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Only Unserious People Question Janet Yellen’s ‘Gravitas’

Yellen, vice chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve
Yellen, vice chairman of the U.S. Federal ReservePhotograph by Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

With three finalists for the job of replacing Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve—three accomplished, gray-haired, jowly individuals in their upper 50s and beyond—why is only one said to be lacking “gravitas”?

The debate over whom President Obama will choose has coalesced around this insidious word—gravitas—and the question of whether Janet Yellen, currently the Fed’s vice chairman, has the quality. By definition the term means “seriousness, solemnity, or importance,” but it’s also become code for the difficult-to-define resistance certain eminent men appear to have to seeing women in positions of authority. She lacks gravitas translates roughly into some through-the-looking-glass version of: I can’t see myself taking orders from someone wearing a skirt.