Infamous Monster Women: Siren Mythology and the Case of Elizabeth Holmes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


This contribution looks at the myth of the siren – the seductive water-bound half-woman luring men to their death – as a model for a particular kind of female infamy. Apparently angelic because of her beautiful voice (often complemented by flowing hair and rosy cheeks), the siren is a particularly terrifying kind of fiend. She leads a man to expect tenderness and care, but then murders/drowns/eats him. This is more than just deception: the siren’s aggression goes against what is traditionally construed as female nature and is therefore monstrous. I offer an account of the siren’s infamous monstrosity and argue that the archetypes found in mythology and horror help us understand the fascination with (and outrage at) real-life sirens. My central case study is Elizabeth Holmes, CEO of the briefly yet wildly successful start-up Theranos, a blood testing company worth 9 billion dollars at the height of Holmes’s success. The story that Holmes had been telling investors – that she had invented a machine that could run tests on just a single drop of blood – turned out to be a lie. Why did so many large and experienced investors believe her without any evidence of successful tests? The many articles in the popular press detailing Holmes’s gender performance hint at an answer: investors, almost all of them very rich and powerful men, believed her because she looked and sounded exactly what they wanted a successful female Silicon Valley entrepreneur to look and sound like. Using Holmes as my main example of a real-life siren, I will analyse the fascination with her kind of infamy drawing on both feminist theory and the mythology around horrifying, unnatural women.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-137
JournalEthical Perspectives
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Female monsters
  • Women's entrepreneurship
  • Horror
  • Sirens
  • Elizabeth Holmes


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