife -- alerts us to the growing menace of "the cougar's young niece," a woman who gets men wasted, takes them home, and then doesn't even have the decency to get up and leave. "The cheetah stays the night," he warns. (Yes, it's true, fellas, older Liz Phair-era riot grrls totally have a lock on the fuck and run.)

I'm all for mockery and making light of romantic foibles. But next time it might be helpful to add some wit, because the only insight here is how a story about female insecurity reveals so much about the male variety. Since we're all dumb animals, I'll speak slowly and break down why the story is so lame:

1.) The feline metaphor again? Really? Yet Morgan crams not just cheetahs and "self described cougars" into his story, but pumas and even the hoariest of all beasts, the dreaded saber-tooth. That shit is more played than "I Gotta Feeling."  If you're a woman over 35, you've probably already heard it so much that you find yourself copping to it.  Yes, I am a big scary animal. Now excuse me, I have to go take a nap in a gazelle carcass.

2.) While I'm loath to argue that a joke wouldn't be funny if the roles were reversed (in a good joke, it's the reversal that makes it work), I'm none too keen on Morgan's fantasy of desperate women sexually preying on drunken men. But good luck wringing comedy out of a city full of lady rapists.

3. The author's clear discomfort with females regardless of what neat species classifications they occupy. He grudgingly affords "Auntie Cougar and Cousin Puma … a certain dignity ... They’re out there shakin’ it up, slaying dudes and taking names." Ummmm, thanks? But as he channels Caitlin Flanagan, he reserves his greatest shudders for poor, lonely, spinster-to-be cheetahs. They're already "past the first flush of youth" and yet still "wanting to date or at least fuck 'above their station.'"

I'm not even sure how this whole aspirational screwing thing works, but gentlemen, you've been warned. The cheetah is out there looking for "potential mates," hoping, as Morgan's cougar pal explains, "her pussy’s still good enough to keep him." Why the insecurity? Because as another of Morgan's charming compatriots explains, "Getting laid is not as easy as it once was.”

4. The story's scolding reminder, via Morgan's cougar friend Angela, that "men like to chase." Ah, now we're getting somewhere. Congratulations, New York Observer, you're a Rules Girl! A woman who does not placidly wait around to be picked off by a wildebeest -- or maybe it's a crocodile -- is so unnatural, so terrifying, she threatens to throw the whole ecosystem into chaos. And who's the only man weak enough to be ensnared by her wiles? "A pussy."

5. Pop rhetorical quiz time! Why is it that gay men can classify themselves as bears and otters and all other manner of creatures and it seems cute and sexy, but female sexual animals are somehow just pathetic?

6. Final question: Is it possible to write about women and their dating habits and not sound like a nosy busybody, clutching at your pearls and fanning your scandalized brow at the garden gate? Answer: No.

Because the funny thing -- funny strange, not funny ha-ha -- in each eager new spin on the women-as-cougars-and-cheetahs-and-pumas-and-kittens-and-ocelots story is the same old criticism of us for our sexual choices and erotic initiative. Whatever species you name it, it's all just catty. Mrrrreeer!

In summation, there are three weeks left in this decade, and then I am personally shutting these BS trend stories down, rejecting all attempts to brand me as any feline predator.  You will hence refer to my ilk and me as naked mole rats. We like darkness, multiple sex partners, and starchy food. See you in the tunnel.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

MORE FROM Mary Elizabeth Williams

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Broadsheet Feminism Sex