Opinion: Columnists

Obama's Fed pick delay has feminist critics Yellen

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Columnists,Shikha Dalmia,Barack Obama,Bill Clinton,Analysis,Janet Yellen,Larry Summers

President Obama might find it easier to defuse Syria’s chemical weapons than the wrath of feminists if he doesn’t promote Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Janet Yellen to the chairman’s position.

Her appointment has become the litmus test of Obama’s sexism for the feminist establishment already angry that he hasn’t made gender equality his personal priority.

There are many good reasons for and against Obama naming Yellen. But viewing them from the narrow lens of sexism might ultimately leave women less -- not more -- empowered.

Feminists complain that, although the number of men and women working for Uncle Sam in the lower ranks is equal, women are highly underrepresented in top-level positions, a pattern that Obama allegedly is perpetuating.

About 42 percent of federal judges appointed by Obama are women. But apart from naming two justices to the Supreme Court, Obama’s diversity record in the upper echelons is decidedly lackluster.

Only 35 percent of his second-term cabinet consists of women -- less than Bill Clinton’s 41 percent 15 years ago. Worse, none of these women are in top positions since Hillary Clinton stepped down as Secretary of State.

Most disappointing to liberals, however, is Obama’s inner White House circle, which, with Valerie Jarrett’s exception, is dominated by white men.

Passing up the opportunity to make history by naming a woman to head the Fed will be final proof that Obama doesn’t care about female advancement, according to the critics.

This is especially the case given that Yellen’s competitor -- and reportedly Obama’s favorite -- is Larry Summers, an abrasive man with a misogynistic streak whom feminists have despised ever since he suggested that women aren’t as good as men at math and science.

Christina Romer, former head of the Council of Economic Advisers, once complained that he made her feel like “a piece of meat” during meetings.

Is it possible that Obama, a movement liberal, who, with First Lady Michelle Obama, is raising two daughters, is a closet sexist? Or are there other explanations for his choices?

Presidents need to surround themselves with people they are most comfortable with and Obama seems to have a greater comfort-level with men. That’s not because he’s sexist -- but because he is asocial.

Clinton was a social omnivore able to connect with men and women at many levels. Obama, by contrast, is introverted and aloof.

This creates barriers that men can overcome more easily than women -- just as women can reach out to their shy sisters more easily than men.

Allowing no accommodation for personal traits that affect the parochial gender arithmetic may or may not make for a more equal society -- but it’ll certainly make for a more oppressive one.

Consider Harvard Business School’s aggressive social experiment to eliminate the gender grade gap that was the subject recently of a front-page New York Times feature.

The school revamped instruction to make sure men didn’t hog discussion. Everything -- the way students “spoke, studied and socialized” -- became subject to intervention.

Women were coached to raise their hands more assertively -- and men less assertively. Because administrators felt that even Harvard women were more interested in finding a highly-paid husband over a highly-paying job, Halloween costumes were banned in classrooms lest girls came dressed as “sexy pirates” to attract male attention. Group dates were arranged and alcohol at parties prohibited.

Such Big Sister puritanism has boosted the number of women graduating with honors -- but it has also triggered a rebellion by male and female students who resented the loss of control over their lives.

Some of them donned T-shirts emblazoned with “Unapologetic” to mock the administrator who used the word constantly to defend her intrusive schemes.

Feminist bean counters need to give Obama some space to assemble a team that he can work with most effectively.

Personal choices and social relations reflect complex calculations. Making them hew to the unitary criterion of sexism might produce more equality -- but not at a price worth paying.

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