Tag Archives: world war

Cougars and Other Wildcats of the City

In this wacky new age of changing everything into acronyms, such as WTF, OMG and KFC, there is also the penchant of labelling and categorizing things. I’ve talked already about the whole genre categorization of fiction. But it goes farther than that.

These days, everyone from your friends to the government want to catalogue and categorize you by demographics, whether it’s age, gender, religion, financial affluence, education, gender preference, geographic region, favorite vegetable or any of a number of esoteric specifics. Labelling serves the purpose of saying we need this much of these resources for this many people. But it can also be used to ostracize and cage a group.

The gay community has long lived with tags, many of them from those who were outside of the lifestyle. However, I have several gay friends and they are just as likely to call themselves rice queens (men who like Asian men), potatoes (men who like white guys) and other variations on the theme more than others. I’ve known Asian people as well who call or label themselves as “banana.” White on the inside but yellow on the outside.

So perhaps it’s only natural that women had to get another name besides wife, mother and ho; that of cougar. Although there have been strong and independent women throughout history, more started appearing during the second world war when they took on the jobs of men who were in the war or in some cases, jobs such as mechanics in the army. Every able-bodied man was required on the front so women were trained for all the jobs traditionally worked by men. My mother worked in a hat making factory, running the machines. When an inspector came by he found she was being paid women’s wages for a man’s job and they had to adjust her wage.

So yes, independent women; not a surprise. Once we moved out of the 60s people started to re-examine the traditional roles. Men had been breadwinners, women, homemakers and mothers who often didn’t work. But women started to work more and more. Economy and inflation of home prices added to this, as well as many women decided they didn’t want children or wanted to keep their careers. Although some women took what were seen as traditional roles (nurses, teachers, librarians, seamstresses, etc.) others started to go into men’s fields: engineers, lawyers, doctors, mechanics, etc.

This movement into the workforce was seen as a threat by some men, that the status quo was being upset. Men have been the strong ones, the breadwinners, the head of the house. With some men, wives and children were status symbols like cars and TVs, showing their wealth and virility and their power. So when women started working men’s jobs they were made fun of, ridiculed and generally paid less for the same jobs. A female politician might be described or noted for the clothes she wore (not her work) whereas a male politician’s clothes were never mentioned. Gender bias has happened in many places and many jobs. Media people are trained these days in ways to avoid gender stereotyping but it is very insidious.

Even with a more broadened awareness there is the need to label women over fortyas cougars. This often stands for a woman who is independent, strong and confident but may also date younger men. Its negative aspects depict a woman grabbing at youth and hunting younger men for sex toys. Our society, in certain areas, felt the need to single these women out, to stereotype them, to ridicule them. What better way to try and lessen a woman’s power but to laugh at her and not take her seriously. Make a caricature to keep women in their place.

You might think I’m going over the top but if in fact women were treated equally in all circumstances, then we would not have the subjugation of women in Afghanistan where the only good woman is one in a burka. Well, that’s different; that’s a different country. Okay, what about the fact that most domestic violence occurs against women and that more women die than men, and are usually killed by men in such situations? What about all the women who are raped?  Until those crimes are eliminated women won’t get a truly fair shake.

But back to cougars, or pumas or tigers (which I have no clue whether they’re real terminology for further categorizing women’s taste in men)…why does our society take such glee in these names? Because it’s all right for a man twenty years a woman’s senior to chase her down and maybe marry her. Hello, Hugh Hefner. It’s all right for a men twenty-thirty years older to play the love interest to a twenty-something in the movies but the other way around and Hollywood wants a much shorter age range, if they’ll do it at all. Though there have been movies such as Harold and Maude and one that I don’t know the name of that had Susan Sarandon as an older love interest.

Yes, the attitude is changing…slowly. However women are made laughed at for what men have always done. In the end, who cares who is sexually attracted to who? As long as everyone is of legal age, it’s up to those people to work out their relationship. Maturity and compatibility should matter more than chronological years.

But as terms go at least a cougar is a sleek, beautiful, powerful animal. Much better to be compared to a feline than to a worm or a snake or a cow. And if you want to look at one term for older men that has a pretty negative connotation, well I’d take cougar over “old goat” any day.

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Dare to Remember

This was originally published when I wrote for Fearsmag.com. It had to do with our fears and memory.

For everyone, memory is an important aspect of our personalities as well as our culture. Many people are proud of their lineage, and how far back they can trace their ancestors. History is what makes the world. What happened in the past? Did we learn from our mistakes, did we repeat them? Without memory we would be simpler creatures and our world, our inventions and our differences would not be so great.

