OPINION: The girlboss who flew too close to the sun


Brennan Eberwine

Elizabeth Holmes has gone from being at the top of Silicon Valley to the top of criminal headlines.

Brennan Eberwine and Aiden Bonilla

Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and former CEO of the now-defunct company Theranos, was convicted on four out of eleven charges of fraud earlier this month: a staggering downfall for one of the highest valued Silicon Valley startups in history. Holmes’ company had promised to revolutionize the health care system, claiming to detect a myriad of illnesses from a single finger prick. At its height, Theranos was valued at nine billion and Elizabeth Holmes was hailed as one of the greatest young inventors in Silicon Valley. She graced the covers of Forbes, Fortune and other world renowned front pages. Now she graces a jail cell, awaiting sentencing for her wrongdoings.

The Holmes case combines audacity, influence and determination into one huge fraud. Besides Theranos’ high valuation, it also had an all-star Board of Directors, with names such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis and George P. Shultz. This powerful board allowed Holmes to secure more money for a prototype that couldn’t actually produce accurate lab results. In 2013, Theranos brought its blood-testing machines to Walgreens locations in Arizona, despite the machine’s staggering inaccuracies from any medical test done. Most tests done at these Walgreens were not done with a prick of the finger like promised and led a large slew of individuals to panic, having misdiagnosed many. By 2018, Holmes’ empire began to crumble as whistleblowers came forward and exposed the lies. 

Ultimately, the Holmes trial is a referendum on Silicon Valley and its long held mantra of “move fast and break things.” Many in the public are turning against people that were once held up as our saviors. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, recently stepped down. Facebook has received so much backlash that it’s been recently renamed and Elon Musk’s Tesla had to recall almost half a million of the company’s cars in the country. 

Silicon Valley is facing a montage of both legal and public opinion battles. Both ring true for Elizabeth Holmes, as social media has now taken to hailing her as a “girlboss,” a term coined by Sophia Amoruso, the founder of clothing brand Nasty Gal. Many have defended her (albeit ironically) as a girlboss who deserves to be freed. Her fans on social media, dubbed “Holmies”, have dedicated accounts to talking about her, impersonating her and defending her.

As far as I can tell, this movement for our girlboss Elizabeth is mostly ironic, born out of frustration towards the mid-2010s brand of feminism that valued corporate and capitalistic empowerment of women rather than more radical approaches to feminism. 

Many Holmies hope that she will make a Jordan Belfort-style recovery to stardom. We’re talking about Jordan Belfort from Martin Scorsese’s critically acclaimed film “The Wolf of Wall Street”. Despite being a bad person and overall kind of scum, many business majors in fraternities idolize Belfort to this day. So why can’t Elizabeth Holmes get her very own film directed by Sofia Coppola? 

Holmes’ coronation as the ultimate girlboss was her sentencing to prison, hailed as the woman who went so far -perhaps too far- for her business’ success. Her malevolent stare and deep baritone voice (there is considerable doubt as to whether that is her actual voice) resonate in our particular moment of online misery, in which our only joy is to jokingly cheer for a corrupt woman who did what anyone and everyone else in Silicon Valley is instructed to do: move fast, break things. 

So what exactly happened to Silicon Valley? What’s next to win the battle for public opinion?

Silicon Valley has always been pointed to as a beacon for us to idolize and aspire to, especially here at a high school with STEM specialization. Everyone wants to be at the top of the pyramid, the top of the food chain, the diamond studded success story. I remember being told early on in middle school to become an engineer or coder to achieve the greatest success. It was and still is a field on the rise. 

There was a time when we thought these technology companies were poised to change the world, but the reality is that mega-rich conglomerates serve to only benefit themselves and not the public. It really shouldn’t be a shocker, but the greed and deception of these companies can truly be mind-blowing at times. Facebook messes with the integrity of democracy or at least allows it. Twitter continually supports harmful and toxic discourse. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos’ wealth increased exponentially while many struggled to even pay basic living expenses. 

Something has to change.

Elizabeth Holmes’ case was a more explicit grift than most of Silicon Valley’s best and brightest. Her trial does signal to Silicon Valley that playing fast and loose with ethics and cash does have consequences. It’s an extremely rare occurrence to see a wealthy entrepreneur such as Holmes persecuted for their crimes, as the evidence required to convict her was inadmissible.

 The wealthy in general tend to have access to resources that others do not, especially within the gold mine that is Silicon Valley. They can afford good lawyers, bail and other advantages that the average person doesn’t always get to enjoy when it comes to the law.

In America, we are taught to hold a very positive view of the very wealthy, almost to the point of reverence. We also are taught that everyone is equal under the law and Constitution. It’s about time that we hold everyone accountable equally and the trial of Elizabeth Holmes is a good start.