Now that 'The Social Network's hype is in full bloom -- until Oscar season officially starts, anyway -- critics have come out against the way women have been portrayed in the film. I'll be the first to admit I'm torn on the issue, but I'd also wager that the majority of the criticism boils down to the flashiest pull quote in 'The Social Network's ad campaign. Naturally, it's from Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, who declares, "The Social Network' also defines the decade." Naturally, this led to an outcry of people who didn't want to be lumped in with Travers' generalization -- especially women who protest both the disparity between fact and fiction in 'The Social Network' and the overall portrayal of women in the movie, which is poor to say the least. (Here's David Ehrlich's take on why 'The Social Network' doesn't define a generation.)
The women in this film are "prizes," according to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who was quizzed about the role of women in 'The Social Network' by Stephen Colbert. They're "just the people who are populating this story." The Daily Beast's Rebecca Davis O'Brien rebuts this claim, writing that these "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. They are foils for the male characters, who in turn are cruel or indifferent to them."
Meanwhile, over at Jezebel, Irin Carmon turns a critical eye towards the real story of Facebook and Harvard, as well as the creative license taken by Sorkin and director David Fincher. "Hollywood's solution to Facebook's unsexy creation story was familiar: Add women as sluts, stalkers, or ballbusters," she writes, later adding, "It's not interesting that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher changed the 'reality,' but it is interesting how and why they did. A movie like 'The Social Network' that slavishly strives for some forms of verisimilitude (the way the Quincy House website looked in 2003, the scratchy couches in the common rooms, lines Mark Zuckerberg wrote in his blog) and blithely departs from others is making a choice both about the world it wants to see and the world it thinks will sell... That mostly comes down to sex as the motivator for all things."
Could Sorkin and Fincher have come up with a better way to portray women? Of course they could have. Is the depiction of Asian women as sexed-up, one-note, batsh*t women ridiculous and unnecessary? Of course. These are not points I'd disagree with. It is lazy to fall back on these stereotypes, and beneath Sorkin and Fincher's talent. I don't think every movie needs to pass the Bechdel test. But why are the women so crappy? They're not even "people," really, except for Erica (Rooney Mara), who rightfully calls out Zuckerberg for the asshole he is. On the other hand, one might also argue that other background characters like the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer) are equally one note.
We're given a trio of wholly unreliable narrators who do see women as props and prizes and ugly feminists out to get them. They're emblematic of all the things that the fictional Mark Zuckerberg wants and feels are out of his reach, like the Harvard social clubs. Even Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) questions whether or not Zuckerberg's screwing him over all boils down to the fact that Saverin got into one of Harvard's fancy clubs where WASPs cheer on half-naked women making out with each other. Sean Parker, who is played by Justin Timberlake, rounds out the trio, but his intent is more about revenge and to continue his dot com lifestyle.
'The Social Network' is about these men and their ideas of what success looks like, which don't match up with reality. When Zuckerberg and Saverin specifically find out what that reality is, it isn't so pretty and sexy. In the end, Zuckerberg might be a billionaire but he's still all alone in a conference room with his laptop.
What do you think? Did the film portray women poorly, and considering the content (and that it's based on a true story), could the filmmakers have done anything about that?