What did you Google most recently? A different chicken recipe? A list of nearby veterinarians? Okay.
Was it to find out whether you were “in your prime”? I didn’t think so.
In case you missed it, here’s what happened on Thursday that raises this question. On “CNN This Morning,” the three hosts were discussing the suggestion made by Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley that politicians over age 75 undergo a mandatory mental competency test to make sure they were up to the job of president.
Co-host Don Lemon then said the 51-year-old Haley should be careful when talking about politicians not in their prime. “Nikki Haley is not in her prime. Sorry.” A Google search had told him that a woman’s prime was in her 20s, 30s, and 40s.
As his female co-hosts, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins sputtered and reacted, Lemon doubled down: “Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m just saying what the facts are.”
Lemon sent out a major mea culpa later that day on social media and to CNN staff and didn’t appear on the morning show on Friday, possibly taking the morning off to remove the large shoe he had inserted in his mouth.
Aside from the fact that there are different answers that pop up on that Google search, not just the one cherry-picked by Lemon, the question that was raised by Lemon’s co-hosts remains: Prime for what exactly? Childbearing? Sure, makes sense. Gymnastic competitions? No quarrel. Sexual attractiveness? Them’s fightin’ words.
What about corporate competence? Not even close. Climbing that ladder takes years of experience–years and experience that we as a society generally value in men. Aside from some tech Wunderkinder, there aren’t many 20-, 30- and 40-year-old CEOs out there.
In fact, I would argue that a woman doesn’t hit her stride until her 50s, when those childbearing 20s, 30s, and 40s are in the rear-view mirror, when relationships have, with luck, stabilized, and when a woman can take a moment to measure the path she has been on professionally and weigh the possibilities ahead.
I’m not suggesting that women one day just poke their heads out of a gopher hole (or the kitchen) at age 52 and decide to become a Supreme Court justice (Ketanji Brown Jackson) or prime minister of the UK (Margaret Thatcher at age 54) or a US senator (Elizabeth Warren at age 64) or a presidential candidate (Nikki Haley at age 51, Hillary Clinton at ages 61 and 69). They’ve been laying the groundwork for years, layering job upon job, credential upon credential. By around age 50 the ambitious ones are champing at the bit.
It’s an odd fact that little girls in general mature earlier than little boys, and then do better in school until, until the urge to mate slows them down, then even ties them down with the bulk of childrearing. But then, fast-forward, women’s opportunities do a quick fade, disappearing entirely by the end of their forties? It doesn’t sound right, but women’s “sell-by” date has always been notoriously earlier than their male counterparts.
So, if you thought that “prime” was an arithmetical construct you forgot about from high school, this week has been a wake-up call. Ditto if it just triggered memories of your last great strip steak.
Bottom line: As far as having wisdom and verve and the experience to use both wisely, most women are in their prime after the age of 50. And whether it’s political or corporate leadership or just living lives in the public sphere, it’s best for all when everyone recognizes that.
The Prime of Our Life Is Not Behind Us