Las Vegas Review-Journal
Don Lemon said what a lot of people think about Nikki Haley
CNN anchor Don Lemon said on air last month that GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley, 51, “isn’t in her prime.” Since then, Lemon — who is six years older than Haley — has gone through “sensitivity training,” and apologized for his comments.
But I’m still not over it.
Lemon’s comments made me irate. Of course women aren’t past their prime at age 50. But his opinion was a true reflection of what many people feel, of the implicit bias against women that so many of us struggle with in the workplace and our personal lives.
Granted, Haley got tongues wagging after her recent proposal that presidential candidates over the age of 75 need to undergo mental competency tests. When he was chatting about it Feb. 16 on “CNN This Morning,” Lemon said talking about age made him uncomfortable. Then he went on to make the bizarre claim: “Nikki Haley is not in her prime, sorry. A woman is considered to be in her prime in her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s.”
Co-anchor Poppy Harlow said, “Wait, prime for what?” But Lemon didn’t let up. “If you Google when is a woman in her prime, it will say 20s, and 30s and 40s,” he added.
As mad as I was, I didn’t want to see him fired (I still remember him from his days at NBC10). Luckily for him, CNN initially didn’t discipline Lemon too hard, other than taking him off the air for a few days. But the fact he felt comfortable making such an outrageous claim while seated between two female cohosts is troubling.
Regardless of how you feel about Haley’s politics, there’s no denying that she is an accomplished woman. A former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, she also served as the first female governor of South Carolina. The last two men who ran for president were in their 70s. The idea that Haley would be past her “prime” at 51 is ludicrous.
Lemon’s blunder was a reminder that, no matter how far they rise or what they achieve, women are judged primarily not by their accomplishments but by how they look, which is influenced by their age. Americans like to think we are so evolved as a culture, but the reality is that in many ways we are still in the dark ages when it comes to respecting women.
Madonna experienced that last month after she appeared at the Grammy Awards.
With her overly plump cheeks and lips, the 64-year-old pop icon was nearly unrecognizable. But the way viewers carried on, you would think she had committed some egregious offense, like murdering someone onstage. Instead, her only crime was aging.
Madonna’s only crime was aging.
It saddens me that the Queen of Pop appears to have drunk the proverbial Koolaid and resorted to plastic surgery, presumably to look younger. It would have been a boost to older women everywhere if the former Material Girl had showed up as herself at 64, wrinkles and all. Madonna being Madonna, she wasted no time in clapping back on Instagram, writing, in part, “Once again I am caught in the glare of ageism and misogyny (t)hat permeates the world we live in. A world that refuses to celebrate women past the age of 45 and feels the need to punish her if she continues to be strong willed, hard-working and adventurous.”
Canadian news anchor Lisa Laflamme caught it last year after she let her hair go gray during the pandemic. Before long, the 58-year-old was off the air. Her bosses denied that ageism had anything to do with it, but when’s the last time that you saw a gray-haired woman anchor a newscast? (Laflamme was replaced by a 39-year-old man.)
Elevating the importance of a woman’s appearance above everything she has accomplished is more than just unfair. Laflamme may have lost her job because of it, despite being one of the most-watched newscasters in Canada. In her 2017 memoir, “What Happened,” Hillary Clinton estimated that, while running for president in 2016, she spent a whopping total of 600 hours just getting her hair and makeup done for public appearances. That’s equal to 25 days that she could have devoted to other things.
“I’m not jealous of my male colleagues often, but I am when it comes to how they can just shower, shave, put on a suit, and be ready to go. The few times I’ve gone out in public without makeup, it’s made the news,” she wrote, according to an excerpt in Refinery 29. “So I sigh, and keep getting back in that chair, and dream of a future in which women in the public eye don’t need to wear makeup if they don’t want to, and no one cares either way.”
That’s not going to happen any time soon. Just last week, “Game of Thrones” actress Emilia Clarke got dragged on Twitter after she posted a natural-looking selfie. She’s only 36.
America needs to get over its obsession with women’s appearance and age. Lemon felt comfortable saying what he did because he knew a lot of people would agree with him.
That’s the part I just can’t get over.