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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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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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"2004-era"? Did you actually right that with a straight face? How does six years ago become an "era?" The author must be in his twenties.

More importantly, why is it that certain people are so offended that some women are perfectly happy being a sex object part of the time? The degree to which the feminist crowd insists that everyone else, women AND men, subscribe to their view of sexuality, gender roles and everything else reminds me of Puritans and right-wing southern Christians. Does it EVER occur to you that a woman ripping her shirt off, jumping on a table and dancing to everyone's delight is just fun? FOR HER. Misogyny defined is the hatred of women? What's the word for hatred of men? Why isn't there a whole academic department devoted to studying it....instead of spreading it?

The Ivy League is community college for the 90% of the student body who are simply children of the rich. For the 10% top SAT scores in the country, they've accumulated an impressive stable of researchers. So simple math suggests 90% of the women are essentially brood mares for the next generation of the aristocracy. Harvard's best alumni are generally dropouts.

Here's an issue not discussed yet in the article and the comments. The cut-throat competition going on in upper strands of the US society (which I take it was part of the point of the movie) is far more suited to how males are brought up here than women. I have been in grad school for 6 years now, and it's unbelievable how much machismo is going on - even among those few women who are successful at it. Essentially it's a daily struggle to prove that you are smarter/have best ideas/shut a person up/can do what it takes to be the best. Sometimes it takes up your whole life, so it's no wonder that women decide they have better things to do than play that game. Don't ask why women seem less smart - ask what kind of 'smart' this society is looking for.

There's really doubt over whether a great number of women in "college culture" are willing to make themselves sex objects?

Women as objects is the culture we've created, disguised as sexual liberation. The blame lies with men who encourage the culture and women who comply with it, not a film that depicts it.

Men treat women like whores because most women act like whores.

I don't think the film ever set out or attempted to make overarching, large-scale statements about misogyny, gender relations, or the state of our current educational system. Instead, it merely sought to show a [fairly] realistic portrayal of a certain period of time, with certain people, talking about certain things.

After all, didn't any of the people attacking the movie attend college, and have similar conversations with their friends in private? These are 4-5 college sophomores drinking beer on a Tuesday night in their dorm room, and I doubt that it's a rare occurence. Just because most of these conversations don't get posted on a public blog doesn't mean that this kind of behavior doesn't happen.

Whilst I agree that in a lot of Hollywood movies women are the token gesture parts, or the trophy wife, or the sassy girlfriend, in real life there are women who like being prostitutes, some women sexually enjoy this lifestyle and were not forced into it by men, as Sorkin says, there were girls out there at the time who wanted to go hang out at clubs and were happy being candy floss and getting some free drinks along the way, we have all met these good time girls.

Greg -- there's a big difference between what a woman chooses to do for herself, and when a man decides to depict all women in a demeaning and ignorant way. (Like, for example, using the term "feminist crowd" as your purported straw man to whom you ascribe opinions no one but you expressed). The fact that a woman, in real life, is now able to choose what she wants to do, IS thanks to feminism.

BTW, the word for hatred of males is misandry. But since this article is about, not ALL men, but two specific named individuals, a billionaire named Mark Zuckerberg, and another downtrodden premier screenwriter named Aaron Sorkin, it's pretty hard to make the case that this is a case of indiscriminate man-hate run amuck.

It never ceases to amaze me how the least-victimized among us (that is to say men and white people) are always the first to cry "Victim!" while simultaneously scorning others who try to increase sensitivity towards those who are clearly oppressed AS the oppressors, cruelly forcing our "political correctness" on them. There really is no end to your suffering, is there?

But what if that's the way it was? Zeppelin did have groupies. The Facebook group was male. Women did throw themselves at Zep and Facebook. Girls Gone Wild?

Women still act like that. Men are not misogynistic because SOME women still play that role.

So, who were the great female brains behind Facebook that got left out of the story?

Sorkin was actually trying to do something that is not very common in Hollywood: Depict what actually happened, not change the story to please a certain group for marketing purposes.

Good for Sorkin. Hopefully more Hollywood writers/producers will follow this trend.

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