The Year of the Woman

The new head of the Fed is the latest encouraging sign that women are taking charge.

click to enlarge Janet Yellen - Jeanne Meinke
Jeanne Meinke
Janet Yellen

click to enlarge Janet Yellen - Jeanne Meinke
Jeanne Meinke
Janet Yellen

Money, the long green,
cash, stash, rhino, jack
or just plain dough.

Chock it up, fork it over,
shell it out. Watch it
burn holes through pockets.

Unlike a good man, a good woman isn’t hard to find, but in today’s odorous political stew, it’s hard to get one appointed. By “good” I mean smart, strong, and imaginative enough to consider who gets harmed as well as who benefits from any decision. This may leave out Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, but in general women seem able to navigate these stormy waters better than men.

The new stream-lined filibuster rules will help get more qualified women through the Republican bloc in the Senate. It’s a bit risky to restrict the filibuster, but since it’s been gamed into an almost daily ploy, it was time for a change. This was the only way, for example, to get gifted women like Patricia Millett appointed to the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia.

They’re all important, but these were just the background for the decision to replace Ben Bernanke with Janet Yellen as head of the Federal Reserve, America’s central banking system — the first woman to crash through the glass ceiling of national high finance. Although, on paper, she’s by far the most qualified person ever nominated for this position, the Heritage Foundation pressured Republicans to unite against her, calling all who might support her nomination “enemies” and “traitors.” In the end, because of the change in rules, only 26 Senators (all Republicans) voted against her.

Although writing these columns has of course made me rich, I still feel more comfortable writing about poetry than money. But one thing I’ve noticed is that the influx of large numbers of women into poetry writing (they’ve always been the majority of poetry readers) has raised the level of “fellowship” — interesting word in this context — among poets. Women in all fields seem more skilled at cooperation than their male counterparts, who are still playing King of the Hill. Governor Christie, anyone?

President Obama tends to appoint moderates, but even so, Senator Mitch “100% Anti-Obama” McConnell fights every nomination. (In Yellen’s case, McConnell wimpishly didn’t vote, seeing they couldn’t win with the new rules.) As a bonus to her own qualifications, Yellen offers a rare two-for-one opportunity: her husband is the Nobel Prize-winning economist George Akerlof. I’d love to hear their dinner conversations (Maybe cut back on the salt, dear, and tweak the butter).

Yellen has stated that lowering unemployment is her major goal, backing the Fed’s stimulus campaign and supporting regulation of business. The fact that, like me, she was born in Brooklyn probably means nothing …
Suddenly, America’s getting a long-delayed boost by turning to the capable women knocking on our various doors: the talented Natasha Trethewey is our current Poet Laureate; brilliant Mary Barra has just been made GM’s first female CEO; closer to home, Florida A&M University recently appointed Elmira Mangum, formerly vice president of budget at Cornell University, to be its first female president.

Money’s a hard subject (poetry’s not for sissies, either) and we need toughness here, but there’s no reason that a hard head can’t work with a warm heart. Janet Yellen has already proved she’s tougher than Ben Bernanke, standing up to Alan Greenspan when she was the vice chairwoman of the Fed, and predicting correctly that his laissez-faire policies would lead to the bursting real estate bubble and our long-lasting depression.

The “Head of the Fed” is a big position. An Asian friend has told us that in China this is the Year of the Horse (“those born in Horse Years are skilful with money”), but I’m thinking that in America 2014 will be the Year of the Woman.

It greases the palm, feathers the nest,
holds heads above water,
makes both ends meet…

Money. You don’t know where it’s been,
but you put it where your mouth is.
And it talks.

—Both quotes from “Money,” by Dana Gioia, in The Gods of Winter (Graywolf Press 1991).

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