Stella Fayman does marketing and social media for startup FeeFighters.com. She is a graduate of Northwestern University, with a degree in psychology and business institutions. Catch Stella’s musings on startup life on her blog, Startup Stella or Twitter.
The Social Network has been called an “era-defining picture” and “it gets no better than this.” It has grossed over $70 million at box offices around the world. However, the film has sparked controversy not only about the truth behind the story it tells, but a more substantial controversy.
The supreme lack of strong women in the storyline is surprising and untrue to the Facebook story. The only women characters in the movie are either sex objects (think Stanford butt shorts), psycho (Saverin’s pyro girlfriend), or just plain fillers (no personality lawyers). I’m not the only one who left the theater feeling disgusted, many bloggers and entrepreneurs alike responded to the dearth of smart women, which prompted a response from Aaron Sorkin. Consider the following two characters and how their involvement would have changed The Social Network.
Ever heard of Randi Zuckerberg? Probably not. She certainly was not a character in The Social Network. Randi is Mark’s sister, a Harvard grad, and has been the face of Facebook for many years. As head of marketing initiatives and the person who put Facebook on the political map, surely a true story of Facebook would have included so important a character, especially one who is beside her brother and has his back.
How about Priscilla Chan? Have you heard of her? She and Mark Zuckerberg have been dating since 2004, when they met at Harvard. In fact, Priscilla was one of Mark’s initial supporters when he was starting Facebook. She is now finishing medical school and hopes to be a pediatrician.
Why weren’t these two strong women, who are essential to the Facebook narrative, included in the film? The answer is ugly and controversial. Since women are essentially treated as mindless sex objects, accessories existing only in relation to strong male characters in the film, having independent, smart leading women would have changed the story about women in broader society that the film portrays.
Now I’m not saying that girls like the ones in The Social Network don’t exist (they do), but the bigger problem is that they don’t represent the women in Zuckerberg’s life, women in elite universities, and women in the startup world. However, since the number of women in those three scenarios is tiny compared to the entire female population, viewers are led to make judgments and form stereotypes. Since the movie is PG-13, millions of impressionable teenagers (both girls and boys) who live their lives on Facebook have seen The Social Network as a microcosm of what the elite university and Silicon Valley are like. That is truly scary.
Women’s groups, non-profits, and successful female entrepreneurs make such a huge effort to ensure that young girls can see themselves as the next Mark Zuckerberg. The unfair, unrealistic portrayal of women in The Social Network sets these groups’ efforts back and reminds young girls that their future places are only as sex objects (Stanford butt shorts), psychos (Saverin’s girlfriend) or just plain fillers (the lawyers)…instead of independent, smart women like Randi Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan.
How does this portrayal of women in the media affect young women?