Aaron Sorkin Responds To Critiques Of Misogyny In “The Social Network”

“The West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin is just like you—when he is pissed off about a blog post, he takes to the comments section! Sorkin, who wrote “The Social Network,” left a long comment on a blog post written by TV writer Ken Levine, who reviewed the movie. Another commenter, calling themselves Tarazza, posted a comment which said she loved the Facebook movie except for “the lack of a decent portrayal of women.” With the exception of Rashida Jones’ character, Tarazza wrote, the women in the movie “were basically sex objects/stupid groupies,” adding “kinda makes me think that Aaron Sorkin (though I love his writing) failed the women in this script. Kind of a shame considering he’s written great women characters like C.J. Gregg!” (The female communications director on “The West Wing.”)

Sorkin then took to Ken Levine’s blog himself. “This is Aaron Sorkin,” he wrote on KenLevine.Blogspot.com, “and I wanted to address Taraza’s comment. Believe me, I get it.”

Below is the salient part of Sorkin’s comment (which Levine pasted into its own blog post entry):

“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 and equal. 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.

I have not seen “The Social Network” because, frankly, movie ticket prices are too high. I have seen many, many women blog and make comments on Twitter and Facebook, though, that “The Social Network” had, to use their words, “a woman problem.” Based on what I’ve seen of Sorkin’s work in the amazing TV series “The West Wing,” which had more strong, smart female characters than any other TV show I can think of, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that what he says here is true.

Aaron Sorkin showing that the Facebook creators disrespected or even hated women through his film is not the same thing as Aaron Sorkin disrespecting or hating women himself. (For what it’s worth, I believe the same holds true for the lack of people of color who work at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce on “Mad Men.” I don’t think it is because the writers are purposefully not including people of color because they are racist, but because the show depicts racially segregated times.) Things like context and nuance matter and someone who creates something has to be able to make their point. I also know from personal experience that the world of technology start-ups is not as female-friendly or progressive as one would hope.

Has anyone seen “The Social Network” and care to weigh in? Did you think the movie had a “woman problem”?

[By Ken Levine]