01.08.12

The One Good Thing Michele Bachmann Did: Proudly Blurt Out Her Age

No matter how you feel about her views, says writer Judith Newman, she inadvertently did one great good for women. She talked about her age: 55. A lot. But why?

I’m not a big fan of Michele Bachmann’s. Long before she decided to set the cause of epidemiology back several decades during her (now blessedly defunct) run for the presidency, I would see the Minnesota congresswoman and her expensive blow-out yattering away on CNN and I would start shouting at the television. It got to the point where, when one of my sons spotted her, he’d run over and slam the TV off—because, as he put it, “I don’t want Angry Mommy. I want Cheerful Mommy."

Now that she is no longer a threat to America or my sanity, I have softened. Because Bachmann has done one thing that is a great good for women in this country: she has talked about her age. A lot. In almost every interview she’s given. I’m betting you don’t know how old Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum are. But even if you know virtually nothing about Bachmann’s views on slavery (at least it kept black families together), the environment (not one study shows carbon dioxide is harmful), or gay marriage (little children will think perhaps they should try homosexuality), and even if you barely tuned in to any of the 5,000 hours of “debates” (a word that I must put in quotations, since the only thing being debated was who could make me move to New Zealand faster), you know that Bachman is 55.  

“Listen, I’m 55 years old, and …” was the way she’d start out. Then what would follow would be a list of—well, something:

“I’m 55 years old and it wouldn’t apply to me …” she's said, about her plans to eviscerate Medicare.

“I’m 55 years old, and for 50 years I’ve lived in the real world where my family was below poverty.”  

“I’m 55 years old and spent 50 years building a business.” (Presumably at first a lemonade stand?)

“I’m 55 years old and spent 50 years as a real person.” (Before that, a wee cyborg?)    

Now, it used to be that there were two groups of females who would proudly announce their age: toddlers (who happily add a quarter or a half), and the old ladies who had just become very good friends with Willard Scott. “Isn’t she remarkable?” he would say—and, inevitably, she was. If you make it to 100, or even 90, you want everyone to know. Younger, even much younger, not so much. Many of us past the bloom of youth still don’t know the age of our best friends. When I sent an email to a bunch of girlfriends asking them if they tell people their age, there were many hedges and excuses that could be summed up in the two-word reply of one 40ish friend: “Bite me.”

But Michele Bachmann is something else again, a middle-aged woman who proudly announces she is middle aged.

It used to be that there were two groups of females who would proudly announce their age: toddlers (who happily add the ¼ or ½), and the old ladies who had just become very good friends with Willard Scott.

Why? I’ve toyed with the idea that she is secretly a numerologist, and puts great stock in mentioning certain key numbers in her life, like an incantation. “The 5 children I’ve given birth to,” “My 23 foster children,” “My wonderful husband of 33 years.” One friend, a political reporter, believes she harps on these numbers to dispel the rumors that husband Marcus is a little light in the loafers; she might as well just say, "Hey, that’s a lot of child care and fucking!" But the other possibility is that if you add up 23 + 5 + 33 + 55 you get 116, which is an “angel number” that connects us to the divine life purpose in numerology circles. (Why yes, I am in love with this entirely stupid coincidence that helps me prove my point; why do you ask?) She probably likes this number a whole lot more than the number 6, which is where she finished in the Iowa Caucus. Though then again, as numbers go, “6” sounds a whole lot better than “last.”

Theory number 2 as to why she can’t state her age enough? Because she is hot. And made hotter because it’s that whole librarian, toss-off-the-glasses kind of hot. You just know her secret vice is La Perla. (I’ve also speculated that part of her hotness is sublimated desire, what with Marcus and the sex-is-for-procreation and my-husband-loves-dog-accessories situation, but let’s just go with Ann Coulter on this one, that if a gay man can act straight, a straight man can act gay). I asked my friend Ellen Marmur, the vice chair of cosmetic and dermatologic surgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, to study photos of Bachmann and tell me what help she’s had. “You know, maybe there’s a little ‘tox or filler there, but basically she’s au naturel!” Marmur says—"au naturel" being a relative term in Manhattan. “She does love to mention her age, but I think this is strategic—to wow people that a woman over 40 who reveals her true age must be a liberated, honest, unique champion.”

And that, I think, I ultimately what this is about: ambition. With Sarah Palin’s posture of the superannuated cheerleader, winking and hair-poofing her way to the Oval Office, isn’t it nice to think that maybe sometimes women can use their advancing years to further their careers? Bachmann has mentioned it repeatedly to underscore her experience; though admittedly, the fact that she is eligible for Playboy’s Seniors Only issue hasn’t hurt. In effect, despite her anti-woman and, indeed, anti-human stances on everything from the Divine command that women be submissive to their husbands to the global warming “hoax,” Michele Bachmann has perhaps inadvertently been good for American women. Because she wants the world to know—to paraphrase her undoubted nemesis Gloria Steinem—that “this is what 55 looks like.”