Science fiction author Gene Wolfe wrote a book called Soldier of Arete, which is about a man whose memory is only a day long. Unless he writes every thought and event down he does not remember from one day to the next what happened in his past, what he accomplished, how he failed or whom he liked and loved.

Amnesiacs must blunder about feeling a certain panic, not knowing how they lost their memories or what they liked or who they were. For some it might be a freeing experience from who they were, but then, they wouldn’t remember so how would they know? For most it would be the cutting loose of identity that would be frightening, suddenly in a world that you know you are part of, but not knowing in what way to act nor what you thought.

November marks the month of remembrance. In Canada it’s called Remembrance Day, in the U.S. Veteran’s Day (once Armistice Day). This day, Nov. 11th was chosen originally in the U.S. by Woodrow Wilson to commemorate the end of World War I. To commemorate means to bring to memory, to remember. Marked forever in our calendars is the day the war ended, when we are to remember all those who lives were lost so that we could keep our freedom.

Just think, without memory we would have no ceremonies—no birthdays for who could remember when they’re born, no Valentine’s Day for who could remember who they loved, no Easter or Christmas for who would remember the significance of a religion started two thousand years ago, no Hallowe’en, no Presidents’ Day, no Mother’s Day, no Father’s Day. Without memory, would God or religion, life or death matter in the same way? No one would remember your accomplishments so fewer would strive for fame. Movies might still exist, if someone could remember how to make them from day to day, but after you saw a film, you would forget it and the stars would be ciphers once again.

As much as our personalities make up who we are by framing our world in a particular perspective and in how we react to any given situation, our memories also make up who we are. Memory is described as the mental processes that modify our behavior in light of previous experiences. We are the sum of our parts. What we remember and how we remember it makes us who we are today. I remember having a small, metal fridge as a child. I loved that fridge; there was nothing special about it but one year it was replaced with a big, shiny new fridge and many little plastic vegetables. Yet, I wanted that old fridge and to this day remember it. Did my parents know how significant the first fridge was? I doubt it. They probably don’t even remember the fridge at all. I, myself, can’t remember why I liked the first fridge so much but I will never forget it. Memory’s a tricky thing.

So here we are, in November and we should remember. Remember what was lost and what was gained. Remember what war does so that it won’t be repeated. Well, we see how well that’s going and how long that memory sticks. For many people not old enough to have relatives in any war it’s hard to think about what we should remember, unless we’re taught it in school. But what exactly, should we remember? The good times? The bad times? And what should we forget? Past slights, embarrassments and failures?

In the course of selecting the memories that are important, we also order them as to the most significant. My fridge memory is not too significant today. The painful memory of being teased at school left a deeper wound and made my personality shift. I used to be shy but learned you had to be tough and louder and laugh first if you didn’t want to get hurt. That’s what I remember.

People who have been abused often have blocked their memories. That horrendous event is far too painful or frightening to bring up and their psyche cannot cope with it. It’s still in there, buried behind some neuro-synaptic door and only the right key can trigger the lock. The person with the buried memory may still have a very screwed up life because of what happened but the psychological detectives have to uncover the secret before they can find a cure. And of course, there’s that risk of implanted false memories. Through hypnosis, psychotherapy and brainwashing, the mind can be reprogrammed to believe something did happen the way it was suggested. Our memories after all are only electrical zaps stored in our brains.

I know someone who suffers from multiple personalities. She’s got quite a few, from a boisterous tart to a sinister old man. The severe abuse she suffered through her young life fragmented her memory and her brain made up different personalities to deal with various situations. What does she remember and what do her other five personalities remember? Is any particular version more truthful or are they all? Like our sight, our memories can play tricks on us. Do we question, “Did it really happen the way I remember?” Some memories fade so that we really can’t quite remember what we did on a particular day, what someone said, or where we were. Yet, other memories are as sharp as broken glass, waiting to stab us with the poignancy of a mortifying or an ecstatic moment.

November might also be a time for many to reflect on what we’ve accomplished through the year. Often the year seems to have flown by. Oh migod I never did finish that novel. I forgot to call so and so for the third month running. Why do we remember and why do we forget? The workings of the mind are still a mystery for all the studies that have been done. Although there are many memories I would rather forget (and damn that mind of mine, it’s not letting me) I’m still grateful I have a choice of memories and that I haven’t forgot what’s important in my life. Now, if I could just remember where I put my keys….

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Filed under Culture, history, life, memories, Writing