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Hot Feminist

Polly Vernon

(London Times)

Men may consider us the passive, powerless recipients of their visual attentions, but this is no longer their exclusive game.

Q: What's the difference between being soulshrinkingly objectified by the imperious, oafish, unsolicited, unwelcome gaze of a man and being deliciously, flatteringly, day-makingly appreciated by some guy you haven't met yet?

A: How hot is the man who's looking?

I don't think men realise quite to what extent we objectify their scrawny little arses, yet.

How casually and meticulously we pick apart their clothes, facial hair choices, bone structure, eye colour; how routinely we assess their physical activity levels as evidenced in the lay of their pecs.

And it's my plan that they find out.

This is no longer their game to play exclusively. They may consider us the passive, powerless recipients of their visual attentions, but the fact is: we aren't. Fact is, we are also admiring, rejecting, lingering, approving of some bits of a particular male, while feeling disappointed by others. Puzzled to all hell by their shoes, feeling an electric thrill over the way that one’s neck meets his chest so very pleasingly, getting lost in that one over there's lips.

We have names for their different bum types, don't we? We fetishise their armpits. We think it's a shame when an especially pretty one lets himself go to seed.

We prefer a flat stomach over a paunchy one; we notice who's self-conscious about the fact that he's losing his hair and we hope, for his sake and for ours, that he has the jawline and cheekbone configuration necessary to pull off a crew cut. We are the lechers. We are the watchers. We are the fanciers.

We look and we look and we look. And we must look more. More, harder and more obviously. They need to know we are doing this. They need to feel the might of our gaze.

Because the more we look, the more we correct the assumption that a woman's place is to be passively admired while a man's is to do the active admiring.

Give women 40 years of feminism, and what do we do with it? Go out with men 15 years younger than us, that's what. We turn cougar.

OK, OK, this is not the only thing we've done with it, clearly. Some other good stuff has popped up as a consequence of our tireless fight for equal opportunities and rights and stuff.

But cougaring is perhaps the most fun thing we're choosing to do with it.

It's a relatively new development in the Hot Feminists' repertoire.

Sure, there were occasional incidences of older women dating younger men in the past - Mrs Robinson in the 1967 Dustin Hoffman film The Graduate, and so on. But they were rare, and unconvincing on a number of levels: for example, in the case of The Graduate, the Mrs Robinson cougar character was played by Anne Bancroft, who was only six years older than Hoffman, her 'cub'.

Cougar as archetype of the way a woman may choose to conduct herself sexually was really officially recognised only in 2009, when it began happening really quite a lot. This was a time when artist and director Sam Taylor-Wood (then 42) began a relationship with actor Aaron Johnson (then 19); it was also four years into Demi Moore (then 47)'s marriage to Ashton Kutcher (then 31); and two years before TV presenter Caroline Flack (then 32) would start going out with One Direction's Harry Styles (then 17).

But since then, well! Hasn't it panned out deliciously for the over-38s among us?

Sure, Demi's relationship with Ashton may have ended in divorce, but they got an entirely viable (in Hollywood terms) eight years together in there beforehand; and sure, Harry and Caroline were destined to split too, but when I met her she told me she has nothing but jolly memories of the interlude, give or take how badly she got hounded by rabid 1D fans and the paparazzi. Meanwhile, Sam Taylor-Wood has become Sam Taylor-Johnson, while Aaron Johnson has become Aaron Taylor-Johnson; the couple have had two daughters.

Personally I focus my cougaring activities on a quasi-platonic social level; enjoying the flirtatious attentions of younger men as a mild-mannered ego boost. Oh, I do like hanging out with them - partly because they're so damned pretty, but also because they're so damned not the same age as my male contemporaries.

The unmitigated pleasure of spending time with a bloke who is just never going to tell you he's started wondering What It's All About lately or with a bloke who isn't mired chest-deep in miserable midlife crisis, on account of not even being 30 yet; a bloke who sees possibility and light and fun and options round every corner, as opposed to prostate cancer!

