She’s Not in Her Prime

She's not in her prime.

There’s been a lot of talk about women’s ‘prime’ since Don Lemon’s comments about Presidential candidate, Nikki Haley. Lemon created a firestorm after telling his female co-anchors (and CNN audience) that 51-year-old Haley wasn’t ‘in her prime’. Worse yet, when he had the chance to backpedal, he doubled down, saying that women were in their prime in their 20’s and 30’s. 

I’ve been asked to speak on a number of radio shows since about Lemon’s comments and the impact of unconscious gender bias. I thought I’d share some of those thoughts with you. 

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Unconscious gender bias is a deeply conditioned undercurrent that impacts on all our relationships. While the #MeToo movement launched increased awareness about overt sexism and gender bias, the next frontier is tackling the insidious (and arguably more dangerous) unconscious gender biases that still plague our psyches. 

These biases are not just by men against women, but also by women against other women and even women against themselves. Studies show that men and women alike judge women more harshly and are less forgiving to women. 

In a study where participants were asked to view photos of a boardroom table and describe the person at the head of the table (where one had a woman sitting at the head of the table and the other a man), both male and female participants described the man in flattering terms (strong, leader, charismatic) yet described the female harshly (bossy, controlling, etc.). 

In an even more disturbing study, young women who were asked to identify their gender in advance of writing their SAT exams (simply check off whether they were male of female), consistently performed more poorly.  

Don Lemon suggesting that women are past their best before date after their 30’s reflects this kind of insidious unconscious gender bias. I suspect his views on purported male prime are different considering that he’s 57 himself. 

It was interesting that Lemon made his point so confidently, as if it was an irrefutable fact. As if a newscaster could rely on Google as a definitive resource and solid authority. It was more interesting that there didn’t appear to be any such support for his wild assertion on Google – unless he was talking about sexual prime.  And if Don Lemmon was suggesting that a potential female presidential candidate needs to be in her sexual prime, that raises a whole other level of firestorm for him. 

All of which begs the question of what is ‘prime’ and when is a woman in it? 

Much as there’s no one way to be a woman (or a man, or any of the spaces in between), there’s no such thing as a single ‘prime’ that one hits in their life. We hit our prime for different things at different times in our lives. And everyone hits those primes at different times. Our social primes vary wildly. There’s a wide range for sexual prime and child-bearing primes. The list goes on. 

One would hope that Lemon was referencing political prime, given that the conversation was about U.S. Presidential candidates. And yet his bold statement makes no sense in that context. Surely, he wasn’t suggesting that women hit their prime as political candidates in their 20’s? Climbing the political ladder takes years (if not decades) of experience, not to mention the necessary increase in knowledge, wisdom, judgment, and social reasoning that comes with age. 

The same typically holds true in the corporate world. And in legal circles, would Lemon expect to see 20-something-year-olds sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court in lieu of Ruth Bader Ginsberg or Ketanji Brown Jackson. Would he turf Ginsberg and Jackson as ‘past their prime’? 

Lemon’s ‘artless and irrelevant’ comment (his words, per his inadequate subsequent apology) reinforces for me the reason I wrote The Art of Feminine Negotiation and hope to get it out in the world as broadly as possible. 

For too long we’ve defined success based on competitive ‘masculine’ models. We’ve undervalued the power of the ‘feminine’. As a result, both men and women have stifled their feminine and the world has swung wildly out of balance. 

It’s time we decide to lean in to our feminine (for men, women and all the spaces in between). Let’s let go of ego and seek to truly understand and meet the needs of others, respecting our differences and showing up with curiosity and exercising the art of fascination. That’s a place from which to grow. That’s a place from which to get better outcomes, better buy-in, better relationships, longer-lasting agreements and more creative solutions. 

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Art of Feminine Negotiation debunks myths and multi-generational gender conditioning that have stopped women from fully stepping into their power. Uncover the unconscious biases that have limited women from becoming the biggest and best versions of themselves. 

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A woman's prime, Don Lemon, Don Lemon On Air Gaff, Embrace your feminine


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