The title to this blog post is a bit misleading. I don’t know if Steve Jobs ever sexually harassed anyone. The closest I ever got to the man was chatting with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniack at a 2015 screening of the film “Steve Jobs” in San Francisco.
And Woz was certainly not in the mood to speak ill of Jobs, even though we all know how Jobs famously screwed over his friend and collaborator.
“Friends forever,” Wozniak told me at the time. “He did a couple of horrible things to me. Most people would say ‘I would never talk to you.’ I’m a friend to everyone in the world, and I always was a friend to Steve.”
Dead people always seem to get the benefit of the doubt– at least in the beginning. But like any historical figure, we can begin to honestly assess the person as time moves forward. Jobs died only 7 years ago but given recent events, we must look at the man in a new light.
Jobs was a genius but also an egomaniacal asshole. Plain and simple. Saying so doesn’t diminish that genius. Perhaps people are geniuses precisely because they are egomaniacal assholes.
Jobs’ behavior is pretty well documented; the man treated a lot of people badly, including his family, friends, and colleagues.
What has yet to be explored in any meaningful way is Job’s character flaws in the context of the #MeToo movement.
Long before Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, and Charlie Rose came to light, Silicon Valley was the epicenter of sexual misconduct, from Ellen Pao’s lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Byers to the widespread abuse at Uber, which ultimately cost CEO Travis Kalanick his job.
So how is Jobs connected to this? In many ways, he helped create the culture that spawned the #MeToo movement by making it okay to excuse or even enable bad behavior as long you’re doing something important.
Jobs may not have sexually harassed anyone but sexual abuse is not about sex. It’s about power or specifically, the imbalance of power between two or more people. Jobs wielded his power in ways that we wouldn’t tolerate today: the idea that misconduct is the price we must pay for talent and genius.
Do you think Jobs would have fired an executive who raped a subordinate or not hired that engineer who called his former co-workers sluts if it meant Apple would never have created iPhone or Macintosh? He had a single minded pursuit of a vision and would do anything to see it through.
That kind of mentality gives us pretty looking computers but it can also destroy lives–literally and figuratively.
In America, we over-worship merit. And Jobs embodies a culture that makes us look away when misconduct inconveniences achievement.
Recently, the male stars of the Netflix series Arrested Development apologized for excusing actor Jeffrey Tambor’s verbal abuse towards his female co-star.
“Again, not to belittle it or excuse it or anything, but in the entertainment industry it is incredibly common to have people who are, in quotes, ‘difficult,'” Bateman said. “You learn about work habits, work ethics, and you start to understand. Because it’s a very amorphous process, this sort of [expletive] that we do, you know, making up fake life. It’s a weird thing, and it is a breeding ground for atypical behavior, and certain people have certain processes.”
A decade ago, we would have accepted that explanation. Great people do bad things to do great things.
“That doesn’t mean it’s acceptable,” said Arrested Development actress Alia Shawkat, in response to Bateman. “And the point is that things are changing, and people need to respect each other differently.”
Actor Thomas Sadoski said it even better on an Instagram post.
“I don’t give a fuck who you think you are or how good you think you are or how awesome you think your buddy/daddy is: screaming at someone isn’t ‘part of the business.’ It’s bullshit. It’s unhinged bullshit behavior and it has NEVER been acceptable…It was bullshit then, it is bullshit now. And excusing that kind of behavior is pathetic. Just pathetic.”
They could have easily been talking about Jobs. In this #MeToo era, sexual predators are not the only people facing consequences.