“A bird of a different feather”: 5 things Federal Reserve Chair nominee Janet Yellen has been called

Janet Yellen, pictured here looking mildly amused.

Janet Yellen will be nominated as the next chair of the Federal Reserve today. She is, by all accounts, an excellent economist and eminently qualified for the position. Colleagues regularly speak highly of her intellect, diligence and approach to leadership, according to numerous profiles. But there are other ways she’s been described. I compiled five, not necessarily to point to blatant sexism (although there will certainly be much of that as the confirmation process moves forward), but mostly because I think they are interesting and relevant and a little bit strange.

1) “A bird of a different feather.

Said by: Peter Coy of Bloomberg Businessweek 

Bird analogies are quite common in economics:  The hawk “worries about inflation and stands for sound money” while the dove “wants maximum employment” according to one business writer. In general, someone who promotes the maintenance of low interest rates is considered “dovish”, the opposite of the term “hawk”. But for Yellen, the bird analogies are all over the place. “Dove” is the label most often applied to Yellen,” we’re told by Bloomberg, despite the fact that her record “shows that she has not always argued for easy monetary policy and higher inflation.” Perhaps she is more of a spotted owl, with the wingspan of a Lappet Faced Vulture? Regardless, Yellen will have to convey the nuanced message that “she has the head of a hawk and the soul of a dove”, according to Coy, which sounds downright tricky to me.

2) “A small lady with a large I.Q.”

Said by: Anonymous colleague, to the New York Times. 

In addition to “small”, Yellen has also been repeatedly described as “soft-spoken”, “somewhat nerdy”, and “white haired and rosy cheeked” which of course raises the question: is this woman Snow White? Yellen’s white hair, seemingly par for the course for a woman in her 70’s, has caused some to predict that her “thatch of white hair and rosy cheeks will soon be as familiar to the public as Bernanke’s trimmed beard or Alan Greenspan’s owlish glasses.” Only time will tell! In the meantime, I recommend she avoid eating apples, especially the really shiny ones.

3) “In the prime of a late-blooming career” (like other women of her generation) 

Said by: New York Times reporter Binyamin Appelbaum, when describing how Yellen likely regards herself.

I don’t have much to add about this; I just think it’s interesting. I mean, is this a Thing? Did many women in Yellen’s generation have late blooming careers? Trend piece or it didn’t happen.

4) An activist.

Said by: Peter Coy of Bloomberg Businessweek; also herself (in so many words) 

Coy reneged on his complicated hawk head/dove soul analogy to say that a  more accurate description of Yellen than dove is “activist”—someone who isn’t afraid to wield the Fed’s enormous power to affect the real world.”  In a way, Yellen would seem to support this claim, speaking of herself as apolitical in one interview but telling the Yale Daily News that her mentors valued work that “not only meet a high intellectual standard, but would improve the well-being of mankind.”

5) An “economics superstar” and potentially the most powerful policymaker in the world.

Said by: Pretty much everyone

While descriptors 1-4 are real, most people describe Yellen as simply excellent, and a likely candidate to be the first woman ever to chair the Federal Reserve in its 100-year history. In doing so, Yellen would be cracking one of the highest glass ceilings out there. Given this, may I advise we start referring to her simply as Chairwoman Yellen?

Runners up: Methodical, not manic“; a “pragmatic, mainstream economist with a strong policy orientation” (her words!); “not Larry Summers“. 


Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman started blogging with Feministing in 2008, and now runs partnerships and strategy as a co-Executive Director. She is also the Director of Youth Engagement at Women Deliver, where she promotes meaningful youth engagement in international development efforts, including through running the award-winning Women Deliver Young Leaders Program. Lori was formerly the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and has also worked at the United Nations Foundation on the Secretary-General's flagship Every Woman Every Child initiative, and at the International Women’s Health Coalition and Human Rights Watch. As a leading voice on women’s rights issues, Lori frequently consults, speaks and publishes on feminism, activism and movement-building. A graduate of Harvard University, Lori has been named to The Root 100 list of the most influential African Americans in the United States, and to Forbes Magazine‘s list of the “30 Under 30” successful mediamakers. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

Read more about Lori

Join the Conversation