Relationships involving a woman who is much older than her male partner have become increasingly visible in popular culture. These women are referred to as “cougars” and their partners as “toyboys.” This type of relationship has the potential to undermine elements of heteronormativity and intersectional gender/age performances, as women who are past their forties are not expected to engage in sexual relationships with (younger) men. The present study discusses the discourse found in Dutch gossip media (n = 138) on the relationships of preselected celebrity “cougars:” Demi Moore, Madonna, Patricia Paay, and Heleen van Royen. A qualitative content analysis reveals that certain aspects of heteronormativity are challenged: these women are depicted as financially and sexually empowered, whereas their partners are seen as interchangeable male suitors who are dependent on the female partner’s (financial/career) achievements. Yet, traditional understandings of intersectional performances (i.e., gender/age) are also found: a wise, caring mother, and a handsome, boyish, adventurous partner. Overall, these women are seen as both maintaining and challenging traditional roles that are typically associated with older women.

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Feminist Media Studies
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC)

Burema, D. (Dafna). (2017). Cougars or kittens? The representation of celebrity cougars and their toyboys in gossip media. Feminist Media Studies, 1–14. doi:10.1080/14680777.2018.1409968