The Lady Is a Tramp: Sexism, Ageism, and the Gores’ Separation

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Yep, former vice-president Al Gore and his wife of 40 years, Tipper, are separating. Not divorcing or dissolving their marriage (the legal definitions of separation, divorcing, and dissolution vary state by state), but they have decided that simply—for now—that they don't wish to be a married couple.

Of course, the mainstream stream media have practically sung dirges over their decision from the view of those who know them: the registered shock, the scrambled-for reasons, the insider explanations of the inner working of the marriage itself…which circles right back to the registered shock and sadness. And arguments of whether or not the decision meant the union's failure have been debated.

What I've heard in my part of the world is why would people even want to leave each other after four decades of a relationship. "There's nothing out there," two of my co-workers said. "Who exactly do they think they're going to get at this point? You may as well stay together." And none of my arguments about personal happiness or that they both are attractive people who may have lovers post-marriage dissuaded them.

Some of the tweetizenry also argued back and forth about the break-up, with some folks on my timeline rubbing their figurative hands (and thighs) in lust…after the former vice-president. Hell, I even rubbed my thighs in horny glee that the man is on the market again. (Yeah, I felt sort of bad about it—it's too soon to lust, it's tacky to get all fast in the panties when the man's mourning the ending of his life-partnership. But, I'd be lying if I said that those reasons didn't curb my hotness for the Oscar and Nobel Peace Prize winner.)

Then I started pinpointing where my discomfort rested: though people—including me—sexualized Al Gore (on Twitter, at least) either as object of lust or of sexual derision, rarely did I hear anyone say the same either way about Tipper. At most, someone said the "hottest thing about Al was Tipper." (Sincere praise or backhanded compliment?) The worst was that someone wanted to put a parent advisory sticker on her. (No explanation beyond that was given.)

My tweetpal, PPR_Scribe, and I chatted about some of the –isms we've seen regarding the on- and offline conversations about the Gores and their decision.

PPR_Scribe: I sense ageism in some criticisms of the Gores' separation: the idea that at 60 you have one foot in the grave and so should just accept any situation.

Andrea Plaid: Oh homie! And the fact that one–especially if one's a woman–isn't sexually attractive/desirable/viable after 60 years old. Didn't Blanche prove otherwise?

PPR_Scribe: Exactly. With potentially 20 or more good years of (highly sexual, if she wishes) life ahead of Tipper, why spend it unhappy? Plus, when you consider how young she was when they married, perhaps she (and he, too) is looking forward to some adventure!

AP: True, or just looking or not have deal with being the one-and-only for another person. It's interesting that folks [on Twitter] (even I joined in) assume Al Gore, relatively speaking, is gonna be overrun with propositions while few–if any–assume the same of Tipper. Sexism and ageism, in my opinion. And, with her involvement with [the] Parent Music Resource Center and getting parental advisory stickers on records seen as "too sexy" or too violent, she [is] seen as [a] prude.

PPR_Scribe: Good point. 1) We've seen how even (especially?) "prudes" can (often secretly) fly their "freak flags." 2) Those stickers were meant for kids—for parents to judge content on their behalf. At time I was huge opponent. Now I have kids of my own. LOL.

Perhaps we can thank feminism's media justice activism for possibly quelling the vitriol that could be heaped on Tipper during a time like this: this could have easily become a pile-on about her aging and the imagined undesirability due to aging—along with her perceived dislike of sexuality in pop culture—that's "making" her husband leave her. However, in this case, the sexism is couched in ageism, namely that, even if a couple is ending a decades-long relationship (especially if the couple is cis and straight), a man "of a certain age" is still seen as fuckable (especially if he's has wealth and/or prestige) whereas a woman of the same age is, at best, rarely spoken about, especially as a sexual being.

Comments

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The Lady Is A Prude and He's Boring

Until i read the Wikipedia article you referenced i was unaware of the "Parent's Music Resource Center" or that Tipper Gore was one of it's four Founding members. What a prude! The PMRC put out a list of the "Filthiest Fifteen and apparently wanted songs like Madonna's "Dress You Up" and Cyndi Lauper's "She Bop" removed from the airwaves. Tipper Gore, it turns out, is a censorship advocating prude. When I first hear that Al and Tipper Gore were separating my first thought was that she was just getting too bored with Al. He can seem pretty boring and wooden. The i wondered whether at his older age he wasn't being wooden enough downstairs. Now that i've read this post (a good one) i feel like i have to star from scratch. i still suspect the intimate part of the relationship is what failed. i can't imagine how an aggressively prudish attitude would have helped. Now i have another question, since they were married all those years. Is Al Gore a prude too? Just wondering.

prude

Panty Bunns,

While I like "Dress You Up" and "She Bop" as much as the next gal, we can't make assumptions as to the intimate details of the Gores' personal life based on Tipper's political leanings. We don't know that she is a sexual "prude" any more than we know that he is isn't "wooden enough downstairs."

