It's been less than twenty-four hours since a jury found Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes guilty of four (of eleven) counts: conspiracy to commit wire fraud against Theranos investors and three accounts of wire fraud against three different Theranos investors. But I’m already confused. Is Elizabeth Holmes’s possible twenty-year jail sentence good or bad for women? It’s impossible to make that call so soon. Or perhaps it’s really easy. In either case, one vital detail has emerged from our websites of record over the past few months, locked and loaded: Elizabeth Holmes is a woman. Let’s take a look.
In September, The Guardian wondered if Elizabeth Holmes’s trial spelled “the end of the #girlboss era.” The question in the headline wasn’t really answered. While acknowledging that Holmes is blonde, white, and born to immense privilege, writer Arwa Mahdawi ultimately concluded that above all, she’s a woman. And as such, Holmes’s womanhood implicates other womanses. “When a prominent woman is disgraced, however, all women are implicated. The bar has always been higher for women; Holmes’s downfall may have raised it higher still,” she wrote. So true, chica.
Quartz also proffered the same “referendum” on girlbossery and came to a similar conclusion in September: There is no conclusion, except that Holmes is a woman, and most of her contemporaries were men, which made her different from them, gender-wise. “Holmes’ gender was always part of what made her stand out in a sea of young entrepreneurs, making her a subject of fascination first as an emblem of Silicon Valley’s starry-eyed ambition, then as a scamming anti-hero,” Sarah Todd wrote. Thank you.
Another “referendum” on gender appeared on the New York Times podcast “The Daily,” in an episode titled “Does Elizabeth Holmes’s Gender Matter?” Yep, it does, insofar as she is a woman, according to national correspondent Erin Griffith.
In 2019, Financial Times writer Gillian Tett also weighed in on Holmes’s feminine scamming in an article entitled “What Elizabeth Holmes taught me about gender bias,” detailing a dinner they shared in Aspen four years prior. Tett describes buying into the hype around Theranos despite her initial skepticism because “after a lifetime of writing about male entrepreneurs, I was eager to believe in her story.” There it is again — her. Holmes is a girl. “ If Holmes had been just another Silicon Valley male geek touting a then-unproven medical innovation, she probably would not have graced the cover of Forbes magazine,” Tett wrote. Sex sells, when it comes to women, I suppose.
In December, Salon looked at Holmes’s impending legal through the lens of Ghislaine Maxwell, who was standing trial for trafficking minors for Jeffery Epstein. Amanda Marcotte wrote that both “have legal defenses that are relying on a glib and phony form of feminism” in which they’re portrayed as victims of male abuse. Whenever there are two women, they are bound to have at least one thing in common: being a woman.
All of this definitive discourse armed me for Slate’s polarizing piece today in which Lara Stemple wrote that Elizabeth Holmes’s conviction is “actually a win for women.” It’s a Butlerian take on Silicon Valley: Holmes played with gender presentation in the boardroom, embracing masculine signifiers like turtlenecks (drag king alert), but in court she performed a sort of feminine-coded victimhood.
“No longer fighting for investments from notoriously sexist venture capitalists, and instead angling for sympathy from the regular men and women who comprised the jury, Holmes became the feminine yin to her formerly masculine yang,” wrote Stemple. Holmes’s lawyers “sought to cloak their case in feminism, but really they suggested that a women like Holmes didn’t have the wherewithal to run a complex scheme; the real culprit must have been a man. Luckily, the jury didn’t buy it.”
The win for women that Stemple alluded to, I guess, is that bad girls should be punished. Specifically, bad girls like Elizabeth Holmes, who is a woman. Lock her up!
What do you think? When it comes to Elizabeth Holmes, is she a woman?