The narrative for feminist STEM poster child Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos continues to unravel. Last week the WSJ published an article titled Agony, Alarm and Anger for People Hurt by Theranos’s Botched Blood Tests (paywall warning). As the title suggests, the article shares examples of the anguish caused by inaccurate Theronos test results. And the inaccurate test results were themselves due to a focus on image over substance and rigor. One expert the Journal discussed the situation with explained:
They were just going through the motions.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Feminism is in many ways a cargo cult, with the pervasive belief that if women just ape the dress, language, and mannerisms of men, the accomplishments they see men achieving will magically follow. Indeed, play acting the role of a famous man is all it takes to become a true feminist hero. This is why all it took for Amelia Earhart to be nicknamed Lady Lindy and Queen of the Air and be thrown a ticker tape parade was to cut her hair short, don a flight jacket, and ride as a passenger on a transatlantic flight.
The same could be said for Holmes and Theranos. What exactly did Holmes accomplish besides mimicking the dress and mannerisms of Steve Jobs and declaring that she was going to change the world? In both cases, all it took was a coat and a hairstyle, and feminists around the world swooned.
Just a few days before the WSJ piece, Jonathan Gottschall published his own devastating Theranos piece at Harvard Business Review titled Theranos and the Dark Side of Storytelling (emphasis mine):
Holmes constructed an inspiring hero narrative starring herself—a precocious girl-genius who, at nineteen years of age, began pioneering medical technologies that could potentially save millions of lives around the world. Despite abundant warning signs, and despite the Silicon Valley company’s refusal to provide real evidence that their technology worked, journalists didn’t skeptically evaluate Holmes’s story—they simply repeated it. They told and re-told Holmes’s story until she began to seem less like an actual person, and more like a living symbol—of progress, of innovation, of female empowerment. The problem, as The Wall Street Journal’s John Carreyrou has reported in more than a score of articles, was that there was little to Theranos beyond its story—and that story was mainly fictional.
Gottschall blames this on a general willingness of venture capitalists and the media to fall for a good story. This certainly is a human weakness, but in this case the bolded part above is quite important. This was the story they desperately wanted to believe, and it is a story feminism has primed all of us to believe from a young age. Holmes was the messiah feminists had foretold for many decades. Here she finally was, the pretty young woman who one day decided to pull back her hair, don a lab coat and some glasses, and poof! A miracle occurs. As Oppenheimer Funds puts it:
The same story of Earhart and Holmes has repeated countless times, and we can be assured of falling for it in the future. Just because Holmes is turning out to not be the feminist messiah, it doesn’t mean feminists are giving up on the narrative. One day soon, a young pretty girl will pull her hair back, put on a lab coat and some glasses*, and change the world!
*Either glasses or fashionable safety goggles.