The Social Network—Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher’s fictionalized retelling of the creation of Facebook and the spectacular round of betrayals, accusations, and lawsuits that engulfed its Harvard-boy founders—is still the number one movie in the US this week. As soon as the movie was released, the internets began to buzz about its not-entirely-flattering portrayal of computer-geeks turned billionaires and the women who love them…or don’t. You can read Amanda Marcotte’s review for Pandagon here or Irin Carmon’s take on its “Angry Nerd Misogyny” for Jezebel here.
Join the Harpies for a lively breakdown of what SarahMC calls: The Social Network: A Case Study in Nerds Can be Misogynists Too.
Michelle: I mentioned this elsewhere, but I’ve been sort of surprised about the degree to which people have been picking up on gender politics in the movie. Even Ebert mentioned it in his review and he is not traditionally known for his gender analysis. Not to say that it isn’t fairly blatant – I’m still not sure what real dramatic purpose the Brooks-Brothers-scarf-on-fire scene served – but I’m wondering why in this movie it’s striking such a chord. Is it because it’s Sorkin, who is traditionally known for creating great female characters?
sarah.of.a.lesser.god: I think Fincher probably thought about it less than Sorkin may have. As Michelle says, Sorkin has created some great female characters in the past, whereas Fincher loves concentrating on dudely dudes. Twelve Monkeys anyone? Fight Club? And even Zodiac had only Chloe Sevigny who was absolutely wasted.
BeckySharper: I agreed with Amanda Marcotte’s take on it:
Here is why I think that it’s wrong to think that Sorkin and Fincher are trying to do anything but make you uncomfortable with the casual misogyny of the main characters in the movie: it bugs the shit out of everyone who sees it. If they didn’t intend to make a movie that was interrogating toxic masculinity and its effect on women, they managed to make a movie where that theme is the main one that everyone who leaves the theater appears to be discussing. At a certain point, the thing that is most notable about “The Social Network” might just be the thing that the movie is about. Or at least one of the things.
It’s not like there aren’t Strong Female Characters in “The Social Network”. They’re there, but they are mostly hinted at, and one thing they have in common is that they find Mark Zuckerberg and his buddies repulsive. The one character we see ingratiating herself into their group is openly portrayed as obsessive and probably mentally ill. The conclusion the audience reaches—and I suspect this was the point—was that women who have their shit together know well enough to stay far the fuck away from these guys. And in case that point wasn’t clear enough, the opening and closing scenes involve Zuckerberg interacting with these women. Or, more to the point, being basically shoved off by them.
The “shoved off by them” thing was critical, I think. Zuckerberg comes across as cringe-inducing, and he’s meant to be cringe-inducing, and that’s not an endorsement of the computer-nerd/dudebro misogyny. Women—and the viewer—don’t like him and you can tell he secretly agrees with them. He knows he’s an asshole, and while he wishes he weren’t, he’s not willing to change his behavior.
SarahMC: I doubt the filmmakers were trying to interrogate toxic masculinity, but the toxic masculinity sure is apparent throughout the film. The characters’ sexism is not painted in a positive light, even though I don’t think that’s the main theme of the movie. All in all, The Social Network seemed to be the story of the break-up between Mark and Eduardo.
The anger felt by those hurt by Mark—including his ex/girlfriend—was treated as legitimate, which I appreciated. The filmmakers knew their characters were unlikable. I came out hating Mark, feeling bad for Eduardo and proud of Erica. She wasn’t a doormat and didn’t go crawling back to Mark after he attained a huge level of success. Her character is not based on a real person, so just a little detail like that impressed me.
sarah.of.a.lesser.god: I think it spoke volumes that the movie opened with a woman shooting down Zuckerberg. And immediately afterwards he humiliates her in a public forum. If that doesn’t prove his misogyny, than I’m not sure what does. And worth noting that later in the movie Erica brings it up again, so the audience doesn’t forget that however Mark’s success may be growing, the people who know him will still call him out for being an asshole.
BeckySharper: Exactly. Erica’s only on-screen for about 10 minutes in the whole movie, and she’s a fictional character, but I think she did more for Womanity in those ten minutes than every dumbass rom-com heroine played by Katherine Heigel, Kate Hudson, Jennifer Aniston et al. in the last ten years. Ditto Rashida Jones’s ten minutes.
SarahMC: It’s too bad the strong female characters were pushed to the side, but, I guess I can overlook that since the male characters were not exactly lionized.
SarahMC: What did you want to say about the Asian women? (I know what you are thinking, I’m sure)
BeckySharper: Holy dragon lady/ tiger lily objectification, Batgirl! I mean, one of the characters, I forget which one, goes on a rant about why Asian girls and Jewish guys make sense together….
Michelle: It was Eduardo.
BeckySharper: That’s right, Eduardo. It was a monologue of douche-y stereotypical crap. And then that leads to the ridiculous scene where the two hot Asian chicks blow Mark and Eduardo in the bathroom. Those girls were lifted right from some “hot Asian chick” porn site. Blargh. And Eduardo’s Asian girlfriend is basically just useless arm candy until she turns into a pyro. The stereotypes were flying fast and furious at that point.
SarahMC: Right. I just found it outrageous that Eduardo’s girlfriend would get so violently angry with him, setting the bin on fire and all that. There are plenty of Asian women at Harvard so it’s not like it would be unusual for the men to have Asian girlfriends, but the dragon lady/tiger lily was going strong!
BeckySharper: Further gratuitous objectification alert! I want to give a shout-out to Justin Timberlake, because I thought his Mephistophelean Sean Parker was awesome. Dude can act. My off-again, on-again love affair with JT is now officially back on.
Michelle: I thought JT was terrible, but I seem largely immune to his charms.
SarahMC: My love for JT has been going strong since the early oughts, and his performance was strong, too.
Feel free to add your own thoughts about The Social Network in the comments.