Jezebel, Entertainment Weekly, Devin formerly of Chud, and legions of others have begun an engrossing and thoroughly important discussion that, it should be noted, has mostly been divided by sex. Headlines are trumpeting ” The Social Network has a woman problem” or, if they’re a dude, “Does The Social Network have a woman problem?”
Many women apparently feel that The Social Network probably doesn’t do right by them, and some penis owners are quick to point out that this was “based on a true story” and that additional female characters of strength or importance would have had to have been invented solely as works of fiction. The gist of the battle is that a movie GUARANTEED to be nominated for a boatload of Oscars once more has no real use for 51% of our population. This is the kind of vital discourse and conversation that needs to be had, so I’m throwing my hat into the ring not because I think I have any particular unique or crucial insight but because I refuse to play passive witness to a discussion of this magnitude.
There are three parts to this argument: the under-representation of women in the film, the use of those women lucky enough to be included in the film, and the overall message. Let’s take these one by one.
As much as I understand the argument of those who say “to include any additional female characters would be to add too much fiction to this fact-based film,” that’s not what I think was needed. We know that Erica Albright existed, and that she played at least a vital role in the catalyst for Facesmash which begat Facebook. When Mark Zuckerberg’s hateful, vile blog screed against her takes place, we are given exactly one hurt reaction from her. When she reappears later, she is classy as hell and whip-smart. I don’t think it would have been a bad idea to have a little more of her in the film. I understand that this isn’t “her movie,” and that folks like Devin would argue that we don’t see rounded out versions of other small characters, but this isn’t a small character. The film begins and ends with her. She IS significant, and insofar as Zuckerberg’s hatred of her, and perhaps dismissal of women in general, is the spark that fired the invention about which this whole movie is concerned, I don’t think it would have been factually unfair or tonally dishonest to check in with her to see her reaction to Zuckerberg’s triumph.
Yes, there is a scene in which Zuckerberg is passed a note that represents how most women feel about him after his Facesmash creation, but I also feel it would have given a nicer voice to see a bit stronger of a reaction to this. We get a note passed in one scene, but then a full-on groupie sex scene later. As far as screen time and significance goes, we are shown far more nookie-as-reward than hatred for where his project originated.
This is a great movie, but I do think that it didn’t consider the significance of what it WASN’T saying, and the fix would have been relatively easy. Toss in more development of Erica, stronger reaction of women to Zuckerberg, and perhaps given the intern at the very end more to do than be sexual (why couldn’t she have been attractive through intelligence and sass, would that have really been such a stretch), and suddenly we’re not talking about this…well, not quite as much anyway.
Then there’s Christy. Oy. Did I laugh when she was shown to be the psycho-girlfriend? Sure. Was it probably that entire reason she was used in the film, which needed a bit of levity and range? Yep. Was that a bit uncomfortable…yes. Christy shows up to instantly pork Eduardo, before drooling over Sean Parker’s awesomeness, and then go batshit crazy and start becoming insanely jealous. Feel free to cut all of that out. I would rather have had that time go to Erica or someone else, or have lost it all together, than to add a boob-thrusting, bed burning stereotype into the movie for some levity. Her character is not a problem in a different movie, one not dealing with someone who becomes a billionaire because he started an online movement to get back at a girl. If Aaron Sorkin had shaped her character a bit to be smart or funny, again, we’re not having this conversation and it wouldn’t have been some terrible rewrite of reality. This was a misused opportunity to be sure.
The other rally cry is the sluts shown at the Pheonix party. I have no problem with this. The point is to show how crude and disgusting the people in that group were, and you cannot look upon the dudes in that scene and think anything other than “wow are they vile.” I also have no problem with them showing women who are lowering themselves by engaging in that behavior. These are presumably smart girls who either go to Harvard or are at least aware enough to know and care who the “next Fed chair” will be, so them debasing themselves by making out with one another for the entertainment of rich boys is obviously intended to be vile. This was fine with me.
Finally, you have Rashida Jones’ character, which has been pointed to as redeeming by some out there. Disagree strongly. Her kindness and intelligence is great, but she basically is the agent of absolving here. She gives him the personal pardon of “you’re not a bad guy, you just try hard to be.” Really? How does she possibly come to think that after hearing all the wretched things he’s done to good people? I don’t have a problem with her pitying him, that would have been good. Had she demonstrated some superior intellect and then pitied him, then we cut to the Erica befriending, again I think it works better and we’re not talking about this.
The problem is this in my opinion: Facebook was created from a Web site that was primarily used by dudes to scope chicks and was inspired by Zuckerberg’s attempt to get revenge on an ex. The subsequent portrayal of Christy and Erica and lack of a strong female response does probably leave a little to be desired. I remember thinking that while I was watching it, before this discourse began, so I feel it is totally valid. I do not think it was mean spirited or even intentional, I think Sorkin and David Fincher were keyed in on presenting the story of Zuckerberg and the important cultural shift he represented, mindful of staying focused on the main elements of the story to keep the running time reasonable.
I feel like the criticisms are warranted and important, that we ought to hold accountable films of this magnitude that had missed opportunities or misrepresentations. I don’t think this is even on the list of most problematic female films even within the last year, but as a high-profile awards contender, we need to be discussing it.