Monday, October 8, 2012

Say What? "American Voters Don't Like Older Women"

Why should I care?

Why am I letting it bother me that I heard yet another conversation telling me older women are distasteful and irrelevant?

The source of the specious judgment was a commentator I formerly admired, Melissa Harris-Perry, age 39, educated in my home state at venerable North Carolina colleges Wake Forest and Duke University. She’s a professor of political science at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Some Sunday mornings I watch Melissa Harris-Perry’s political talk show on MSNBC. Bright and savvy, she has guests who spark lively conversations. Related to their prospects of making presidential bids, a discussion of the age difference between Joe Biden, 69, and Paul Ryan, 42, came up, and segued to Hillary Clinton’s possible candidacy in 2016.

Melissa drew back in dismay at the mention of Mrs. Clinton’s name, pulling away as if burned. “No,” she said.

No? What does she mean, no? What is going on here? I wondered.

“American voters don’t like older women. We won’t even buy makeup from aging women…as an aging woman, Hillary Clinton becomes less and less appealing to American voters, not in a way that’s fair….”

One of her panel members, Republican strategist Robert Traynham, broke in, defending Hillary, proving once again that politics make strange bedfellows. A male Republican defending Clinton? Whoa.

Mr. Traynham wanted to argue that Harris-Perry’s concern about “aging women” didn’t apply to Mrs. Clinton for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, he was cut off by another commentator who took the conversation in a different direction.

I sat there in front of the TV, coffee cup in hand. Did I misunderstand, somehow?

Surely Melissa Harris-Perry was not dissing older women? I must have been mistaken.

So I’ve replayed the video several times since Sunday. Harris-Perry’s facial expressions, intakes of breath, and body language belied her attempts to temper her comments with “not in a way that’s fair,” and “no, she’s [Hillary Clinton] enormously popular right now.”

Harris-Perry even threw in a further tidbit: “it’s not hard to be popular,” dismissing all Clinton’s years of public service as a mere popularity contest which anyone could pull off.

It's not hard to be popular?


Now, read my lips, my outrage is not so much for Hillary Clinton as an individual, as it is for all “aging women.” Hillary can take care of herself—she doesn’t need me to make her relevant or to tout her impressive resume.

My outrage is for how little attitudes have changed towards women at midlife and older. An enlightened woman like Harris-Perry taking such a dim view of older women is truly sad.

I would love to be around in 15 years, when Harris-Perry is 54, to replay this tape for her. I’d like to ask her then what she thinks of “aging women” and whether she thinks that whatever the “American people” think of older women means that we should dry up and blow away. We don’t need to consider running for president, because we offend the general public so much they won’t even buy makeup from us.

What will "older woman" Harris-Perry say then, do you suppose?

(The video is available at MSNBC’s website. The segment is called “Generation gap between vice-presidential candidates” on Melissa Harris-Perry’s Oct. 7th show.)