Unsurprisingly, middle-aged men are taking this development horrifically badly. For aeons they've revelled in the notion that while they were hardwired towards seeking out younger, more fertile flesh than their own as they got older, the ladies were not. The ladies were not so superficial, not so lecherous.

The ladies appreciated an older gent, with his sophisticated urbanity and his status. The ladies didn't notice sagging flesh and wrinkly faces, because the ladies do not operate according to such fickle, flighty rules. The ladies are more interested in a fine sense of humour and a general worldliness than we are physical beauty.

Guess again.

The creeping revelation that, as a gender, women are every bit as desirous of hot, young, unblemished and unjaded flesh/minds as men are and that, furthermore, hot, young, unblemished and unjaded flesh isn't entirely averse to a bit of us, does not sit easily with middle-aged men. Partly because it means the pretty younger female creatures they're currently considering hooking up with may well ditch them for pretty, younger male creatures of their very own in the fullness of time.

Mostly because it suggests that women are not - as men had always supposed - the grown-ups of the species; the sensible, right-minded, grounded ones with a long-term plan and an eye firmly settled on a domesticated end goal, the ones who can be relied upon to keep wayward them on the straight and narrow, thus neatly freeing them up from having to do the right thing most of the time. Oh no. We're as daft as them, it'd seem, at least in terms of our libidos.

The feminist flirt rule book: This is how we do it

- We never do a baby voice.
- When men (who are not obviously odious) offer to buy us drinks, we accept graciously (assuming we want a drink).
- We don't consider the accepting of said drink to:
a) Compromise us as feminists.
b) Obligate us to do anything other than graciously accept the drink. Not even engage in follow-up conversation.
c) Cheapen us. It's just a drink.
- We do politics, religion, war in our general flirtatious discourse. We do not subdue our opinions for anyone. We find that if we smile while maintaining our principles/perspectives ferociously, only utter t***s will be turned off. Indeed, non-t***s will be turned on.
- We never hide how funny we are.
- We listen, we ask questions, we prompt. But we do not indulge a man who doesn't listen/ask/prompt back, on account of how self-involved windbags are invariably awful in bed.
- We can identify a Pick-Up Artist (those misinformed, misdirected saddos encouraged to practise the dark art of seducing women far too good for them by the self-styled gurus of seduction they've encountered on online forums) at 50 paces. We know that any man who considers women to be 'targets' or 'prey' as opposed to 'other people' - who suffers under the delusion that it's OK to persuade women who don't really fancy you to have sex with you anyway - is to be pitied and/or shouted at, but never indulged. We are particularly attuned to the tedious act of 'negging', which is to say: all tactical attempts to lower our self-esteem to such a point that we will respond willingly and gratefully when they lunge in our direction (neggy little tongues extended). Oh, we are Teflon-coated against negs! And so, when they say: 'I bet hardly anyone tells you how pretty you are,' we say: 'People tell me constantly.'
- We do not mitigate our foul language for the delectation of man ears.
- We do not accept grammatical errors in sexts.
- We don’t deny our feminist politics should they arise in the course of casual flirty chat. Rather, we integrate them into the seductive process, thus: 'Yeah, I'm a feminist . . .' Pause; lick lips, smile wickedly. '. . . Does that make you very nervous?'
- If we lie about the quantity of our ex-lovers, we lie up.
- If a man attempts to charm us by speaking ill of some other woman - criticising the hair of the nearest, prettiest waitress, say, or by referring to his ex as 'mad, mate; quite mad' - in the mistaken belief that this will in some way flatter us, or indicate that he considers us superior, or communicate to us that we need not feel threatened by said other woman . . . Then we show him short shrift.
- We reject with calm serenity, and after having quietly acknowledged the substantial balls it must have taken to approach someone as magnificent as us in the first place - unless we have reason to suspect we are dealing with Pick-Up Artist, in which case, all bets are off.
- We take rejection with calm serenity, having congratulated ourselves on striking a blow for Hot Feminism by risking it in the first place.

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