Miss Cougar accepts prize in Palo Alto
Miss Cougar America Gloria Navarro, 42, (right) and friend Diane Caselli, 62, who said Navarro "was determined to win" at the Cougar Convention.
The first Miss Cougar America did not cry, muss her mascara, carry a bouquet of roses or wear a crown.
Miss Cougar America, Gloria Navarro, 42, of Redwood City, proudly accepted her title before more than 200 guests, most of them men in their 20s, 30s and 40s, at Dinah's Hotel in Palo Alto on Friday. She said she was proud to represent a new breed of woman: empowered, secure and willing to break boundaries.
"It's a new beginning for me," said the suburban management consultant, married for 20 years, recently divorced and ready for something - or someone - new. "I went from soccer mom with short hair, flat-heeled shoes and fanny packs to cougar. I believe every woman has a cougar in them - someone who doesn't need a man for anything other than companionship."
The contest was part of the first-ever National Cougar Convention produced by Rich Gosse and the Society of Professional Singles, billed as the largest singles organization in the world. The 250 available tickets sold out two days before the event.
The evening, which included a keynote address by Internet radio host and author Francesca Gentille and her boyfriend, Tahil Gesyuk, 14 years younger, drew a racially diverse crowd of men and women who came from as near as Stanford University and as far as London, looking for love, or at least an adventure.
The party included three hours of dancing, drinks and booths filled with items ranging from "Cougar Kits" to "Cougar kitty" T-shirts for $20 sold by Becky Aguilar of Mountain View, recently divorced and looking for fun, but not necessarily younger men, she said.
Miss Cougar America was selected by a vote of the men in attendance.
Watching from a distance was hotel guest Mark Friedman, 45, of Boston, in town for a wedding.
"I've never seen so many useless 20-year-olds in my life," he said. "This is a uniquely American phenomenon."
Apparently not. Two female guests, Birgita Cameron and Rita Sangha, flew in from London for the event. Sangha runs a Web site for women who are attracted to young men and Cameron was a runner-up in the Miss Cougar America contest.
Sandy Miller, 35, a former administrative assistant from San Jose, and Jenny Lane, 41, a dog sitter from Cupertino, had mixed feelings about the party.
They had gone to a professional singles mixer in San Francisco earlier this year sponsored by the Society of Professional Singles and were on Gosse's mailing list and decided to give the Cougar Convention a try.
"We're getting walked past by guys going for women in their 60s," Lane said.
"I guess we should have known," Miller said. "It's a little like prom without a date, or a bad wedding."
Ricky Rivas, 24, a radio ad salesman from the South Bay, was more prosaic.
"Older women and younger men? It doesn't matter nowadays - we're past that barrier. It matters what you bring to the table," he said. "Look at Sotomayor, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, pushing the boundaries in the working world. The Bay Area is the perfect place for this. The Bay Area has lots of transplants, people looking for the perfect storm of opportunities, if you will. Women are more empowered here."