'The Social Network' writer Aaron Sorkin addresses the woman problem: Is his explanation enough?
Image Credit: The Social Network writer Aaron Sorkin wrote in a blog post that he gets why women were “appalled” by the film’s portrayal of femaledom, “but you have to understand that that was the very specific world I was writing about.” In a response to comments on TV writer Ken Levine’s blog, Sorkin wrote a long and thoughtful explanation as to why — as we pointed out here when the film opened to rapturous reviews and box office — almost every woman on the screen was a sex object or a bimbo or a psycho or a combination thereof. Basically, he says he was showing us how the central characters — Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook crew — view women. “Facebook was born during a night of incredibly [sic] misogyny,” he writes. “The idea of comparing women to farm animals, and then to each other, based on their looks and then publicly ranking them. It was a revenge stunt, aimed first at the woman who’d most recently broke his heart (who should get some kind of medal for not breaking his head) and then at the entire female population of Harvard.”
Perhaps most interestingly, he goes on to say: “More generally, 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. The women they surround themselves with aren’t women who challenge them (and frankly, no woman who could challenge them would be interested in being anywhere near them.)”
Absolutely true, and very much worth discussion. I’m not about to let the filmmakers completely off the hook — some clearer nod to this insight in the film would have been welcome — much less am I about to suddenly declare this a feminist film for pointing out such glaring inequalities. But this brings up an important point in current culture: We pretend feminism has advanced so much that we barely need it anymore, and yet in many of the most important places (technology, religion, finance) men still not only call the shots, but they also surround themselves with women who do the opposite of challenging them. Sorkin says, “These women — whether it’s the girls who are happy to take their clothes off and dance for the boys or Eduardo’s psycho-girlfriend — are real. I mean REALLY real.” I’m sure some of those ladies are more complicated and nuanced than that (who knows if the real-life Christy had perfectly good motivation for setting things on fire?), but let’s bring it back to the matter at hand here, the portrayal of women on film. That’s where we can do something: We need more movies about cool, strong, complicated women doing stuff. The more girls see that, the more they’ll feel like they can be the ones making the next Facebook. And the more boys see that, the less they’ll act like sexist tools even if they make the next Facebook.
And if Aaron Sorkin wanted to write that movie, I wouldn’t complain.
More ‘Social Network’:
Dave Karger: ‘The Social Network’: Whose side are you on?
The Social Network