Saturday, August 03, 2013

I Lack Gravitas. So Does Janet Yellen.

Writes she, while happily skipping about, cracking jokes and then bursting into feminine tears. 

Well not really.  But I was trying to reduce the gravitas of a post about Al Hunt writing on the relative merits of Janet Yellen and Larry Summers as the next chair of the Federal Reserve.  This is what Hunt wrote:
The public airing of the Summers-versus-Yellen debate has made the selection more controversial. Summers, who served as President Bill Clinton's Treasury secretary and was Obama's chief economic adviser, would face a difficult Senate confirmation.
The president, according to people familiar with his thinking, believes Summers has the experience and expertise to succeed Ben Bernanke. No one doubts Yellen's credentials as an economist, but questions have been raised, mainly by those in the Summers camp, about whether she has the gravitas to manage a financial crisis.
Bolds are mine.

Here's one dictionary definition of gravitas:
1. Substance; weightiness: a frivolous biography that lacks the gravitas of its subject.
2. A serious or dignified demeanor: "Our national father figure needs gravitas, [but] he's pitched himself as the kid brother" (John Leo).
What's the problem with that criticism?  As Matthew Yglesias writes
This is also a great example of why lining up woman validators to vouch for Summers' feminist bona fides won't really answer the charge that sexism is driving the pro-Summers sentiment. The sexism at work here just isn't about whether or not some of Summers' best friends are women. It's about the fact that there's never been a woman leader of a major central bank. Consequently, the social image of a classic central banker is necessarily the image of a man.As a result, a 60-something woman who's served on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, chaired the Council of Economic Advisors, led the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and become Vice Chair of the Fed Board can be dismissed as lacking "gravitas" compared to an alternate candidate who on paper seems less qualified. If a woman can't acquire the necessary "gravitas" to do the job by having Yellen's career, then what exactly could she do?
Indeed. I guess Yellen could try to figure out how she could look more weighty, filled with more substance or how she could acquire a more dignified demeanor.  But if being qualified is insufficient I'm not sure what might work.  Wearing a Larry Summers mask?

The point of this post is not to debate the relative advantages of these two candidates as individual professionals.  It's to demonstrate how seemingly gender-neutral criticisms might not be so neutral, after all, if they are used differently about men and women, say.