Nikki Haley not ‘in her prime’? Don Lemon’s comments spotlight a political reality for women candidates
Written by B87FM on February 17, 2023
Not in her prime?
CNN anchor Don Lemon’s dismissal of Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley has sparked a furor not because his attitude toward women and aging is so unusual. While his comments have been derided as offensive, women in politics say his views remain remarkably common.
At an age male politicians can be viewed as gaining authority as they add gray hairs, female politicians are sometimes seen as hitting their expiration date.
“It’s much worse for women, and it hasn’t gotten better,” said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who has studied the hurdles women face in running for office. The phenomenon isn’t limited to politics, she said. In focus groups she has conducted for AARP, women over 50 cite age discrimination as a major concern in all sorts of fields.
Including television news, where age and gender discrimination lawsuits have been filed against local stations complaining that getting older was seen as an asset for male anchors but as a firing offense for female ones.
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Lemon wandered into the issue on “CNN This Morning” Thursday when he questioned Haley’s proposal to mandate mental competency tests for politicians older than 75. “She says people, you know, politicians or something are not in their prime,” he said. “Nikki Haley isn’t in her prime, sorry. A woman is considered to be in her prime in her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s.”
When co-host Poppy Harlow pushed back, he suggested Googling the question.
Indeed, type in “What age is women’s prime?” on Google and the search engine responds near the top with “the oft-cited narrative that ages 30-39 are a woman’s supposed ‘prime’ – socially, professionally, physically, sexually and emotionally.”
Haley responded with barbed humor.
“To be clear, I am NOT calling for competency tests for Sexist middle-aged CNN anchors,” she posted on Twitter.
Lemon tweeted his “regret” over his remarks, which he called “inartful and irrelevant.” On CNN’s daily editorial conference call Friday morning, he apologized to his network colleagues, calling his comments “a mistake.”
By the way, he’s 56. Haley is 51.
The former UN ambassador and South Carolina governor is younger than most in the likely field for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, and she has highlighted her age in calling for a “new generation” of political leaders.
Former president Donald Trump is 76; former vice president Mike Pence is 63; former secretary of State Mike Pompeo is 59. Of those now seen as major GOP contenders, only Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is younger than she is, at 44.
Americans do have an ideal age in mind for a president – and Haley happens to be in that sweet spot. In a USA TODAY/Suffolk poll of 1,000 registered voters in December, half of those surveyed said the ideal president would be between 51 and 65; another one in four picked someone 35 to 50 years old.
But being female remains a bar for some voters, especially in the GOP.
A 55% majority of all those polled volunteered that gender didn’t matter, but those with a preference chose a man over a woman by more than 2-1, 28%-12%. Among Republicans, 50% said the ideal president would be male. Just 2% in the GOP said a woman would be ideal, below the survey’s 3.1 percentage-point margin of error.
In search of the perfect president: What Americans say they want, from age to gender
In the U.S. Senate, only one of the 10 oldest senators is a woman, Dianne Feinstein of California, who is 89. Questions about her age and mental acuity contributed to her decision, announced Tuesday, that she wouldn’t seek a sixth term next year.
Her 89-year-old male colleague, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, was elected to his eighth Senate term in November.
There are now 25 women serving in the Senate and a record 124 in the House. Vice President Kamala Harris is the first woman elected to national office. Nancy Pelosi, now 82, stepped down this month as the first female speaker of the House.
But the disparity in attitudes toward aging – also wrapped up in critiques of their appearance – can pose a double bind for women who aspire to the White House.
The median age of presidents at the time of their first inauguration is 55. Bill Clinton’s election at age 46 in 1993 sparked some commentary about whether he was too young. But by the time women might be considered experienced enough for the Oval Office, they are close to hitting the mark where many question whether they are already obsolete.
Past their prime, as some might say.