Aaron Sorkin's Elite Smart Girls (or Lack Thereof)
by Kelli Marshall — DePaul University
June 30, 2011 – 00:00
Almost immediately after its release, The Social Network came under fire for its limiting and misogynistic portrayals of women. Most harsh were writers for Jezebel, The Daily Beast, and EW who identified the film’s female characters as set pieces, "nearly naked scenery at parties, bimbo potheads, and mini-skirt-wearing interns." By the time the Golden Globes rolled around, such grumbling had mostly died down, the hubbub shifting instead to the two-horse Best Picture race between said Facebook movie and The King’s Speech. As a result, the "vengeful sluts and feminist killjoys" scattered throughout The Social Network no longer occupied the forefront of viewers’ minds—that is, until the film’s screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, took center stage.
In his acceptance speech for Best Screenplay, Sorkin (understandably) thanks The Social Network’s distributors, producers, director, and cast. But the last 15 seconds, he devotes to the evening’s Best Actress nominees and his 11-year-old daughter: "I want to thank all the female nominees tonight for helping demonstrate to my young daughter that eliteis not a bad word; it’s an aspirational one. Honey, look around. Smart girls have more fun, and you’re one of them."
Sorkin’s shout-out to the industry’s "elite smart girls" (apparently represented by Natalie Portman whose visage is crosscut with shots of Sorkin) diverges from the remainder of his speech; thus, it seems odd and out of place, an incongruity which ultimately led viewers to examine the screenwriter’s intent. While some interpreted Sorkin’s words as empowering, a devoted father emphasizing intellect over beauty and body shape, many viewers read the statement as a weak act of contrition, a screenwriter trying to apologize for The Social Network’s one-dimensional female characters or lack thereof. For example, Christopher Watson believes Sorkin was just "trying to get his feminism card reinstated." Similarly, Melissa Silverstein calls the speech "disingenuous," adding that Sorkin shouldn’t have to use "other strong women in the room to compensate for the sexism in his film" (see also Vulture, several folks on Twitter).
Unquestionably, The Social Network features some women as "sluts, stalkers, and ballbusters," but in the context of narrative/character motivation, are there theoretically valid reasons for this? Furthermore, what do we make of all the complex, feminist female characters that fill the remainder of Sorkin’s oeuvre (The West Wing, Studio 60, Sports Night, The American President, A Few Good Men)?