Rebekah Brooks and Ina Drew: When Women in Power Are Punished

What does Ina Drew, former J.P. Morgan executive at the center of the bank's recent loss, have in common with Rebekah Brooks?

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There's a new fall gal in town. She's Ina Drew, the 55-year-old J.P. Morgan executive at the center of the bank's recent $2 billion loss on risky trades. She's a woman who stands to get $14.7 million (she'd been with the company for 30 years) upon her resignation; she's a woman who was one of the highest paid employees of the bank. Oh, and did we note that she's a woman. Which is one thing that Drew has in common with Rebekah Brooks, who was charged Tuesday with "perverting the course of justice" in the investigation of News International's phone-hacking scandal. Does being a woman mean the punishments are harsher in these sorts of crimes? And why does it seem that woman must take the fall for their male bosses, in these cases? Following Drew's resignation after the JP Morgan scandal, Bryce Covert writes in Forbes:

Who was the first to go? Was it the London Whale, so called because he made the massive, market-skewing bets that got JP Morgan into this mess? Was it Jamie Dimon, the CEO who may have ignored the warning signs?

Nope. The first head to roll was female. Ina R. Drew, JP Morgan’s Chief Investment Officer who was in charge of the division in which the catastrophic trades were made, was the first resignation. She stepped down yesterday.

This means that “one of the top women on Wall Street,” as the New York Times called her, will now disappear. She’s been replaced by two men.

This is especially sad as Drew appeared to work to support and mentor women. In The New York Times, Nelson D. Schwartz and Jessica Silver-Greenberg write that Drew's resignation is part of "an effort to stem the ire that the bank faces from regulators and investors." Some of her male traders are expected to go as well. She made bad decisions, perhaps, but has been described as "a person of the highest integrity." Does the punishment fit the crime? “'This is killing her,' one of the former JPMorgan executives said, adding that 'in banking, there are very large knives.'”

And in this case, very large losses. But Drew was not the end of the line: Above her, of course, was Jamie Dimon. As Reuters'  Matt Scuffham and David Henry write:

"Dimon has fallen on his sword, promised to take action, tossed a few players under the bus ... nothing left to be done that is not already under way," said Edward Shill, chief investment officer of QCI Asset Management, which held more than 280,000 shares as of March 31.  

So, that's that. Except not, necessarily.
Drew hasn't faced the kind of looks-criticism, nor character-censuring, that Brooks, a more polarizing character in her persona and her crime, has been subjected to. Brooks has been taken to task for the hacking of a murdered teen's cell phone on her watch, yes, but also for her red hair, her overall appearance, her fashion (including the Puritanical dress she wore to High Court in London on May 11; pictured above), and not least, because she is a woman. Brooks was charged along with a group of men—her husband, her chauffeur, and two security guards—as well as another woman, her former assistant Cheryl Carter. But Brooks, it can be argued, is the face of the Leveson inquiry. She's the one we pay attention to, anyway. In The Telegraph, Brendan O'Neill has an enlightening piece titled "Rebekah Brooks: the only woman in Britain you’re allowed to be sexist about." In the column, he compares Brooks to "the Yoko Ono of modern British politics" and posits that even feminists have broken solidarity with Brooks. He writes:

If any other woman had been talked about in the way that Brooks was – with all the focus on her “shock of hair”, her knees, her sashaying attitude, her alchemical allure – there would have been outrage. Not in the case of Brooks. The media and The Man can perv over her looks as much as they like, and feminists normally so sensitive to such things will not bat an eyelid.

Both the interrogation of Brooks and the media coverage it received were based on the age-old sexist idea that attractive, conniving women have the power to corrupt entire political systems. It was like we had been transported back to the 17th century. Robert Jay QC put it to her that she understood “the potential of personal alchemy”, explicitly hinting at her witch-like allure. The Evening Standard preferred “pirate” to witch, reporting that “Britain’s greatest female villain… sashayed in, a pirate with those wild auburn curls”. The Standard seemed unhealthily obsessed with Brooks’ sexuality. Her dress “rode cheekily above the knee”; her hair was a “rich, dense, wild waterfall”; she “gazed seductively” at Robert Jay. (He wishes.)

Seductiveness, showing off her knees, wild of hair: It's almost like Brooks is getting a dose of slut-shaming to go with her prosecution. O'Neill explains that the public wants to make Brooks into a "modern-day siren" who "ensnares powerful men. As such, she gets described in the ways we describe "bad women": wicked temptress, the figure of Eve, the female leading the man down the path of corruption. Even the generic parenthetical carries a hint of this; would a man be described as recognizable for his hair? (See Reuters' "Instantly recognisable with her long mane of red curls" descriptor.)

More terrifying than a simply bad-intentioned woman, though, or a woman who makes mistakes, is an attractive, bad-intentioned woman who willfully and wantonly aspires to power—and even worse, gets it. In a recent piece in Vanity Fair, Suzanna Andrews writes that Brooks' "ambition had been described by the British media as 'terrifying' and 'phosphorescent.'" She mentions her nonstop work ethic, her intensity, and her desperation for "love and attention." These characteristics play as character flaws, not positives. Nonetheless, Murdoch and his family were all "in love with her."

In The Telegraph, O'Neill goes on to explain that the censure of Brooks is a class thing, too. Where did Brooks, the daughter of a gardener, come from? A man, on the other hand, would likely be complimented for pulling himself up by his bootstraps; Brooks is doubted, not trusted, and considered a possible phony. "The animosity towards Brooks is only partly motivated by her role in phone-hacking. A bigger chunk of it is driven by disgust for women who are “terrifyingly ambitious”, especially those who come from the wrong side of the tracks," he writes.

Drew, too, was ambitious—she'd have to be—and was a woman in a male-dominated world. But she was attempting to shift that, and what for Brooks is characterized as raw female ambition seems a kinder, gentler sort (in so much as people are quoted) in Drew. Schwartz and Silver-Greenberg write:

In the largely male word of the banking elite, trading is an especially testosterone-laden niche, but Ms. Drew encouraged women to go into trading, arguing that working predictable market hours was actually a benefit in terms of balancing career and family.

“I’m very upset for her,” said William Harrison, who was chief executive of JPMorgan Chase before Mr. Dimon’s tenure. “She looked out for the company first. I’ve always been a great fan.”

It stands to reason that as more women win leadership positions in companies and in business, some of them would end up making mistakes there—men have been doing the same in the business world for years. But when they do, we can't help remarking on these women as women. Remember when Martha Stewart went to jail over insider trading charges? Somehow, the fact that a blonde professional home-maker would be behind bars was a bigger deal than, say, the imprisonment of your average Wall Street crook. Women are supposed to be the "gentler" sex, stereotyped as nurturing and good: They're not supposed to be the ones behind phone-hacks and bad trades. When that does happen, do we punish women more than we would men who did the same thing?

Weirdly, there's a possible bright side here. Perhaps Brooks and Drew's comeuppances can be seen in some ways as sign of progress. If there are more women on the top, it stands to reason that some of them, like men, would fall. When they do, the best we can do is to not focus on how they look, but instead, talk about what they actually did wrong.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.