Social Network sexism

The Social Network poster. Jesse Eisenberg's face text superimposed YOU DON'T GET TO 500 MILLION FRIENDS WITHOUT MAKING A FEW ENEMIES.The Social Network is an excellent film, meaningful, relevant, and very entertaining, with sharp dialogue, beautiful direction, and a stellar and practically all male cast. Oh yeah, that.

The film follows an interesting pattern I’ve noticed in other work by contemporary male filmmakers (Inception as an example) – it offers compelling insight into sexism while also displaying a sexist perspective in its storytelling.

The film focuses on a new generation of powerful rich white men with Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, as its lead. Zuckerberg and his friends/coworkers/enemies are actively antifeminist. After getting dumped Zuckerberg creates a website where people can compare and vote on the hotness of Harvard women. The site’s popularity and the ensuing backlash ups Zuckerberg’s cache and positions him to create Facebook. It also presents the first example of an interesting relationship with organizers: Zuckerberg uses the negative reaction of campus feminists to his advantage, but he also thinks that apologizing to them should mean the sexism of his website is no longer an issue.

Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin has a similar reaction when his inappropriate behavior with a chicken resurfaces during a deposition: he apologized to the campus animal rights group so the issue should be over. These guys treat organizers as a chance for attention and public forgiveness. Zuckerberg really doesn’t care that his attitude towards women is dehumanizing. This is complicated by the fact that he is an incredibly gifted programmer but lacks almost any social skills. But he still surrounds himself with male collaborators who he even occasionally respects and admires.

Which brings me to the gender problem of the film itself. There are almost no female characters in this movie. Sure, there are women on the screen to look at – as Roger Ebert mentions in his excellent review:

A subtext the movie never comments on is the omnipresence of attractive Asian women.

Of course there’s a racial element to the objectification. Yes, the lack of developed female characters absolutely stems from the fact the male leads don’t have real relationships with women, and, well, all the leads are male. But it’s not helped by a script that paints more than a few of these “attractive Asian women” as pretty standard stereotypes: whore, ditz, hysterical.

There are two women who bookend the film and are actually depicted as intelligent: Erica, who dumps Zuckerberg in the opening scene, and a lawyer played by Rashida Jones who closes the film. However, in a film about men who are computer geniuses but clueless about human interaction both these women display emotional intelligence. I was reminded of Ellen Page’s character in Inception. As Courtney wrote about that film:

It was hard not to notice that the only female member of the team, played by Ellen Page, is also the one who is the most emotionally-attuned, and charged with holding the lead male, played by Leo DeCaprio, responsible for his subconscious desires and emotional recklessness.

Erica and Zuckerberg’s lawyer both offer the male lead some insight into how people think and feel and then leave. That’s it. And those are the most developed women in the film.

The Social Network really is an extraordinarily good film, one I’m planning to run out and see again soon. But it certainly brings to light some frustrating sexism.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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