Never complain, never explain
By Maureen Dowd
What ever happened to the good old-fashioned art of Owning It?
Our culture is awash in people who get called out for their behavior and then retreat behind some victim-y excuse. If you’re going to go for it, go for it.
The ne plus ultra of this charade is Elizabeth Holmes, who is on trial for being a big fraud after she pretended to have invented a simpler, cheaper way to do blood tests with a finger prick.
Holmes plans to blame her behavior on “a decadelong campaign of psychological abuse” perpetuated by her former boyfriend and business partner, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani — a charge he denies.
In a Times guest essay, Ellen Pao, a former tech executive, suggested that, while Holmes should be held accountable, “it can be sexist to hold her accountable for alleged serious wrongdoing and not hold an array of men accountable for reports of wrongdoing or bad judgment.”
Sexism this ain’t, sisters. Holmes went for it. She became the youngest female self-made billionaire by spinning gold out of blood. She really put the con in Silicon Valley. And the Steve Jobs-wannabe in the black turtleneck was buoyed by many powerful men on her board — including George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Jim Mattis and David Boies — who were rooting for a young woman to break into the club of boy geniuses conjuring unicorns.
Balwani will also be tried on fraud charges in January. But Holmes was no delicate flower.
“If you release a buggy software program before it’s ready, no one’s going to die,” John Carreyrou, the Wall Street Journal reporter who broke the story and wrote the bestseller “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” told me. (He has a podcast by the same name.) “Holmes was operating a medical device startup. She commercialized a product that patients and doctors relied on to make important health decisions. She was gambling with people’s lives.”
Of the allegations that Balwani abused her and “held her in his psychological grip,” Carreyrou said that based on his reporting and research, “I don’t buy it. Everyone I talked to who worked at Theranos and observed them closely said it was a partnership of equals and if anyone had the last say, it was Elizabeth. She controlled 99.7% of the voting rights.”
Sexism exists. But we shouldn’t reorient our society so that people can simply wrap themselves in an identity cloak when identity is not the issue. Virtue should not be defined by who you are, putting you beyond reproach and preventing judgments about what you did. That would leave whole sectors of society exempt from moral evaluation.
That brings us to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She said her “Tax the Rich” turn at the Met gala “punctured the 4th wall of excess and spectacle.” Sure, whatever.
Maybe it wasn’t what Karl Marx had in mind. Bernie Sanders wouldn’t have done it. But if AOC wanted to get glammed up and pal around with the ruling class at an event that’s the antithesis of all she believes in, a gala that makes every thoughtful American feel like Robespierre, she should have just gone for it.
Don a beautiful dress, let helpers carry the train, have fun and ignore the inevitable charges of hypocrisy. She should have adopted the philosophy of another frequent guest of that gala, Kate Moss: never complain, never explain.
Instead, AOC tried to have it both ways. The socialist Jackie O. Vogued in a virtue-signaling garment with an anodyne slogan, expressing a view that a majority of Americans already hold.
Rather than Owning It, she put out a bloviating statement on Instagram, chalking up all criticism to sexism and racism.
“Honestly our culture is deeply disdainful and unsupportive of women, especially women of color and working class women (And LGBTQ/immigrant/etc),” she wrote. Really, the working-class card, at the Met gala? She added: “The more intersections one has, the deeper the disdain. I am so used to doing the same exact thing that men do — including popular male progressive elected officials — and getting a completely different response.”
I found this statement to be at the intersection of disingenuous and hilarious, coming from the woman who is a phenomenon and a trailblazer in wielding image and social media to her advantage.
Her response was cynical. And it wasn’t the first time that she had failed to consider that people can disagree with her without disagreeing with her identity.
Two years ago, after she and three other progressive congresswomen voted against the House’s version of a border bill, Nancy Pelosi said that they were simply four people with four votes.
AOC riposted with the absurd charge that Pelosi was targeting “newly elected women of color,” smearing the speaker, who has spent her life battling for the downtrodden and who helped lift Barack Obama into the Oval Office and pass his health care bill.
AOC wasn’t the only House member in the past week who failed to Own It. Pramila Jayapal was the subject of a BuzzFeed News investigation in which former staffers described “a serious disconnect between how she talks about workers’ rights and how she treats her own staff.”
Her current chief of staff, Lilah Pomerance, deflected: “Women of color are often unjustly targeted, regularly held to higher standards than their male colleagues, and always put under a sexist microscope.”
If you want to behave like Miranda Priestly (or Amy Klobuchar) with your staff, Own It.