What I liked best about The Social Network (a/k/a "the Facebook movie") was its vivid portrait of smart kids creating and tackling an intellectual challenge: the energy, the enthusiasm, and the sheer geekiness of it all. In some ways, the movie felt like a response to my plea, last month, for more cinematic depictions of the life of the mind. I'm not a computer programmer or an entrepreneur, but I have been a college student, and the movie captured what it's like to be a nerdy obsessive surrounded by other obsessives. The scene near the beginning where Zuckerberg creates "Facemash" in a late-night blitz while his friends egg him on, as well as the later coding competition where a bunch of students at computers throw back shots of alcohol after every line of code written, both felt perfect to me. They reminded me of my own college experience (minus the coding and company-founding parts).
But the movie's authenticity only goes so far. As several commenters have noted, women, with the exception of the girlfriend who dumps Zuckerberg before the opening credits, exist in the movie only as groupies or psycho-sluts. I don't have a problem with the presence of a few two-dimensional floozies or even some gratuitous--and, I'm pretty sure, wildly inaccurate--scenes set at parties in Harvard's final clubs where the women strip to their underwear and make out with each other for the delectation of the male partiers. I mean, those scenes are lame, but whatever: women occasionally do that shit, and probably sometimes even at Harvard.
What I have a problem with is that there are no other women. Maybe it's too much to expect a Hollywood movie to show women who are as rumpled and nerdy as many of the men (although last time I checked, on actual college campuses unwashed hair and sweatpants know no gender). But surely there could be a cute smart girl or two? A pretty female coder? A Facebook employee who's not just a jailbait intern-groupie?
I didn't go to Harvard, so I could be totally wrong here, but in my years at Harvard-but-for-the-architecture, there were lots of smart women. Some of them were damn hot, too, and went to frat parties and may have worn spiky heels and low-cut blouses and tons of eyeliner. . . one night a week. But the rest of the time they were wearing jeans and glasses and setting the curve in their organic chemistry classes. Or staying up until two a.m. every night editing the school paper.
I'm mostly inured to the crappy depictions of women in movies; I say little hand-wavy things like, "well, the female characters are sappy and sucky--but it's still a great film." But perhaps because I've been thinking about depictions of the intellectual life in movies, or perhaps because I went to not-Harvard and felt that I recognized so much of the intellectual culture and nerd-energy of The Social Network, the portrayal of women in this movie (a movie that I mostly liked) really pissed me off.
Or maybe it's just that my college roommate got married last weekend, and in the days preceding my going to see Sorkin's movie I'd been thinking fond thoughts about her and the five other women I lived with freshman year. So since this is my goddamn blog, I'm going to tell you about those five women. None of them is a Mark Zuckerberg, but they all had obsessions, talents, and flashes of inspiration--not to mention feverish all-nighters or all-weekenders where they put together major projects--that are basically consonant with the way the movie depicts him and his exclusively male friends.
My roommates majored in Economics, Anthropology, French, Biology, and Physics & Philosophy (a double major). One went on to get an M.A. as a Fulbright Scholar and to work first in consulting, then for a famine relief organization, and is now the department head at a major British corporation. Another went to library science school and then became the director of a public library--where she's recently received some unsought national attention as a defender of the First Amendment. The third got both American and French law degrees and practiced law in France before becoming a jazz songwriter and vocalist, based in New York; she has a couple of albums out now. The fourth is a labor activist, and her work on behalf of illegal immigrant sweatshop workers was recently featured on PBS. The fifth got a Ph.D. in physics and is now on the tenure track at our alma mater. They were--and are--smart, fun, and hilarious.
And I can't help but ask: where are their undergraduate selves in movies about college life? Where are their adult selves, for that matter?