Janet Yellen is the most important person in the world economy.
The U.S. Federal Reserve Chairwoman mercilessly shattered the financial world’s dangerously low glass ceiling when she succeeded Ben Bernanke in this position earlier this year. Yesterday, Yellen spoke at this quarter’s Fed press conference, continuing a tradition that Bernanke started to increase transparency of Fed monetary policies to the public that is affected by them. It was a necessary measure — after the housing market crash and subsequent micro-depression around 2007-2009.
In her first speech as head of the Fed, Yellen announced that the organization would continue to taper its current quantitative easing program — which, for the last few quarters, has allowed the organization to buy back governmental bonds from investors, therefore pumping money into the domestic economy. However, the economy has more or less stabilized during the past couple of years, and tapering would allow the Fed to repurchase fewer and fewer bonds. This would cause interest rates in the country to further rise, thereby affecting both domestic and international markets.
In other words, the U.S. Fed plays a significant role in determining how, when, and the extent to which monetary transactions occur around the globe. It is one powerful organization — though its leaders deliberate behind closed doors, creating policies that we may or may not understand, their decisions deeply impact our lives. Do you want to buy a house any time soon? What about a car? Maybe you want to take out loans for college or to start a small business…the Fed’s policies — whether beneficial or detrimental to you — affect any monetary decisions you could make, as either a borrower or a lender.
So, Yellen — who serves at the Fed’s helm — is someone who matters a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot. And if you don’t know exactly who she is or what she does, you should find out because every decision that she makes — every well-thought out and efficiently executed plan or every whimsical, what-the-hell-let’s-just-try-this idea — impacts you.
Before Yellen spoke yesterday, I read a bit more about the Fed and its current programs. I’m an economics major, with a finance concentration, but I’m also just a massive nerd — reading about economic or monetary issues excites me as much as watching episodes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians (before Kim got together with Kanye and was, at least, a palatable human being) or piercing various body parts out of boredom. It’s all fun — try it.
One particular newsbyte about Yellen, republished on a popular news site, stuck out to me. A prominent investment strategist, Ed Yardeni, had called Yellen “the fairy godmother of the bull market because stock prices tend to rise on days she speaks publicly about the economy and monetary policy.”
Excuse me? The “fairy godmother of the bull market?” How can you call Janet Yellen, the foremost economic leader in the entire world, the “fairy godmother” of any institution?
Though Yardeni’s comment is not particularly harmful on its own, it reflects the way in which we perceive female moneymakers (of which there are few) and female leaders (of which there are fewer), in general. The term “fairy godmother” invokes the image of a kindly, plump older woman — waving a sparkly wand whilst bundles of cash magically appear out of nowhere. Like that sweet, gray-haired lady in Cinderella who conjured dresses and glass slippers out of thin air! Yardeni’s comment diminishes Yellen’s responsibilities as chairwoman of the Fed because it suggests that he takes her less seriously than he should. Thus, how can we possibly find her a legitimate leader, as legitimate as Bernanke and Alan Greenspan before her, with that image in mind?
Don’t get me wrong. The issue is not that Yardeni lightheartedly joked about Yellen. Joking about political and financial leaders is an excellent means of humanizing them — making them seem more interesting or (ir)relevant. Um, otherwise, how would Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart have gained such popularity? However, this particular instance of irreverence seems sexist. If that doesn’t make you feel some kind of way, take a step back and think about this: would anyone ever refer to Barack Obama as the Santa Claus of the free world? Or Bernanke, Mr. Moneybags before Yellen took control, as the jig-dancing, coin-tossing leprechaun of the financial markets?
Yardeni’s remark suggests that, like, DUH, the bull market does not thrive because Yellen brainstormed effective policies — no, no, real leaders do that. The bull market thrives — if it does, and boy, that’s a major “if” these days — because Yellen pointed her manicured finger at a stock index or a table of interest rates and said, “Go!” Magic — the kind that fairy godmothers possess! Despite her position, she’s just a woman. So, let’s reduce her policies to bumbling luck when they are successful and idiocy when they are not. Let’s take her less seriously — the same way we talk to or about leaders like Hillary Clinton or Sheryl Sandberg, who could have, like, practically been soccer moms in other lives…right?!?!?!?
Why are we so focused on banning words like “bossy” when we also accept, gratify, or consume micro-aggressive remarks like Yardeni’s without realizing or reacting to its underlying prejudice? Comments like his are harmful not because of their particular rhetoric but because of the mindsets that they foster. Sexism. Delegitimizing female leadership. Like how, in interviews, we expect Clinton to talk about her latest haircut rather than her policies. Like how we focus on Michelle Obama’s sartorial choices instead of the work that she does. Like how we diminish female leaders when they express emotion but ridicule them when they are firm, aggressive, and dominant — the same traits we expect and celebrate in male leaders.
Listen, Janet Yellen is not the bull market’s “fairy godmother.” Instead, she grabs that bull market by its unruly horns and takes it wherever it needs to go. She’s the boss lady in charge, and we need to realize that.