Kelsey Wallace, Web Editor

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Kelsey Wallace, contributor

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i Agree To An Extent, BUT

You are absolutely correct that we cannot make presumptions about the intimate details of the Gores' personal lives based on Tipper's political leanings. Perhaps you are trying to draw a distinction between "sexual prude" limited to one's personal activities and the label of prude for advocating a template for limiting public free expression based on one's prudish views.
In an NPR article entitled "Tipper Gore and Family Values, Robert Siegel printed some of Tipper Gore's own words in an excerpt from her book, entitled 'Raising PG Kids in and X-Rated Society'. Although Ms. Gore is quoted as saying that she is "a strong believer in the First Amendment", she seems to have advocated censorship to a degree, i.e.: the last sentence in the excerpt in which she is quoted as writing: "I want to offer them the real hope that we can reassert some control over the cultural environment in which our children are raised." When that exercise in control includes pulling the "Filthiest Fifteen" from the airwaves, to me that qualifies her as being a prude, regardless of what she does or doesn't practice in the privacy of her own bedroom. My comments were clearly speculative as to Al and Tipper's personal practices. They could well be qualified to act in adult films for all i know. It's just the advocacy of censorship or chilling of free expression to this extent that i find prudish.

are you TRYING to

are you TRYING to demonstrate the sexism this article is talking about? if so, way to go, i guess. OMG PRUDE PRUDE PRUDE! FRIGID! WAAAH! seriously, you sound like a 12 year old who is VERY INVESTED in making sure everyone knows he thinks tipper is a prude, based on not knowing a damn thing about the woman. you didn't even know of the connection with the stickers until what, today? give me a break.

Huh?

I don't think this is very mysterious. Al Gore has a lot of things going for him which are widely appreciated by his admirers. He's wealthy, famous, accomplished, handsome, tall and has a full head of hair. He has that intellectual, environmentalist hero thing - whether you buy into that or not.

What does Tipper have going on which is widely desirable to men? I'm male and to my tastes she is unappealing - perhaps as a consequence of disliking her political views, but I can dislike Michelle Malkin and still notice that she has a shapely pair of legs.

That's not to say she's unattractive to every man out there, just not so outstandingly desirable that people would want to make public comments about it. Someone like Liz Vicious just smacks a lot of men in the hypothalamus such that they want to shout out loud "ZOMG SHE IS HOT!". "She's OK, I guess." Isn't a thought I'd bother twittering.

It's not sexist or ageist to say that across time and cultures straight men have been more attracted to younger women, and straight women to older men - at their age that makes a bigger pool of potential suitors for men in a breakup like this. Show of hands: any men feel a stirring when viewing the photo above? Anyone?

Different Strokes For Different Folks

It's not always people's looks or age that determine what each of us finds to be a turn-on. If Tipper had the kind of mentality and attitude she could probably turn me on a lot more than many younger women. With respect to Michelle Malkin, she turns me off completely (ewwwww). I'm sure plenty of women Al Gore's age find him attractive, and i suspect that the ageist sexist myths of which ages of which gender are attracted to older or younger members of the opposite gender are malarky. i wonder if Anonymous thinks same-gendered couples would each want the other to be older or younger depending on whether they are butch or femme? No matter what (if any) revelations there are about future relationships Al and Tipper might have or whether they change their minds and reconcile, i think many people will be interested.

I disagree.

While human sexuality is a wonderfully diverse thing, and there are a great many myths and misconceptions about it, I don't think that gendered age preferences are malarky. I'm quite peaked by whether same gendered couples express preferences this way, and whether that's a social construction or biologically based, with early hormonal environment affecting that part of the brain which recognizes others as sexually attractive. An interesting question.

It's one thing to take the philosophical or ideological position that everyone is equally beautiful or sexy in their own way, or to find anecdotes but for large numbers of people preferences can actually be measured. The statement 'More men want to fuck 17 years olds than 70 year olds' can be corroborated or falsified by putting a large random sampling of men into an MRI machine and showing them pictures. Neurobiology can measure this sort of thing, evolutionary biology can model it's causes. Should be no more controversial than measuring hip bones and taking averages between genders.

