The Social Network's Women Problem
The Social Network is a Golden Globe winner for Best Drama and one of the most acclaimed films of 2010. The story of how Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook is a frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar this Sunday night, and there are people who will be gutted if it loses. It's innovative, stylish, cutting-edge—all those things that have critics tripping over each other to praise and reward.
In one aspect, though, the movie harks back to the stone age: its view of women. In both the early scenes at Harvard University and the later scenes in California, women are there as sex objects and little else. They inspire vengeful fantasies; they strip at parties and go home with strangers; they reward creative nerds for their creativity with spontaneous sex in the bathroom; they get drunk and high and play video games (badly). And that's about it.
In the film, women are barred from any role in either the technological or the business side of Facebook. A female intern at the company is only there to show off her rear end in a short skirt and then get arrested for doing drugs. Even a seemingly levelheaded and businesslike woman flips out for no apparent reason, and sets a gift from her boyfriend on fire just for the heck of it.
I'm not saying there aren't women who act like this. But nearly every woman in an entire movie—a movie that's supposed to be a serious drama and not a frat-boy comedy?
The film's defenders point to the fact that The Social Network is bookended by appearances from two smart, sensible women. But these two, a student named Erica and a lawyer named Marylin, are there to give Mark contradictory messages about himself. (Erica's there at the beginning to tell him he's an [expletive]; Marylin's there at the end to tell him he's not an [expletive].) Both female characters are lacking in serious screen time and substance.
When outcry arose over the film's depiction of women, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin argued that he was just the faithful scribe trying to tell the truth. As he explained: "Facebook was born during a night of incredible misogyny. The idea of comparing women to farm animals, and then to each other, based on their looks and then publicly ranking them … I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people. These aren't the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the 80's. They're very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the quarterback instead of the men (boys) who are running the universe right now."
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