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Can a Woman Run the Federal Reserve?

Of course.

But a lot of people apparently aren’t so sure. In its screed against Janet Yellen, vice chair of the Fed since 2010 and one of the three candidates on President Obama’s short list to replace Ben Bernanke, the Wall Street Journal complained that Yellen’s fans support her only because she is a woman:

[H]er cause has been taken up by the liberal diversity police as a gender issue because she’d be the first female Fed chairman.

Nancy Pelosi has bellowed her support, and Christina Romer, who was chief White House economist for the first two years of Mr. Obama’s Presidency, has all but said it would be a defeat for women if Ms. Yellen doesn’t get the Fed job. That led our friends at the New York Sun to wonder if they had somehow missed the creation of “the female dollar” given that they thought the Fed’s main task is to preserve the value of the currency.

While grudgingly admitting that Yellen “doesn’t lack for professional credentials,” the Journal denigrates her candidacy as merely a cause issue for “aficionados of diversity politics.”

Paul Krugman called out the Journal’s sexist analysis in his New York Times column today and drew attention to the misogyny-fueled misgivings about her candidacy:

The other campaign against Ms. Yellen has been subtler, involving repeated suggestions — almost always off the record — that she lacks the “gravitas” to lead the Fed. What does that mean? Well, suppose we were talking about a man with Ms. Yellen’s credentials: distinguished academic work, leader of the Council of Economic Advisers, six years as president of the San Francisco Fed, a record of working effectively with colleagues at the Board of Governors. Would anyone suggest that a man with those credentials was somehow unqualified for office?

Sorry, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that gravitas, in this context, mainly means possessing a Y chromosome.

Matthew Yglesias of Slate was blunter:

It is difficult to know how to read “gravitas” in this context as meaning something other than “a penis.”

When Aristotle described markers of the “great-souled man” in Book 4, chapter 3 of his Nicomachean Ethics, he called attention to the way such a person talks and walks:

[A] slow step is thought proper to the proud man, a deep voice, and a level utterance; for the man who takes few things seriously is not likely to be hurried, nor the man who thinks nothing great to be excited, while a shrill voice and a rapid gait are the results of hurry and excitement

Lest the term “man” were to be erroneously read as “human being,” Aristotle emphasized the manly attributes of a low voice and a deliberate step as essential characteristics of a person with a great soul.

When it comes to gender stereotypes, we apparently haven’t come as far as we think we have in the past twenty-four or so centuries. (To its credit, the Journal was generous enough to masculinize Nancy Pelosi by writing that she is capable of “bellowing.” If only it weren’t for her whimsically rapid gait.)


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