Sexism/ageism

Hi there,

This situation goes way beyond "measuring hip bones and taking averages," as we–me, you, the Gores, etc.–do not have the privilege of existing in a scientific vacuum (though that could be nice sometimes). As Andrea pointed out in her post, there is sexism and ageism involved in many critiques of the Gores' separation, including yours. While biology may be a factor in this case, simplifying things by saying that older men just want to fuck 17-year olds not only doesn't really work as an argument here, but it also erases older women as sexual beings–the very problem Andrea is commenting on.

Kelsey Wallace, Web Editor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

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Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

"scientific vacuum"

"we ... do not have the privilege of existing in a scientific vacuum" - here, I think, is where our opinions differ: in our views of the scientific method. My argument is not about the Gore's separation. They are adults I've never met who live on a continent I've never been to, it is none of my business what they do. I am attempting to explain the difference in the volume of tweets sexually ideating one public figure over another. This is a knowable, measurable phenomenon. We don't have to rely on people's feelings or opinions to explain it - we can gather real, falsifiable, reproducible evidence about the world and the people in it to support theories relating to which topics are more discussed on twitter.

There may be sexism and ageism inherent to my argument, I don't believe there is but it is very hard to spot one's own biases and prejudice. Please do point out any that is apparent to you.

"saying that older men just want to fuck 17-year olds" - I said no such thing, nor would I. I did not even say that more men want to fuck 17 year olds, though I suspect this the case. Some fraction will certainly want to get jiggy with a 70 year old they have in mind, or just seventy year olds in general. What I said is that it is possible to find out, and we don't even need to ask men how they feel about different attributes of sexual partners - their answers may be skewed - we can actually observe how their brains react.

"it ... erases older women as sexual beings" - nothing I could do or say would erase any group of people as sexual beings. People are inherently sexual beings, even if they are their only sex partner. If one were to do a study of sexual preferences and discover that heterosexual desires are more prevalent than homosexual ones you wouldn't erase part of the spectrum of sexual desire. It would not erase GBLTQ people as sexual beings. It would not suggest that their sexuality is any less valid or worthwhile, just less common. It would however give us a handle on people for civic and public health purposes, and may deflate some strongly held but incorrect beliefs about a population's sexuality - as with President Ahmadinejad asserting that there are no gay people in Iran.

Relating to the question posed in the post above, my hypothesis is as follows:

- People are more likely to state strong opinions than ambivalent ones when performing their sexuality on the very public space that is twitter. Al Gore causes such strong opinions, being an especially desirable man, and Tipper does not clear the bar. Hence more talk about Al - gender aside he's the sexier of the two. Not necessarily sexier to individual people, but when considering averages of large numbers of people.

- That in the population at large, and particularly in the younger demographic which produces more tweets, nominally straight males are less likely to ideate an older partner than straight females. This gives Al a big advantage in twitter traffic.

Both of these statements are falsifiable, so please show them to be wrong if in fact they are. It would be nice to be wrong about this.

I get the impression that my comments here have not been well received because people dislike what I have said. Not demonstrably wrong, just unwelcome. I'm sure many readers of this blog would like to change perceptions of older people's sexuality, and the construction of older women's sexuality in particular. A noble goal. But it can't be accomplished without a good understanding of both the biological and social components of people's beliefs about sexuality and age, and for that we need science more than we need ideology (even feminist ideology). We need evidence. We need to abandon wishful thinking about how the world 'should' be and rigorously understand how it actually is. Then we might work out how to change the perception of older women that Andrea is commenting on.

Lamenting it or being angry won't do any good.

Sexual Partner Age Preferences of Homo and Heterosexual Men

@Panty Buns: I was interested in the question you raised about age preferences in same sex couples. I found this in the Archives of sexual Behavior;

"Abstract: The sexual age preferences of 192 adults (equal groups of heterosexual men, heterosexual women, homosexual men, and homosexual women) were examined. Participants rated the sexual attractiveness of pictures of 15 male and 15 female faces arranged into five apparent average age categories ranging from 18 to 60 years. It was predicted that homosexual and heterosexual men would prefer younger partners of their preferred sex than would homosexual and heterosexual women and that age preference would not vary with participant age. Both predictions were supported, although homosexual women preferred older partners than expected. Results suggest that age and sex preferences develop independently."

what fresh hell...

It's not sexist or ageist to say that across time and cultures straight men have been more attracted to younger women, and straight women to older men - at their age that makes a bigger pool of potential suitors for men in a breakup like this. Show of hands: any men feel a stirring when viewing the photo above? Anyone?

Yeah, that is pretty sincerely sexist and ageist. It's essentialism. Honestly, can you not police women's bodies and rate their attractiveness (based solely on male reaction to them of course) on a feminist website? This is wildly terrible.

