Lawrence "Larry" Summers is the front-runner to succeed Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve when he steps down in January, even though Janet Yellen is more qualified — and doesn't think women are bad at math because they have puny ladybrains and selfishly choose to stay home and raise children. Why? Because Janet doesn't have a dick.
Even if Summers had never made the idiotic and damaging proclamations about women that cost him his Harvard presidency — we'll get to that in a second — scores of experts think Yellen is the right person for the job. Here's a brief bio from Sheila Bair, the former Chairperson of the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation:
A noted economist, Yellen headed the Council of Economic Advisors for two years; led the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank for six years; and has served ably as Bernanke's Vice Chairman since 2010. Unlike Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, and other Bob Rubin — minions frequently mentioned in the financial press as potential Bernanke successors — she was not part of the deregulatory cabal that got us into the 2008 financial crisis. In fact, she had a solid record as a bank regulator at the San Francisco Fed and was one of the few in the Fed system to sound the alarm on the risks of subprime mortgages in 2007.
And yet! There's something about her that's just not "Federal Reserve-y" enough. What could it be? What differentiates her from every other person who has held the esteemed position? Oh, right: she's not a dude, as noted by Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Richard Fisher, who suggested on CNBC that if Yellen is chosen, the pick will have been “driven by gender” even though she is "extremely capable." Ezra Klein says Fisher's not the only doubter:
In conversations with members of the Federal Reserve, the Obama administration, financial reporters and the broader monetary-policy community, I’ve had a surprising number of discussions that follow the same pattern: “Yellen is great,” my interlocutor will say. “But … ”
The “but” is a variation on a theme. She lacks “toughness.” She’s short on “gravitas.” Too “soft-spoken” or “passive.” Some mused that she is not as aggressively brilliant or intellectually probing as other candidates — though they hasten to say she’s clearly very knowledgeable about monetary policy. Others have wondered whether she could handle the inevitable fights with Congress.
Bernake is pretty soft-spoken himself, but he's a man, and therefore more suitable for the job than Yellen, who doesn't fit the macho "portrait etched in many minds of high-level economic policy makers."
Larry Summers isn't just the lesser candidate based on economic knowhow — he's a hopeless sexist who, while president of Harvard, notoriously argued that "innate" differences in sex may explain why there are fewer female higher-ups in science and math careers. (No mention of tests and grading systems that have been shown to be biased. No history of other activities people once claimed women couldn't handle because they weren't given the opportunity to do so, such as drive cars or vote.) During the same academic conference, he said women often choose to focus on their families rather than put their all into their careers. What about all the men who are able to focus so well because they have wives at home sacrificing their own careers to hold down the fort? Nope, no mention whatsoever.
Lots of people agree that women "choose" to selfishly "have it all" and prefer flexible schedules and thus deserve to make less money as penance — it would be inconvenient for them to acknowledge that women have always been and are still largely considered responsible for raising children and so are often forced to prioritize family-friendly career paths. But lots of people also thought Summers' remarks were terribly unbecoming someone in a position of power, which is why he resigned. It was that big a deal! And it's a way bigger deal to be chairman of the Federal Reserve than it is to be an Ivy League president.
Do we really want the person in charge of making sure our country's economy isn't totally fucked beyond repair — already quite the challenge — to be someone who believes half the population is kinda dumb? (It's not your fault, ladies. It's science.) Do we want that person to blow off the systemic underrepresentation of women, not just in the boy's club of monetary economics/Wall Street but in all relevant sectors of the economy? No. Even my feeble cavewoman brain is sure of that.
Image via Getty.