The founder of a Toronto-based dating website for older women looking for younger men is accusing Google of sexism after the web giant labelled Internet ads for “cougar” dating sites as “non-family safe,” while ads for many sites promoting liaisons between older men and younger women remain “family safe.”
Claudia Opdenkelder, founder of CougarLife.com, says she was informed this month by her Google account manager that the Mountainview, Calif.-based Google is classifying ads promoting the concept of “cougar dating” — think Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher — as unsafe for family audiences, even if the ads contain no sexually suggestive words or images.
Meanwhile, ads for so-called “sugar daddy” websites — such as Arrangementseekers.com, a forum for older men and younger women to meet, which sports the slogan: “Get the arrangement you want . . . without the commitment” — continue to be labelled “family safe” by Google, according to Cougar Life’s parent company, Avid Life Media.
“It’s a huge double standard, and I think women should just be appalled,” said Opdenkelder, 39, a self-professed cougar who has been dating a man 14 years her junior for two years.
“Cougar Life was made for women . . . single moms, divorcees and women that are just looking for a second chance at love. In any relationship, obviously there’s going to be intimacy, but it’s not a sex-related site where we’re trying to push sexual relations.”
Cougar Life, which has signed up more than half a million members since its launch last year, bills itself as “the premier online dating service that pairs women in their prime with younger men and ends the double standard.”
Until a few weeks ago, its banner and text ads — featuring photos no less innocuous than a man or woman smiling accompanied by the words, “Think all the good guys are taken?” — were running on millions of websites that outsource their ad space to Google.
Google spokeswoman Wendy Rozeluk denied that sexism plays any part in the decisions the company makes relating to which ads it labels “non-family safe” or “adult.”
Rather, she said, the company has a list of words that trigger a review of the site and associated ads before a decision is made. She would not confirm whether “cougar” was one of the trigger words.
“It’s not just about the ad — it’s about the ad and the landing page of the site,” Rozeluk said. “Anything that’s considered non-family safe will not run on the Google content network at this point.”
A quick Internet search reveals Google-sponsored ads for various websites that purport to offer comparable services to Cougar Life. For example, an ad for Anastasiadate.com boasts “15,000 sexy Russian & Ukraine women for friendship, love & marriage!” while Eligiblegreeks.com proclaims “Greek Dating — Sexy Pics, Meet single Greek men and women, browse photos, send flirts & more!”
Opdenkelder says she doesn’t understand why ads that seem more provocative than those for Cougar Life are acceptable.
“We just want to be treated the same way as all the others, and the discrimination against the word ‘cougar’ makes it even worse,” she said. “It makes us — cougar women — feel like dirty perverts. I’ve been trying to fight so hard on every interview that I do that the old stigma on cougars doesn’t exist anymore, and that we’re just strong, powerful independent women who just happen to enjoy dating younger men.”