Faculty Research & Creative Activity

When Predator Becomes Prey: The Gendered Jargon of Popular Culture

Melissa R. Ames, Eastern Illinois University


Throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century the vernacular of popular culture has been bombarded by sexualized terminology. Although these terms are often formed with humorous intent, their staying power and use as cultural descriptive categories is both intriguing and disturbing. Also troubling is the fact that the majority of these new terms, such as puma (a thirty-something female “dating” a younger male), cougar (a forty-plus female “dating” a younger male), and MILF (“mother I’d like to fuck”), are restricted to the female gender alone. This article analyzes the etymology of these terms, their use in popular culture (ranging from reality television shows utilizing them as their namesake or coming of age films utilizing them as their punch line), and their overall reception in mainstream culture.