Aaron Sorkin responds to Social Network sexism allegations

Senior Editor
10.11.10 15 Comments

It's only fair to illustrate an Aaron Sorkin movie with a mouth that never stops moving

Despite being well-reviewed by almost everyone but Armond White, The Social Network has taken its share of criticism, usually for being sexist.  When it comes to criticism, there are generally two approaches — you can either accept it for what it is and attempt to explain yourself, or you can just do like M. Night Shyamalan and claim the 95% of people who thought your movie sucked just don’t get your “European sensibility.”  Social Network writer Aaron Sorkin recently responded to criticism in the comments section of a small blog, and to his credit, he seems to have take the non-Shyammy approach.

Believe me, I get it. It’s not hard to understand how bright women could be appalled by what they saw in the movie but you have to understand that that was the very specific world I was writing about. Women are both prizes an equal [sic – “prizes and equals”, I think]. Mark’s blogging that we hear in voiceover as he drinks, hacks, creates Facemash and dreams of the kind of party he’s sure he’s missing, came directly from Mark’s blog. With the exception of doing some cuts and tightening (and I can promise you that nothing that I cut would have changed your perception of the people or the trajectory of the story by even an inch) I used Mark’s blog verbatim. Mark said, “Erica Albright’s a bitch” (Erica isn’t her real name–I changed three names in the movie when there was no need to embarrass anyone further), “Do you think that’s because all B.U. girls are bitches?” 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, aimed first at the woman who’d most recently broke his heart (who should get some kind of medal for not breaking his head) and then at the entire female population of Harvard.

More generally, 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. The women they surround themselves with aren’t women who challenge them (and frankly, no woman who could challenge them would be interested in being anywhere near them.)

And this very disturbing attitude toward women isn’t just confined to the guys who can’t get dates.

I didn’t invent the “F–k Truck”, it’s real–and the men (boys) at the final clubs think it’s what they deserve for being who they are. (It’s only fair to note that the women–bussed in from other schools for the “hot” parties, wait on line to get on that bus without anyone pointing guns at their heads.)

These women–whether it’s the girls who are happy to take their clothes off and dance for the boys or Eduardo’s psycho-girlfriend are real. I mean REALLY real. (In the case of Christy, Eduardo’s girlfriend so beautifully played by Brenda Song, I conflated two characters–again I hope you’ll trust me that doing that did nothing to alter our take on the events. Christy was the second of three characters whose name I changed.)

I invented two characters–one was Rashida Jones’s “Marylin”, the youngest lawyer on the team and a far cry from the other women we see in the movie. She’s plainly serious, competent and, when asked, has no problem speaking the truth as she sees it to Mark. The other was Gretchen, Eduardo’s lawyer (in reality there was a large team of litigators who all took turns deposing witnesses but I wanted us to become familiar with just one person–a woman, who, again, is nobody’s trophy).

And Rooney Mara’s Erica’s a class act.

I wish I could go door to door and make this explanation/apology to any woman offended by the things you’ve pointed out but obviously that’s unrealistic so I thought the least I could do was speak directly to you. [from Ken Levine’s blog]

Good for Sorkin for responding to criticism in an honest way, but I had a couple problems with his apology.  Normally I have no patience for the “all the women in your movie are sex objects!” criticism, because it’s usually shrill and unwarranted.  For one thing, do you really want a male screenwriter inventing “strong women” stereotypes that he knows nothing about?  A guy like Judd Apatow writing what he knows is not sexist.  Not every movie has to be everything to everyone, and the more they try, the more they’re usually going to suck.  Secondly, humans are animals. We bang each other to pass down our genes and that is our purpose as encoded in our DNA.  Which is to say, we’re all sex objects at some point, so get over yourself and stop acting so naive about it.  (Is the guy calling it a “f*ck truck” objectifying women any more than the girl getting on it so she can bag a Harvard guy is objectifying men?)

HOWEVER. In this case, what Sorkin fails to cop to in his apology is that in real life, Mark Zuckerberg had the same girlfriend almost since the founding of Facebook. She’s not in the movie at all.  Instead, we got Erica Albright, aka Rosebud (and that first scene was easily the worst).  So he took out what was probably a major character in real life and amplified one that was mainly just a prop.  Is that unfair to women?  Probably. But it’s not because Aaron Sorkin is sexist, it’s more that he’s unfair to reality.  For the record, I liked the movie.  It never pretended to be anything but an EXTREMELY HEIGHTENED version of reality, and even cleverly gave itself permission to do so by setting most of the action in subjective flashback scenes.

It’s just a little scary to hear Sorkin tell it like he believes the slick characters from the movie  actually exist in real life, with one or two character traits motivating everything they do.  Mark Zuckerberg and his nerd buddies created something that was like MySpace, but worked better, and people wanted to be on it because of the exclusivity factor.  He and a friend had a disagreement about how it should be run, and they split.  That’s pretty much the whole story.  That they made something as entertaining as The Social Network out of it is awesome, but let’s not act like Zuckerberg is some Dickensian villain motivated by deep-seated misogyny based on one anecdote you know about him from when he was 19.

Anyway, that’s my two cents that no one’s probably interested in.  If you need me, I’m gonna go jack off and make a gif animation out of autofellatio walrus.

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