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Sorry, Esquire, lusting after 40-year-old women isn't progress
Allow me to womansplain
 
Guys. Stop.
Guys. Stop. (MIKE BLAKE/Reuters/Corbis)

Time to adjust your age settings on Tinder because Esquire's "most alluring" women of 2014 are 42 years old.

What is it about these enchanting 40-somethings who used to be considered over the hill but now haven't begun to ascend it? As the writer Tom Junod explains, since the "median age keeps advancing, we have no choice but to keep redefining youth." Fair enough.

And because "no generation of American women has been as attuned to — or forgiving of — the absurd theater of men trying to get into their pants." Hmm.

Next: "Go to a party: There is simply no one as unclothed as a 42-year-old woman in a summer dress." Uh.

Then, the coup de grâce: "Conservatives still attack feminism with the absurd notion that it makes its adherents less attractive to men; in truth, it is feminism that has made 42-year-old women so desirable." Sorry buddy, but feminism has nothing to do with why you find Sofia Vergara — who sits in a corset in your article's photo, just turned 42, and rose to fame as a trophy wife — attractive.

I have a slightly different theory as to why the Esquire boys are lusting after older women — and it is in spite of feminism, not because of it. The rise of the hot 42-year-old is a reflection of two strains in our culture, one born out of a resistance to women's growing power and another that has convinced women that aging is unsightly.

On one hand we ladies are doing better than ever, a phenomenon documented by journalists Hanna Rosin in The End of Men and Liza Mundy in The Richer Sex. As our economy is increasingly dominated by service industry jobs, women are gaining the upper hand in the workforce. Even though this is a mostly limited to lower and middle classes, the fear, sometimes subliminal and sometimes overt, of women rising is a widespread one. We've got the growth of the Men's Right Movement to prove it.

On the other hand, we have ladies feeling more pressure to be hot later than ever, with "how [insert actress name ] got her body back after pregnancy" and "fabulous after 40" being perennial favorites of gossip rags and celebrity websites. There is no better way for a woman to redeem herself of transgressions like aging or having a child than getting hot again, no surer way to declare her relevancy in the culture-at-large.

It should come as no surprise then that according to a brand new Gallup Poll women — and to be fair, men too — feel worse about their bodies when they're 40 to 60 years old. Only 48 percent of women ages 45 to 49 say they feel good about their bodies, compared with 58 percent of men.

The gentlemen at Esquire have convinced themselves that by calling these mature women "hot," they're embracing women's power. But really they are doing the opposite by joining the chorus of people demanding that women stay hot longer and longer.

In his companion piece on the predominance of sexy older women, writer Stephen Marche claims that "American men are becoming more European, less youth-obsessed, less vampiric in their sexual tastes." But have they? Is this really an embrace of maturity? Of bodies that have had babies and look like it? Of faces that haven't been smoothed out by Botox and stomachs that haven't been trimmed by sugar/wheat/dairy/meat-free diets? Of women who haven't, in Junod's words, "armored themselves with yoga and Pilates?

These men haven't embraced actual mature, powerful women. Nope. All we have here is yet another fantasy, a construction of the male mind that has drunk the "have-it-all" kool-aid, spiked it with whisky or some other manly libation, and decided that a woman who is 40 but looks like she is 20, maybe early 30s, can still be hot. This is not maturity, boys. Nor is it feminism. Nor is it progress. It's just the same old song.

 
Elissa Strauss is a weekly op-ed columnist for the Forward newspaper. Her writing on gender and culture has also appeared in The New York Times, Salon and Jezebel
 

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