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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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Why don't we just admit reality - there are still a lot of sexist men in the world and a lot of women who've so bought into our cultural imperative that getting men to want to screw you is the ONLY worthy goal for a woman that they'll do anything to get male attention, including debasing themselves.

We still live in The Male Gaze, folks. Acknowledge it. Don't deny it. Otherwise you will be crippled in any efforts to change it.

Have any of you BEEN to college lately? This type of behavior on the part of both women and men goes on everywhere, in both elite and not-so-elite institutions. That's not to say that it's commendable, nor that everyone does it, nor that it's the sum of the college experience for those that do, nor that people who snort coke off naked girls (and the girls themselves) can't otherwise be smart, successful students. However, it's a factual reality that contemporary college men and women behave this way. Don't demonize Sorkin for portraying it - it's only a fraction of the reality, but the fraction that was important for the story (and I'm a female recent college graduate).

re:" Isn't Harvard where the Kennedy's went to school?..."
and that "liberal indoctrination" in the art of misogyny extends to these Harvard graduates, as well, we presume: Elizabeth Dole, Caspar Weinberger, Henry Kissinger, Antonin Scalia, Mitt Romney, Teddy Roosevelt, George W. Bush, and Supreme Court Chief Justices William Renquist and John Roberts?

Anti-intellectualism is every bit as dangerous to the future of society as misogyny. Both should be exposed, repudiated, and relegated to our American past. Unfortunately, the willfully uneducated cultivate their 'contempt' for the education that would make our society better by conflating the behavior of the misanthropic few with the institution itself, one of the greatest and most beneficial gifts this great nation has given to the world.

I really love how depending on the topic feminists are either ruining America by making women tear their clothes off or they're ruining America by telling women to keep their clothes on.

Why is it considered misogyny if a writer attempts to portray real events, even in a fictional light? Anytime a woman is portrayed negatively in a film, "misogyny" is thrown around like it means something. "The Social Network" may be a story with a limited number of female characters, but besides a couple "groupies," it also features Rashida Jones as the "voice of reason" and Rooney Mara as a self-respecting woman who is a victim of misogyny (an act the movie does not condone or elevate).

Sorkin's script is fair, even-handed, and fitting for his subject matter. That he has to defend it is evidence that we live in a culture filled with people looking for any opportunity to espouse their own beliefs with little regard to the evidence.

I don't know if all adults forgot what college was like or they just don't want to remember but what do you think happens on a frat row on Thursday, Friday or Saturday nights. Exactly what happens in the movie. Guys take advantage of girls who are drunk out of their minds and only want to be taking advantage because even after being taking advantage of they come back the next night to do the same thing. I'm not saying it's right or anything but you have to accept what happens on a college campus in America

The sex-doll depiction of women in the Social Network seemed a calculated move on behalf of the filmmakers to me: this is how a group of awkward dorks raised on porn, rejection and a misplaced sense of entitlement will come to view and treat women. The microcosm portrayed isn't "collage campus," it is "nerds in exile." To this end showing the trite, imitative party culture of jocks and rich kids - hollow echos of a dumb, misogynist mainstream - is necessary to set up a target for dork desire. These are not nerds as non-conformist-men-of-inquiry, but self-hating-nerds who see themselves as failed jocks, first and foremost.

So it would seem to me those who bemoan the lack of smart, erudite women in The Social Network have the wrong idea about the films basic premise: this is not a rags-to-riches christmas miracle type of story, celebrating the achievement of able underdogs, a story where you would love to be able to point out that, hey! the smart girl lent a hand, and this black dude also helped out etc. etc. No, this is the story of how someone who couldn't sit with the cool kids in the school cafeteria fixated on that criteria for happiness (and coolness) and squandered his vast talent in a wildly successful yet ultimately unsatisfactory effort to create a virtual social sphere where he and his kind was "in".

How close to or far from the truth that story is, I couldn't say.

Pfft, yea- whatever. As if programs aimed at women don't objectify men.
Hypocrisy at its finest.

Speaking as someone who graduated from a large state college this spring, this is how college girls behave. "Feminism" is very unpopular. Yes, there are extremely intelligent young women EVERYWHERE in the world, but that doesn't mean that there aren't slutty college girls EVERYWHERE in the world also...because there are, and it's college - sure most of us will probably regret the ways we've behaved but that's what young people do: stupid things.

I'd hate to burst your feminist bubble, but there is a clear reaction amongst women and girls of the younger generations, especially post Gen X that do not share your views about women. You may think it's regressing, but now women are seen and portrayed as men are: hunters. There is your equality. The truth of it. And what it offends you? I guess you want it both, to be worshipped as something above male-shallowness and all-to-dependance on instinct over reason, and to be viewed on equal footing with men. What is so offensive about women wanting power and money and using their goods to get it? Isn't that what the feminist movement was suppose to do? Liberate women's sexuality, and male-dominated monogamous oppression?

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