Who cares about the Gores.

Who cares about the Gores. We have more important things to worry about then their sex life. Besides they are to old for sex. Lol. Im sure they wouldnt want to hear about yours or even my sex life for that matter.

Actually i Do Care, and They're Not Too Old

Actually i do care about our former President-In-Exile and First Lady-In Exile. Al Gore should have stood up for the thousands if not tens of thousands of black voters who were disenfranchised, wrongfully purged from the voting roles, and illegally kept from voting in the 2000 Presidential election. He should have supported the challenges to Florida's Electors as John Kerry should have with respect to Ohio's Electors in the 2004 elections involving the black box voting scandals. Why wouldn't i be interested in the sex lives of people roughly my own age as the Gores are? Salacious details usually get readers even when the story is about old farts.

"With potentially 20 or more

"With potentially 20 or more good years of (highly sexual, if she wishes) life ahead of Tipper, why spend it unhappy?"

Wait, why would Tipper be unhappy alone? While I fully agree that the perception of the Gores' lives post-marriage is deeply based in ageism - why assume that happiness only comes from a relationship or sexual relationship?

Misreading

She's saying that Tipper might have been unhappy with Gore, not that she should be doing anything in particular romantically.

I don't think she's

I don't think she's necessarily misreading, the entire post was a deconstruction of ageist attitudes of Al & Tipper's sexuality post-marriage. Thus, the article itself engages with the possibilities of Tipper's relationship status which, is no big deal, but perhaps the post should present both possibilities. While, no, the authors don't explicitly say that - relationshipism is implicit to their discussion. So yes, I don't think the previous poster was misreading, so much as reading subtext. And I thought that was welcome here.

I have always had a fondness

I have always had a fondness for the Gores (Al because we have the same birthday and Tipper because she's a photographer) and was sad when I heard they were separating. I was not mad then nor am I mad now about her involvement with the warning stickers. I was angered about the classist and racist way the labeling was done, most of which had little to do with Tipper. I don't think there is anything wrong with parents being armed with the information to enable them to make informed choices about the content they allow their children access to. I mean, it helped my mom figure out what naughty word laden CD to purchase, but my mom's kind of an odd duck.

My fry butt cohort Raymond J wrote of the Gores' infamous kiss years ago and their current separation:

"I’m sure the earnestness is partly why it made so many people squeamish and uncomfortable (that, and general ageism, since we rarely see people over 40 depicted as sexual beings, in a non-fetishized way). And if this were an obituary to either of them as people, I would hate to harp on this one moment in the swan song, but since this is an half-hearted elegy to their 40 year marriage, it seems appropriate. So, goodbye to the Gores, collectively. May you both find happiness as amicable ex’s and as newly single. Welcome to the muddled space that so many have occupied! Stars (and politicians), they’re just like us."

I adored that entry. It seemed to find a way to discuss the split in a thoughtful way while eschewing ageism and sexism populating so many discussion of another public couple dissolving their relationship.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Who says they're both

Who says they're both straight?

sex and the single senior...and life after couplehood

Al and/or Tipper may ALREADY be in a sexual or romantic relationship with someone else! Now that I'm in middle age and interact with many older folks, I can assure everyone that there is sex after 40, 50, 60, 70, and yes, 80.

But never mind the sexuality part for a moment: The concept of "why would you leave someone after 40 years" is itself, well, couple-ism. There are many wonderful benefits to being a unit, and many downsides as well. There's many reasons someone might choose to be single again even as they love and respect their partner. One of them is having full autonomy to follow one's own path, or bliss, without having always to weigh how it affects "us."

I was sad to see them split, myself. But come to think of it, the idea that there can be an Act II to one's life at age 60 is an encouraging one.

I volunteered at a nursing home

Believe me, there are still plenty of shots at romance late in life. I also would recommend A Round-Heeled Woman by Jane Juska, a memoir of getting one's mojo back in one's mid-sixties.
I recently interviewed Donna Henes, author of "The Queen of Myself," a book about women at midlife. According to her, the vast majority of separations and divorces occur at midlife not because of the archetypal blonde secretary, but because the wife is simply tired of being married and caregiving for others. I was saddened to see them spilt as well, but please take into account that Tipper's been minding the family business of Al's political career since they were in college or high school. Being a politico's wife has been her job since then. Other people retire from their jobs in their age bracket. Maybe she just wanted to retire from being a political wife.

I wish them both infinite

I wish them both infinite eternal happiness, but I have to admit I was sad to hear of their separation. I am growing my own Al Gore post-2000 beard in mourning.