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."
But as one digs into the facts, Sorkin's argument begins to fall apart. For instance:
·183; A mean blog post from Zuckerberg about a girl he knew, shown at the beginning of the film, was real, but most of the deeply personal insults in that post were invented by Sorkin. (Here's a look at Zuckerberg's actual post. If you saw the film, you will realize what's missing.)
· Zuckerberg is shown inventing a sexist "Facemash" site to rank Harvard women. But in real life, the site actually ranked both men and women.
· Zuckerberg has been with the same girlfriend, Priscilla Chan, since college. (No, there was no lonely nerd in a deposition room obsessively refreshing the Facebook page of the girl that got away, as at the end of The Social Network.) Far from being a "now you sit there on the couch and look pretty" type like the girls portrayed in the film, Chan is an intelligent woman who's studying to be a pediatrician. She never appears in the film.
· According to technology writer Sarah Lacy, who was acquainted with both Zuckerberg and Chan in Facebook's early days: "In ten years in [Silicon] Valley, I can count on one hand the times I've been hit on at a techy party or event—and even during those few occurrences the people apologized as soon as they realized I was married. I have never had an illicit proposition, I have never seen a girl stripping at a party, I have never seen giggling underage girls in panties doing bong hits as male programmers code."
And as I was researching this piece, I noticed something intriguing. Do a Google search on "Aaron Sorkin" and "sexism," and The Social Network is not the only project that comes up. You'll also get hits related to The West Wing. And Sports Night. And Studio 60. And more.
There's one thing that all these projects have in common, and it isn't Zuckerberg. In fact, Sorkin has been dealing with accusations of misogyny in his work for years. According to many of his viewers, even his smartest female characters frequently get condescended to and put in their place by men.
I'm not trying to make Zuckerberg out to be some sort of saintly figure. But it looks as if he's been unfairly smeared in some ways—very likely for reasons that have little to do with him, and a lot to do with one particular screenwriter's fallen worldview.
And therein lies a sobering lesson. When you have a hammer, the adage goes, everything looks like a nail. And when you have a shallow, demeaning view of women—one that sharply contrasts the Christian view of women being wonderfully created in God's image and made for good, meaningful contributions—apparently more and more women start to look like "groupies, sexed-up Asians, vengeful sluts, and feminist killjoys" (as Business Insider put it) in your eyes.
It's not just Sorkin, either. Almost more disturbing than the fact that he wrote a screenplay full of such characters, is the fact that no one he was working with called him on it. Could it be that decades of promoting sexual libertinism has led to a jaded view of women within the film industry?
All I know is this: Hollywood may fancy itself a bastion of enlightened tolerance, but judging by The Social Network, it's got a long way to go, baby.
Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog. She wrote "The Good Christian Girl: A Fable" and "God Loves a Good Romance" for CT online, and "Facebook Envy on Valentine's Day," "What Are Wedding Vows For, Anyway?" "Why Sex Ruins TV Romances," and "Don't Think Pink" for Her.meneutics.