President Obama’s esteem for women is evident in both his personal and professional life: this is a man who is willing to wear a feminist shirt and then live the logo. A man who values women so much that he has crafted the Affordable Care Act, which benefits millions of women by removing unfair obstructions to their care. In addition, he’s shown that he’s willing to appoint highly qualified women to the positions of power they deserve. This is a man who doesn’t believe that gravitas only emanates from men.
Why, then, wouldn’t he appoint Janet Yellen as the next Chair of the Federal Reserve Board, when she is clearly the most qualified candidate?
It doesn’t require cynicism—indeed, it takes only an understanding of our political landscape and a good listening ear—to conjecture that that those who do not value women as equal partners, many of whom remember and sorely miss a time when women were anything but equal, are putting political and financial pressure on Obama. And the topic at the center of political pressure these days is the Affordable Care Act, which many Republicans are blocking by any and all available tactics. Putting two and two together, then, requires this conclusion: it is very possible that Obama is being asked to overlook Yellen in favor of the healthcare of millions of women.
I don’t envy him this position, or the trade-offs it entails. I wouldn’t want to have to make them, and I realize that his decisions must do the greatest good for the greatest number of American women, men, and children.
However, as he is weighing options, I hope he considers: when you agree to a trade-off that dismisses an incredibly qualified woman for a high-profile, influential position of power in America, you are trading away more than just that one position, that particular power. You are compromising the self-perception of women and girls, the ways in which we believe it is possible to succeed.
This compromise is both abstract and concrete. In the abstract, girls and women who are struggling against the self-doubt that our culture ubiquitously seeds within us will unconsciously absorb the idea that power (especially financial power) and men go together like love and marriage. And concretely, we will see that all the talk of breaking glass ceilings and bringing true gender parity to fruition in this country can be dismissed with the wave of a male hand.
This, in fact, is what those who do not wish to see equality move forward are counting on.
It is why they might ask the president to consider trading one woman’s job—and the financial power, both real and symbolic, it conveys—for the health, particularly the reproductive health, of millions of women.
That he might even have to consider such a trade-off—and that it isn’t too hard to imagine he would—speaks volumes about the state of gender equality in this country.