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Misogyny Makes Money: Review of The Social Network

by Ariel Dougherty


Fitting for these times? Is The Social Network a movie with social good? In the opening sequence over beer, Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) insults, degrades and belittles his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). She, with gumption, dumps him and splits the bar, and almost all of the movie. Everything else is downhill from there in moral character for Zuckerberg, though it is the story of the making of the youngest billionaire. A disturbing juxtaposition festers -- that wealth making is rife with sexism, deceit, lying and upending friendships. Maybe that, though, is the story of this era.

The misogyny rampant throughout the film is disturbing. More disturbing, it seems to have been the motivation behind Zuckerberg's manipulation and Internet hacking, and ultimately his creation of Facebook. Fit to be tied that Erica has dumped him, he flies to the Internet to shout out in public, degrading her once again, that she is a "bitch" and her bust needs help. Then, unsatisfied with insulting solely her, Zuckerberg goes on to bang on his computer keys, hack into Harvard's dorm room lists, and create a judging contest between pairs of women on the Harvard campus. Throughout the night the buzz of interest stimulates an overload, crashing the Harvard mainframe.

This lands Zuckerberg in his first judicial pickle, a discipline hearing at Harvard, where he is both smug and bellicose. He is placed on academic probation. Only a note originating from a female student, passed up from student to student to Zuckerberg in a lecture, (the only time we see him in a class) seems to irk him. It reads "u dick." He departs.

The hacking, however, brings him clout and notoriety. It is based on his computer prowess that the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer) and Divya Navendra (Max Minghella) invite him into their project. They want to create an Internet dating service using the exclusive Harvard address. Tall, handsome, athletic, wealthy and elitist, the twins and Zuckerberg are a class and social mismatch -- other potent elements left on the cutting room floor.

This is Harvard. I doubt it is the Harvard that Radcliffe married into 28 years earlier: it is the presidency of Larry Summers. Finally, when the Winklevoss twins acknowledge they have "been had" by Zuckerberg, they start with a gentlemanly meeting with Summers (Douglas Urbaski). In mid-January 2005, Larry Summers famously said that "innate differences between men and women might be one reason that fewer women succeed at math and science." This was Summers' undoing at Harvard. Summers dismisses the Winklevoss' concern as not a matter for Harvard. Misogyny lives in numerous forms, and at various levels of power.

Facebook continues to advance within the walls of Harvard. Zuckerberg and his business partner Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) add more fellow male students to the growing tasks of the evolving network. Two women, who had performed oral sex on Zuckerberg and Saverin in an earlier scene, are sitting with the group. When one asks "what can I do?" Zuckerberg quickly responds, "Nothing." The boys are giddy with becoming a new Bill Gates. But their world view ends there, and they certainly don't have a scintilla of concern about women's rights.

Two legal hearings frame the majority of the film story. Both are lawsuits brought against Zuckerberg. The first is from the twins and their collaborator who state the Facebook project originated from them, while Zuckerberg was their "hire." The second suit is from his best friend Eduardo Saverin, head of Harvard's student business association, who was his partner and financed "his" fledgling Facebook idea. The two hearings with much of the same cast of characters bounce back and forth between accusations and lawyer queries and the real-time actions that build the evolution of Facebook.

As the hearings and the story line proceed, it becomes clear Zuckerberg will lose on both counts. A youngish woman, a junior partner somewhat sympathetic to the quirky computer whiz, delivers the firm's advice: Settle -- it will be easier. In an epilogue, the Winklevoss settlement is listed as 65 million dollars. Saverin, who originally had a 30 percent share of the company, has an undisclosed settlement. His name was restored on the website as a co-founder of the company.

But what about the misogyny? Is there some way to account or settle for that persistent male supremacy? Is there some court or legal process for this?

In the final scene, Zuckerberg sits alone in the hearing room. The darkness of evening settles in. Zuckerberg peers over a computer. He is on the Facebook page of Erica Albright, which he constantly updates. Then he pulls up the Friend-her link and is about to click. But he hesitates and decides not to do it. Good choice, if you ask me. At an earlier point in the film, Zuckerberg states that it was Erica's face that he especially liked. Hence "Facebook."

Erica's only reappearance in the film is about mid-film. She is eating dinner with a group of friends. Zuckerberg approaches and asks her to step out to talk with him. She refuses. He persists. She holds her own. Firmly, she tells him, he was insulting -- publicly insulting. She has no need to engage and be denigrated again. Saverin, who observes the scene from afar, later comments, "…good that you apologized." But it's all self-deception.

For screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) and director David Fincher (Panic Room) women are the best fodder in the whiz kid's scramble to wealth. As misogyny pulsates off the pixels, no questioning, let alone resolution, is attempted. Cardboard characters do not make a friendly world -- even if they have megabucks.

It's odd that a decidedly social-inept can create an online "social network," now worth billions. As portrayed in the film, misogyny, a key tool of patriarchy, has thrived in such a misguided environment.


November 22, 2010

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Ariel Dougherty is a staunch advocate for women-made media where a different experience and reality are offered into the public realm. Co-founder of Women Make Movies in 1969, for the past four years, Dougherty has led a new national initiative, Media Equity Collaborative.

Also see Reality TV (Re)Rewrites Gender Roles by Jennifer L. Pozner in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

Also see The Rise of Enlightened Sexism by Susan J. Douglas in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.


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