Helen, John and BirthdaysJuly 24th, 2008 © by Susan Swartz
Helen Mirren may have just helped out John McCain. At least in the ageism debate.
Many people automatically assume that a 63-year-old woman is too old for a bikini. And many argue that a 72-year-old man is too old to become president.
Both concerns come from the popular “ism” that a person’s chronological age is their most defining characteristic and therefore determines who they are and what they can do.
Helen Mirren has demonstrated that she does swimmingly in a red bikini, as evidenced in photos of her Italian vacation which won hurrahs for her flat stomach, smooth thighs and chutzpah. But, even though her physical charms appear limitless, and they are enviable, it’s still her superior acting that counts most.
Now, how about John McCain? We’ve got his various political positions to bat around. But is his age a fair target? I hope the Obama campaign can take the high road on this issue. First, because their guy, at 47, could be vulnerable to ageism from the other end. And because he doesn’t want to offend people over age 50 who are expected to make up half the voters in November. There are a lot of Boomers, especially ones hitting retirement age, who are sensitive to being labeled by the year they were born.
Men age, women rot.
I discussed the age issue with a couple of powerful Democratic women who you might expect to seize on any negative they could find on McCain. But they think his vintage should be left out of the contest. California Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey and former Colorado congresswoman Pat Schroeder know their “isms.” Both were Hillary Clinton supporters and smarted over the sexism that came out during her campaign.
Schroeder, who was in Congress for more than 20 years and made a bid for the presidential nomination in 1987, was a regular on talk shows earlier this year, blasting the media for its misogyny, likening the treatment of Hillary Clinton to the Salem Witch Trials. Schroeder saw some ageism, too, in the Hillary attacks, recalling Rush Limbaugh’s comment about Americans not wanting to watch a woman president grow old before their eyes. And even though Schroeder still thinks sexism was the greater culprit, she said, “There’s no question that sexism and ageism are very related. It’s the old thing about ‘men age, women rot.’
Were a woman contemporary of McCain to put herself out there, the response would be harsher, said Schroeder. For example, she thinks Dianne Feinstein would make a great candidate. But Feinstein is 75. And if she ran, said Schroeder, “they’d nail her on her age.”
The last time Lynn Woolsey ran for re-election, a columnist, who supported her younger male opponent, said it was time to get someone younger with more energy. Woolsey defended herself, saying, “I can’t help my age but I don’t believe anyone has more energy than I do.”
Woolsey, who is two years younger than McCain, said she doesn’t think 72 is that old. “Age isn’t the issue. But health and vitality are.”
Schroeder said that’s what people should be looking at – “to make sure the person has good mental faculties and is in fairly good shape.”
And then you can go after that person on the really important things – like the war, health care, immigration, women’s rights, messing with the ocean digging for oil.
The rest is no more relevant than how you stuff a wild bikini.