According to Merriam-Webster, being in one’s prime means being “active and in good health,” which is relative, I guess. The prime of an Olympic gymnast is 16, so at 51, I’ve more than aged out of that gig. (I am also very bad at gymnastics.) But I am, at least chronologically speaking, the perfect age to be the president of the United States, an office whose holders have been an average of 55 years old at their inaugurations.
Of course, it’s a job for which I am grossly unqualified, and if you ever hear that I’m running, I’ve been either kidnapped or possessed and you should immediately call the authorities and an exorcist. Former United Nations Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is also 51, does want to be president, and age-wise, she’s not only not past her prime — she hasn’t even hit it.
Then again, Haley is female, so when CNN’s Don Lemon said that the hopeful Republican candidate was “past her prime,” and then dug in further by saying women are in their prime in their 20s and 30s (and “maybe her 40s”), we know he doesn’t mean the prime age for leadership. For one, you can’t even be president before you’re 35. He seems to talking about the other things women in public are supposed to be: young, conventionally attractive and perky. Haley is past the age when most women can give birth. She has laugh lines. She’s even too old to be on “American Idol”!
Strap her to an ice floe and float her off to sea.
Hotness and fertility have nary a thing to do with being president, yet Lemon popped off and said something a lot of people think but aren’t supposed to say — that a woman’s worth isn’t about her intellect or résumé, but about whether anyone would want to sleep with her or see her in a bikini. The CNN anchor is a proudly out gay man, so his gaffe would appear to be more about image and good old-fashioned misogyny than sex.
Lemon, 56, now says his comments were “unartful and irrelevant,” but I suspect that’s only because he got in trouble. And while he now has to undergo some unspecified training, you can’t train out attitudes so well-ingrained; you can just be reminded to think twice about voicing them.
Women my age know that we are less desirable on dating apps or as the movie love interests of men filling out the same demographic information. But it’s a slap in our sagely lined faces to suggest that we’re too old to fill a role that would seem to require the knowledge that comes with age and years of experience.
Haley is almost 30 years younger than the two current frontrunners, President Joe Biden (80) and former president Donald Trump (76), and though many voters think they’re too old — she herself wants to constitute a mental cognition test for the presidency — no one would ever fix their lips to say a 55-year-old man was disqualified by the number of candles on his birthday cake. Heck, part of the criticism of former Democratic candidates Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke, both in their late 30s when they ran, was that they were too young. It’s so incredibly stupid when you think about it logically. But misogyny and ageism is illogical.
Look, I am decidedly not a Nikki Haley superfan, as I am unable to get behind a candidate who denies racism or suggests deporting an American-born Senate candidate while campaigning for his opponent. And she’s literally selling merchandise making fun of Lemon’s comments about her. Meanwhile, she’s ignored conservative pundit Ann Coulter’s hideously racist comments that Haley, the American-born daughter of Indian immigrants, should go back to her “own country,” probably because she and Coulter share a base and Haley will make more campaign money going against Lemon.
Neither do I generally dislike the CNN anchor, whose work I usually enjoy, although I’ve always wondered if a woman could literally get drunk at work on TV and still have a job.
Here’s the thing: It’s not about liking them personally, but about one more example of how women can’t age, for any reason, even if the job recommends it. At 51, I am a better writer, speaker and thinker than I was in my 20s, when I was extra snarky and used the word “yummy” a lot. I’ve lived a while and know what I’m talking about, and I’m only getting better. Were my bikini shots better at 35? Sure. But was I better at the job I actually have? Nah.
Getting older is hard for everyone, but men get to be distinguished, to be silver foxes. All they have to do to seem presidential sometimes is to not do something stupid. Disagree with Haley’s policies all you want — and I do — but to suggest that her birthdate is a problem is an attitude, unlike Haley, that’s past its expiration date.