This afternoon, on CNN anchor Don Lemon’s orders, I found myself Googling “When is a woman in her prime.”
Lemon accidentally created an ouroboros when he issued said instruction Thursday on CNN This Morning, because Google’s top results are now littered with news stories about him putting his foot in his mouth for talking about when, exactly, women expire.
It all started during a discussion of Nikki Haley’s announcement of her presidential run. In her speech, the former governor of South Carolina called for “mandatory mental competency tests” for politicians older than 75, and Lemon responded that this made him “uncomfortable.” He then said that Haley, who is 51, should stay away from criticizing politicians for being past their prime—because she’s already past hers. A woman’s prime, he went on, includes her “20s and 30s, and maybe 40s.” Lemon has since apologized for what he said—calling it ”inartful and irrelevant, ” which is not the same as “wrong”—but the moment was so bizarre that it’s worth lingering on.
Lemon’s two female co-anchors reacted immediately to his initial comments, asking what exactly he meant, but he doubled down with the following bit:
I’m just saying what the facts are. Google it. Everybody at home, when is a woman in her prime? It says 20s, 30s, and 40s. I’m just saying Nikki Haley should careful about saying that politicians are not in their prime, and they need to be in their prime when they serve, because she would not be in her prime according to Google or whatever it is.
So, back to those search results! They include a bunch of dubious and unreliable links—Google does not, in fact, have an authoritative answer to when a woman is in her prime. In fact, Google isn’t even sure what it means for a woman to be in her prime. Her sexual peak? Her most beautiful? Her most fertile? Her most satisfied with her life? Her most capable in her career? Sorry, Don Lemon, but unlike, say, puberty, there’s no official life stage known as “a woman’s prime,” and therefore, there are no ages it scientifically corresponds to.
It was jarring that Lemon made his point so confidently, like it was an open-and-shut case. (This also isn’t his first instance of making chauvinist comments on air—in December, he got in trouble for arguing male athletes should get paid more than female athletes.) He 100 percent just heard that old saw about how a woman reaches her sexual prime in her late 30s (which is itself ill-defined and of unclear origins), took it as fact, and decided it also applied to politics.
His co-anchors prompted him about whether he meant the childbearing years, or prime for being president, whatever that means, and he started clarifying that he didn’t actually agree with what he was saying: “Don’t shoot the messenger,” etc. But that doesn’t apply when the messenger is delivering a message that he clearly plucked out of his own sexist brain soup. There are probably lots of people who think women have expiration dates and shouldn’t be in politics, but for Lemon to think that viewpoint is worth airing is really just telling on himself.
All of Lemon’s blather about a woman’s prime makes one wonder about a man’s prime. (And if only women have primes, I’d love to hear more about that. Show your work.) If it’s also the 20s, 30s, and maybe 40s, what is 56-year-old Lemon doing on air, and why hasn’t a vaudeville-style hook appeared on screen to drag him off? Or do men, in Lemon’s alternative reality, have different primes than women? Either way, this line of thinking leads nowhere good, and every time Lemon speaks about “women” instead of “people” he digs himself into a deeper hole.
He did successfully accomplish one thing with all of this, however: He’s given Haley the perfect video clip to fundraise off of.