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The (Male-Only) Social Network

Everyone’s talking about “The Social Network”, the movie chronicling the founding of Facebook. It was the weekend’s #1 movie and is an Oscar favorite It’s also attracted notice for its (non) portrayal of women. Feminist writers have weighed in thoughtfully, explaining that the movie’s women are mere props, that the creators of the film loaded the story with more misogyny than actually existed in reality, that female programmers and businesswomen were ignored, and mostly that the shallow images of women as mindless groupies undercuts the otherwise subtle, well-drawn aspects of the film.

I have to agree. Like most viewers, I loved “The Social Network.” First of all, as someone who was at Harvard when the movie took place, I thought it captured certain aspects of our bizarre, anachronistic undergraduate life and, by extension, the larger Northeastern privileged “striver” academic milieu, with an uncanny accuracy. I particularly liked the way the brilliant, eccentric (Jewish) Facebook founder — Mark Zuckerberg, a character who bears little resemblance to his real-life avatar — simmered with resentment towards the remaining WASPy scions who walked to same halls that he did with an easy, jovial entitlement he couldn’t possess.

Sure, the idea that this old system of privilege really matters is discounted by the film’s entire trajectory: In the end Zuckerberg emerges with the money and fame. But the idea that this old-school hierarchy matters personally, and particularly in the weird microcosm of college where cliques and parties and swagger are still very important, is 100% true. Beyond this, there were other excellent aspects of the film, from the acting to the script to the much-hyped Larry Summers scene. It even succeeded up to a point as an incisive interrogation of different kinds of contemporary masculinity: nerdy misogynists and loutish athletes and slick businessmen alike. But “The Social Network” stopped being successful when it left its female characters, minor though they were, as flat accessories.

You see, shows like “The Sopranos” and “Mad Men” and “Friday Night Lights” have shown us that one can spend time deconstructing a male-dominated, patriarchal world without neglecting the women who are excluded from or collude with that world. A film can make male power-gaming and peacock-strutting its main focus without reducing the minor-character women to harlots and harridans. It’s very possible, and it could have been done easily in this film. As bloggers Martha Polk and Maya Dusenbery wrote recently.

We’re not asking for The Social Network to be The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants with a little Waiting to Exhale thrown in; we’re asking for any kind of third dimension in the wall of giggles and boobs that composes the film’s background.

Exactly. It’s a shame that a film that so painstakingly investigates the sexist, self-satisfied, immature motivations of its male characters simply falls on its face when panning over to their female counterparts.


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