//SATURDAY DISCUSSION: Is ‘The Social Network’ Sexist?

SATURDAY DISCUSSION: Is ‘The Social Network’ Sexist?

Stephen Colbert was the first to point out the imbalanced role of women in The Social Network. In his interview with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, Colbert brings up Zuckerberg’s girlfriend character and then goes on to propose the question “The other ladies in the movie don’t have as much to say because they’re high or drunk or bleeping guys in the bathroom.  Why are there no other women of any substance in the movie?”

Sorkin seemed caught off guard and does not give the questions a straight-forward answer, which stirred the internet chatter about the intentions of the script. Is the sexism intentional as part of the message or is it Sorkin and Fincher’s carelessness at portraying the minor women characters?

Rebecca Davis O’Brien, writing for The Daily Beast, agrees with Colbert saying that the women in the movie don’t exist as deeply constructed characters, but simply as foils for the male characters:

Women in the movie—apart from the lawyer and Erica, who sets the stage and disappears—are less prizes than they are props, buxom extras literally bussed in to fill the roles of doting groupies, vengeful sluts, or dumpy, feminist killjoys.

Tracy Clark-Flory of Salon notes the lack of women programmers and interviews some real ones to see if the depiction of women in the film is the norm, or misleading. One of the programmers says in the male-dominated industry, the presentation of women as prizes is unfortunately not that far off:

There are a lot of great guy developers out there, and I have never felt mistreated. However, yes, girls are a prize that you win when you are successful. It is similar to a frat house mentality, and as one of the rare women in the field I often feel like a Peggy Olsen.

My opinion on the matter is that the sexism in The Social Network is purely intentional and used to support the idea that Facebook was started as a frat-boy corporation. The movie presents fraternity boys and male final clubs members as privileged misogynists with the amount of girls they can sleep with equivalent to their level of accomplishment. The scene where we see Zuckerberg drunkenly programming FaceSmash.com intercut with a party at the Phoenix club is symbolic of the life he has and the life he desires. Both sets of males are trying to one-up the others with their “groupie” count and sex is the real motivator for their entrepreneurship.

Allison Willmore of IFC.com eloquently presents a counter-argument that I agree with:

We don’t see women around much in general in the film because our main characters have no idea how to meet or pursue or talk to them. The smart, grounded girl the film starts out with — Rooney Mara’s Erica Albright — walks out on the asshole she’s been dating after he simultaneously ignores and talks down to her. It’s an affirming moment, but we don’t go with her, because it’s the asshole that “The Social Network” is about.

Granted the level of sexism can be excessive; the scene with the young girl spreading herself on a table so Sean Parker can do coke off of her belly comes to mind. However, I feel that Sorkin’s intentions were correct and he definitely makes up for any sexism by giving Rooney Mara’s Erica Albright one of the most biting break-up lines in cinema history.

What do you think? Does The Social Network suffer from sexism?

Alex started Film Misery in early 2009 after living the site’s title for many years. His film obsession began in high school when he and his friends would see all of the Oscar Best Picture nominees and try to make predictions...Full Bio.