By Siri Hustvedt, novelist, essayist and poet.
|© Marion Ettlinger.|
Steve Jobs is an icon of late capitalism. A parallel, equal feminine icon is impossible. No matter how sleek her products, the hypothetical Stephanie Jobs could not and would not occupy the same place in our culture as her brother. It is not that there are no female entrepreneurs or CEO’s, no brilliant women who can package a product as well as any man, but rather, that Jobs is the projection of an idea that remains hyper-masculine, a rags to riches American myth for our era. Along with beautifully designed computers and phones, Jobs sold himself as tech hero, master of a new revolutionary culture of connectivity that is still coded as male not female.
«Jobs is the projection of an idea that remains hyper-masculine, a rags to riches American
myth for our era»
It is fascinating that Jobs chose Walter Isaacson as his biographer, a man who had previously written best-selling books about Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. Franklin, Einstein, and Jobs have little in common except their iconic “genius” status, which is, of course, the point. Simone de Beauvoir’s reiterated statement in The Second Sex that woman is Other to man, that women are not accorded universal status, or, in other words, Everywoman is radically different from Everyman, remains true. Men are not trapped inside their sex. Women are. It is this inescapable “femininity” that makes the woman “genius” an anomaly, a riddled, contorted, or suppressed being in history. Consider this: The person credited with creating the first computer program was Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852), daughter of the poet and Anne Isabelle Milbanke. Although there is no question about her contribution, she is not a historical icon.
«It is this inescapable “femininity” that makes the woman “genius” an anomaly, a riddled, contorted, or suppressed being in history»
If we do not examine and articulate the reasons for our hero worship, we will continue to be duped by unconscious biases against women. Apparently, Isaacson’s biography uncovers a ruthless, unpleasant narcissist. As Sue Halpern noted in The New York Review of Books, the biography proves that “it is possible to write a hagiography even while exposing the worst in a person.” Could a grasping, manipulative, ambitious, high-achieving woman gain the same stature as cultural saint? At this juncture in history, it seems to me that the answer is a resounding no.