Valerie Gibson talks about how she was the first woman to create the term “cougar” and unleash women’s sexuality in writing
By: Valerie Bevilacqua
I turn right onto Burnhamthorpe Road, towards a neighbourhood permeated with pastel-coloured and beige townhouses. I turn right again into the first house’s parkway and knock on the door. An older lady answers; she has pixie short red hair, creamy white skin, and an all-black outfit on. She leads me through her hallway - of simple white walls and wooden covers - to the kitchen, a similarly embellished room with open-curtained windows that reveal green fields and leafless trees. The sunlight reflects onto the gold-foil vase and red flowers sitting on top of the glass table. “Make yourself welcome,” she insists.
Her name is Valerie Gibson. You may know her as the columnist of the Sex & Relationships section in the Toronto Sun or as the host of “The Valerie Show” on Rogers TV. But, there’s more to Valerie than meets the eye. With all that going for her, a classy British accent, and a cozy household, you wouldn’t think she had an uncomfortable life. You wouldn’t believe she started work at 16, was first married at 18, and had her first child at 19. But, despite what she agrees is a tough life, she remains positive – an inspiration that could attribute to her success and talent in her journalism career. “In those days, there were no college courses,” she says. “Because I was a girl, it was hard to find jobs. I was hired as a copy body at a newspaper, and then I started doing small reporting jobs.”
Valerie didn’t let gender discrimination discourage her from pursuing her dreams. In fact, it’s what her career is based on. “I actually started the whole genre of women talking about relationships and sex, especially in Canada,” she says. She also reveals she introduced the positive ideology about older women dating younger men and the term she categorizes those older women under: “cougars,” hence her top-selling series of books "Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men."
Seen on American talk shows - like Dr. Phil and Oprah Winfrey - Valerie lives up to the legendary mantra that “you may be old, but you’re not dead!” “When a woman is older or menopausal, she is depicted to be undesirable by men,” Valerie explains. “Society has these rules about older women and have condemned women for doing things men have done for centuries, comma i.e. older men dating younger women.” Now, it’s the woman’s turn. Valerie continues to note that with the emergence of celebrity cougars like Demi Moore, society has accepted this trend more and recognized the allure of the cougar. “Being a free spirit attracts younger men, because they like sexier, older women - like those women in Sex & the City.”
She goes on to say that cougars represent a higher form of older women - classy, attractive, accomplished women - and not the stereotypical vacuous, dirty pedophiles society makes them out to be. “But they don’t want to get married or have babies. They’re strong, independent women who just want to have fun!” Cougars empower their selves and other older women by initiating romantic relationships and taking back the power in their sexualities, which women didn’t do decades ago. Valerie speculates on the historical causes of these ideas: “In World Wars I and II, the maximum dying age for women was approximately 30 years old. Now, it’s older.”
The Toronto Sun also asserted conventional images of the “ideal” woman. “I used to do colour spreads for them, too. I was also the first person to do a fashion spread of people of different disabilities, colours, and sizes,” as opposed to the slim, well-endowed, blond women the Toronto Sun typically prefers. “Everyone wears clothes, so fashion should apply to everyone - different types of people.”
Valerie doesn’t work for the Toronto Sun anymore, but she still tackles real issues on her call-in program “The Valerie Show,” where callers constantly prove certain gender differences are evident. “I would say about 75% of people who call in to talk on ‘The Valerie Show’ are women, and 25% are men,” Valerie says. “I get a lot of marital problems or ones about physical abuse. More men call on Sundays. I noticed that men tend to become angrier, whereas women are more calm and put up with situations a lot longer than they should.”
Take Valerie’s semi-feminist, first-lady achievements and then combine them with her altruistic, Good-Samaritan deeds (to assist abused women, children and animals) - and you get a spectacular woman. “I try to change the rules, not follow them,” she says. “I just did what everyone else said you shouldn’t be doing, and I wanted to see why not.”
Valerie Gibson continues to challenge double standards and approach various real-life issues in her live show “Dear Valerie” on every Tuesday at 2 P.M. and Sunday 10-11 PM on Rogers TV. As for the future? “Everyone wants me to write another book, but I’m not exactly keen on that idea at the moment.” Whatever the future may hold, we can all take a lesson from Valerie: to start our own trends and be the “first” to do something.