After inventing the lightning rod, bifocals and the Franklin stove - this was why he was too busy to be on Life (Part 2) - Benjamin Franklin invented what would come to be known three centuries later as the "Cougar," a middle-aged woman who dates younger men, usually in their twenties.
In 1967, the quintessential Cougar (although the term had yet to be coined) was Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson, who seduced Dustin Hoffman, as "The Graduate." In this century, the actress Demi Moore was often portrayed as a fabulous feline who hunted down Ashton Kutcher, some 15 years younger. They married in 2005.
The movie and the marriage seem to be the main evidence that lots of Cougar and Cub coupling is going on. Women of a certain age and women's magazines of a certain sensibility spin this coupling into proof of a new female freedom and empowerment. While some shrink at calling women who date younger men "predators," they love the conceit that women control these relationships. They also see this as flipping the bird at all those middle-aged Old Lions who are chasing Kittens.
It's a nourishing fantasy for magazines, novels and TV shows, but I don't see that it does much for women in the long run, and it certainly is nothing new. In fact, the Cougar-Cub model was framed in Benjamin Franklin's famous 1745 letter to a young friend who was apparently afraid of commitment. He wants to be free to hang out with his friends, drink ale and watch sports on the colonial green. Franklin urges him to become a "complete Being" and get married.
"But if you will not take this Counsel," writes Franklin, "and persist in thinking that Commerce with the Sex is inevitable, then I repeat my former Advice that in your Amours you should prefer old Women to young ones."
Franklin outlines compelling reasons, including the superior conversation, sexual experience, amiability, and discretion of older women. And then his most famous reason: "They are so grateful!!"
If women want to think that Cougars are a 21st Century phenomenon growing out of their new social, financial and psychological muscle, that's cool with me. If women can feel younger, prettier and more powerful playing with a boy toy the way men play with girl dolls, what's wrong? Especially if the Cubs learn some moves for when they grow up and take Franklin's advice and become complete.
I only hope those Cougars aren't aping the Old Lions in their pathetic posturing, aren't fooling themselves into thinking that Cubs and Kittens are naïve pets, instead of savvy predators themselves. The Cubs I know are avoiding commitment and responsibility so they can hang out with their friends, drink ale and watch ESPN, and still have sex. Because they think, as Franklin wrote, "in the dark all cats are grey."