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February 11, 2005

The Rise And Fall Of A Working Girl

According to Lawrence Fisher’s piece in Salon (link), the demise of Hewlett-Packard’s CEO Carly Fiorina had nothing to do with gender and everything to do with hubris. 

He writes:

To those who will inevitably say that Carly has been singled out for harsh treatment because she is a woman, nonsense. Anne Mulcahy of Xerox, Meg Whitman of eBay and Carol Bartz of Autodesk, among others, have all shown that a Y chromosome is no prerequisite to performing the CEO’s role with quiet competetence. What these leaders share besides their gender is they don’t make promises they can’t possibly keep.

That being said, the image that accompanied the article is stunning in it’s sexual innuendo. 


I actually remember seeing a different photo published from this speech Fiorina gave at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.  In that shot, the scale between Carly and the projected Carly was so accentuated, it seemed to jump out as a prime example of the super-sized egos you find at the pinnacle of the corporate world.  Especially those, I assume, the top of the tech, or the Fortune 50 ladder.

My sense it that something is culturally resonant in the demise of Carly Fiorina right now. 

One reason I say that is because I was planning to analyze the lead image on Fiorina that appeared in Thursday’s NYTimes business section — although I hardly ever focus on business.  (I don’t even have a designation for it in my category list.)  At the same time, I got an email this afternoon from a reader named Paul who has spent the past seven years working at HP.  He directed me to this picture, and wanted to know what I thought.  (He added that most of the Fiorina pics in the media in the last day seemed to range from unflattering to evil.) 

I’m actually interested in your thoughts on this image.  I don’t really have a clear take, except to say that people seem to derive a special satisfaction when these giants fall, and one clear and easy way to drive the stake, when you have a fallen female executive, is to sexualize it.  If, as Fisher says, Fiorina never cared about HP, but was only aiming to boost her own near-term credentials to segue into big-time politics, perhaps the cheapest visual shot to take — and  I consider this visual a very cheap shot — is to reference the other kind of working girl.


  • Barak

    Your image is referenced to your hard drive again…

  • greentuna

    I find the hand positioning especially interesting. Part of me thinks it looks like claws, and I think there is always a generalization of women being felinesque, which you could take as catty and perhaps, petty. At the same time the hand position seems weak, as if it were recoiling or trying to protect oneself, as opposed to being aggressive, and — to succumb to stereotypes once again — manly.

  • Annoying Old Guy

    I am simply not seeing the “sexualization” in the images, either this one or the one at the NY Times. The latter is clearly a visual pun on the recent HP advertisement campaign.

  • smallrat

    i don’t see anything deliberately sexual about the picture either, although if your starting point is that there is a sexual inference, because of the female subject, then you could somehow read that into the photo.

  • The BAG

    AOG/smallrat: It’s interesting you don’t see a sexual suggestion. I didn’t mean to say the NYT shot made a similar reference, but I sure thought this one did. Perhaps she could be playing the flute? (Or, maybe it’s just me.)

  • Annoying Old Guy

    Ah. I see what you mean now. What can I say, I’m a geek.

    As someone who works for a large tech firm like HP, I can tell you the first thought that would come to the mind of a tech industry cube dweller is a “hand-waving executive”. We’ve all been in meetings just like this with a CEO or other big wig making a speech and waving their hands in the exactly same way in the vain hope of covering up the obvious inadequacies of their claims that “everything is coming up roses”. This is precisely the behaviour that gave rise to the expression “hand-waving” to start with.

    It might be that that was what the editor was trying to convey in selecting this photograph.

    P.S. Semi-off topic, do you do any photography of your own that you publish, either amateur or professional? I ask because my own view on some of these photos is influenced by my own amateur photographic efforts, particularly with regard to selecting a photograph to publish.

  • The BAG


    Like I said before, I’m not sure you missed anything. Earlier this evening, I talked to someone I’ve been bouncing things off of for years, and he said he didn’t necessarily see the sexual connection either. I think it’s a helpful thing to happen, though. It just emphasizes how subjective these interpretations are. I do think greentuna’s “catty” metaphor is fantastic, though. In the other shots of Fiorina I’ve seen, her hand motions are really dramatic. (I’m also working on a post with Laura Bush that also has some interesting dynamics around hand gestures.)

    …Regarding personal photography, I hate to disappoint, but I really don’t pick up a camera unless I’m on vacation (or pointing it at a newspaper, of course).

  • lee

    This photo looks to me like she is getting ready to perform fellatio on some guy. Maybe you guys can’t see it because you are part of the corporate world (as you said, not my assumption) and are used to people waving their hands around. However, except for the distance (it would need to be a large penis for the distance given), all one has to do is mentallly add a penis in the view and hopefully you will “get it”. I don’t know anything about this particular woman or political/business situation but this is a highly sexualized photo.

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