Where Are All The Strong Women In “The Social Network”?

27 Oct

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?

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2 Responses to “Where Are All The Strong Women In “The Social Network”?”

  1. Anonymous 01. Nov, 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    Stella you appear to be very insecure. Get over yourself and start being comfortable being a woman. Bottom line is that women didn’t have an significant impact in the start-up of Facebook, and to make it appear that they did would be unfair to those who had. You are looking for an issue where none exists, and thus simply highlighting your own insecurities.

  2. Get into Computer Science, ladies. 26. Nov, 2011 at 5:18 pm #

    @Anonymous, you’re an idiot. Plain and simple.

    As for the suthor of the piece, I don’t see her as insecure. Anonymous I see YOU as having self-esteem low enough to accept the female characters The Social Network portrayed.

    With that said, honestly, most women -I’d say 97%- don’t have the fortitude, drive, desire, or ambition to do anything like Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Sevrine, the Winklevoss twins, Sergey Brin, Jobs, or any of these other powerful people. These are TECH guys in Computer Science. Girls and women RUN from CS and I don’t know why. I thought at least the teen girls would be interested in Computer Science because of the popularity of Facebook, formerly Myspace, IMVU, or whatever else. Turns out their only interest in social networking is how many semi-nude self portraits they can post and how many people they can run their mouths to about the Twilight Saga. They are really a disappointment. If females in general ran towards coding and Computer Science like they run towards romance novels there would 10 x the female Mark Zuckerbergs walking around as there are male (Sergey Brin, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Jawed Karim of Youtube, ect.)

    Females need to get their priorities straight and get out of fashion, Twilight, babies, and Gossip Girl, and get their weave-wearing heads into a Computer Science book so women can advance as a group and make some real MONEY.

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