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Women

Elizabeth Holmes’s downfall is a victory for feminism

Elizabeth Holmes speaking in New York in 2015. Adam Jeffery/Getty

When Elizabeth Holmes went on trial for fraud, the first thing I noticed was her makeover, says Lara Stemple in Slate. Before then, the 37-year-old founder of the fraudulent blood-testing firm Theranos had always looked ultra-masculine. At work, she adopted a gravelly speaking voice and “relentless eye contact”, and wore entirely black clothes. But the moment Holmes faced trial, “the leopard changed her spots”. In court, Holmes’s previously dead-straight hair was bouncy, her lipstick was pale pink, and she entered the building holding her mother’s hand or carrying a nappy bag. It was all tactical. Holmes’s defence peddled the idea that a sweet-looking woman couldn’t possibly be guilty of complex corporate crimes – she wouldn’t have the “wherewithal”.

It’s nonsense. “At Theranos, Holmes was in command.” Employees testified that she was “a hands-on leader” and Holmes herself stated in a 2016 interview that “anything that happens in this company is my responsibility”. How refreshing, then, that the jury didn’t fall for this damsel-in-distress act. In fact, her guilty verdict is a victory for feminism: “accountability for powerful women who falter is consistent with principles of equality”. The jury saw Holmes for what she was – complex and imperfect – not the tedious, girlish stereotype she tried to become. “As a woman, I’ll take capable and accountable over naive and incompetent any day.”

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