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Aaron Sorkin on 'The Social Network's' problematic depiction of women

Aaron_sorkin There's been a lot of talk on the Web that, all of its rave reviews notwithstanding, "The Social Network" offers a crude, often misogynistic portrayal of nearly every women featured in the movie. (Or as one particularly acerbic post at put it: " 'The Social Network': Where Women Never Have Ideas.") And hey, when you think about it, it's true. Mark Zuckerberg and his 2004-era Harvard cohorts treat women in almost exactly the same way that Jimmy Page and his Led Zeppelin cohorts treated their female fans in 1969 -- like groupies.

Veteran TV scribe and blogger Ken Levine loved the movie (after all, he's a guy), but one of his female readers posted a comment, saying that as good as "The Social Network" was, with the exception of one or two women, everyone else was "basically sex objects/stupid groupies." What a letdown, she wrote, especially from the guy who created "The West Wing's" C.J. Cregg! The critique must have hit home, because Aaron Sorkin has now responded with a lengthy defense, in which he acknowledges that "it's not hard to understand how bright women could be appalled by what they saw in the movie."

But -- and isn't there always a but -- Sorkin says he was simply offering an all-too-accurate portrayal of Zuckerberg's own actions toward women. Here's what Sorkin has to say:

I used Mark's blog verbatim. ... 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. It was a revenge stunt ... 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.

Sorkin adds that the woman portrayed as happily lining up to take the bus to the hot final clubs parties and taking their tops off to dance for the boys once they arrived, were "real, I mean REALLY real." So all this disturbing misogyny and willingness on the part of women to play the role of sex objects is, to hear Sorkin tell it, not exaggerated at all, but totally authentic. I guess I'm willing to believe him, even though I still have some nagging doubts, since Sorkin has been quick to admit that when it came to Zuckerberg, he had no problem with exaggerating or inventing some of the Facebook founder's actions. 

Still, I don't know what's more depressing -- that the men at Harvard (just a few short years ago) acted like such crude misogynists or that the equally well-educated women hanging around them acted like they'd spent a hell of a lot more time watching Britney Spears videos than reading Germaine Greer.   

Photo: Aaron Sorkin, left, with Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake in London, promoting "The Social Network." Credit: Kieran Doherty / Reuters

Comments () | Archives (45)

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"Bright" women?

Infantilize them, why don't you?

Sophie: I sorta see where you're coming from, but your post seems too black and white. I highly recommend Ariel Levy's "Female Chauvinist Pigs" for new insight.

@dude "I just read Sorkin's defense on Levine's blog. He really needs to learn how to spell use grammar correctly. "

Who's gonna teach him, you?

Everyone, please just ignore this whole conversation. It's not real. It's just a fabrication by the studio's PR department to keep people talking about, and hopefully seeing, this film. They will both create the controversy and then send Sorkin or Rudin to comment on it - and all the Pavlovian film bloggers will try and keep it going with commentary. It's all so predictable. This is a decent small film, but not worthy of all the hype.

I even wonder if this was really written by Sorkin. The grammar and typos raised a flag for me too.

I am a straight male, non geek, happily married with college age kids---and the portrayal of the young women was shocking to me because many viewers might just assume this is what goes on at the top schools. And interesting that so many are Asian. The two token "smart" females don;'t provide enough balance for me.

I am not a prude but was anyone surprised that this got a PG-13---snorting cocaine off a girl's stomach (tamed down from reported off bare-breast shot), oral sex, etc. Limited use of four letter words is ok but THE KING'S SPEECH got an R because of language and BLUE VALENTINE got an NC-17 when the version I saw in Sundance seemed like a strong R.. Give us a break MPAA.

I like Aaron Sorkin's writing when it isn't overwhelmingly full of itself, but to pretend that he was heretofore completely innocent of all sexism, and it all comes from Zuckerberg only shows you have short and hazy memories of "The West Wing."

Yes, the C.J. Cregg character makes a pretty improbable leap to Chief of Staff late in the series (and well after Sorkin's departure), but watch the whole series again. Every single time Sorkin needs a narrative excuse to explain some pretty basic policy point, it's ALWAYS framed as a smart male staffer explaining to a conveniently intermittently fatuous female staffer something she apparently got to work at the White House without knowing. The C.J. Cregg who is qualified to be Press Secretary is too stupid to know why we need to have a national census. The same C.J. Cregg who earned six figures as a Hollywood PR person before joing the Bartlett campaign is too stupid to know what the Hollywood term "development" means. The list of things senior staffer Donna Moss needed to have explained to her would take pages to recount. Smart Will Bailey gets to explain to dumb (and entirely female) college graduates who are mysteriously qualified to work in the White House how our tax system works.

And explain to me please how Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman says to high-profile feminist leader Amy Gardner, after a series of digs at the man she's seeing, culminating in "I think he's a woman," this feminist leader does NOT slam him upside the head for this gross misogyny, but goes on to tumble into bed with him. Really? Using the word "woman" as an insult is a turn-on for a feminist? Only in Aaron Sorkin's imagination.

But hey, look at all the positive female characters in "Charlie Wilson's War"... You could barely hear the dialogue for the thud of women's drawers hitting the ground, one after the other.

Aaron Sorkin can turn a nice phrase. But he's not a god, and his "problematic depictions of women" go back years. Blaming it all on Mark Zuckerberg just shows he has yet to turn that penetrating insight of his inwards.

Any real surprise here?
Come on.
This is America -- and outside our borders its far worse -- in the here and now.
Back in the 90s, and the 80s and long before that.

Until the next generation -- hopefully now and not later -- raises boys and girls equally, on every possible level..and send them out into the world to make it a better place of diversity and inclusivity for all, and not the status quo, and
the long term...and not quarterly profits...misogny on all levels, isn't going
to stop.

I'd like to think...if we all just simply treated one another the way we'd
like to be treated, the majority of this crap wouldn't happen.

Guess the American success myth doesn't accept simplicity.

I live in SV. The movie says a lot about what it takes to succeed here. It is not flattering to women or men. Maybe someday they will do one about Meg Whitman.

Does no one know the difference between "woman" and "women"? The article's author AND the commenters need to go back and learn the basic difference between plural and singular.

Oh please. Don't be mad because it's true. And by the way the women still get treated like that at harvard. Kieran is so naive. I really didn't even think of the women like that until I read this article. Thanks for making me see them in that way. Especially the hot Asian girls :)

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