Kate Beckinsale (Photo: PA)
Kate Beckinsale (Photo: PA)


The concept of the cougar can stay. But the word should be extinct

Daisy Buchanan salutes Kate Beckinsale’s romantic adventures

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By Daisy Buchanan on

I am looking at a picture of the award winning actress Kate Beckinsale. She is smiling, and her whole face seems to glow. She’s wearing an immaculate, untucked cream shirt, indigo skinny jeans, and her arms are wrapped around an attractive, younger man with perfect teeth and shiny brown hair. She’s holding her phone as she hugs him. They both look impulsive, in love, and profoundly happy.  How is this story being told, and shared? “Joy for loved-up Kate”? “Hollywood actress finds real life romance”? Ha! As if! It’s about her being a “cougar”. The word “cougar” prefaces her name. You see, her new partner, actor Matt Rife, is 22 years younger than she is. She’s 43.

This is depressing and enraging, especially when you look at other headlines about her ex-partner, Len Wiseman, who is also seeing a new partner who is twenty years younger than he is. “Is Kate Beckinsale's fling with a toyboy revenge for her ex Len Wiseman falling for a model 20 years his junior?” the headline asks. Poor Len “fell” for a younger woman – he couldn’t help himself! But Kate’s relationship is an insignificant “fling”. Even Matt Rife comes out of this badly, branded a “toyboy”, a word that ascribes no dignity to anyone involved.

I have a theory about “cougars”. As women, the world at large expects us to be useful by producing babies. We’re allowed to be sexual, within limited, specified parameters, as long as our sexuality results in motherhood – because when we’re mothers, we stop being threatening. Theoretically, our potential is limited, because we’re safely in the home, taking care of our families and keeping things tidy. We’re not going to run off and start making waves in the world of nuclear fission, or turning up in boardrooms demanding more money.

We expect women to be nurturing and maternal, especially towards younger people. When women fancy them instead, the world becomes furious

Obviously this is nonsense, and there are millions of mothers who work (Beckinsale being one of them). But we expect women to be nurturing and maternal, especially towards younger people. When women fancy them instead, the world becomes furious. How dare a woman want sex for its own sake? Who would want a woman who brings wisdom and experience to a relationship, instead of youth and fertility? I think that the world, especially the tabloid world, doesn’t want other women to get ideas. We mustn’t see Kate Beckinsale having a lovely time with her new boyfriend and think that we could have that for ourselves. We’re told that she’s a cougar, because we’re supposed to think that the experience is exotic, rare, dangerous, and most importantly, far away. It’s not for the rest of us. Women must never do anything that might be considered predatory. It’s against nature!

It’s the double standard that’s infuriating. Of course, the older man dumping his partner for a much younger woman is a bit of an embarrassing cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason. We might roll our eyes and make jokes about it, but it happens so often that we expect it. Boys will be boys, and men facing mid-life crises will chase women whose A-level history papers covered time periods they actually lived through. Often, we’ll say hurtful things about the younger women – they’re “temptresses”, “bimbos”, “floozies”, who put the poor chap in a position where he simply couldn’t help himself. Female sexuality is presented in a medieval manner. It’s a force so potent that it’s up to us to cork it. If we use it for our own pleasure, instead of the Daily Mail’s, our punishment will be medieval too.

The cougar label makes me furious, but I suspect that Beckinsale doesn’t care about it. She’s probably having far too much fun with her new boyfriend to worry about the fact that a collection of pearl-clutching strangers are judging her, and her sex life. I suspect the cougar will thrive as a concept, but the label and its users are on the brink of extinction. And I suspect that the people who like to spot celebrity cougars in the wild are the ones whose own love lives can be classed as endangered.


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Kate Beckinsale (Photo: PA)
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