Stephen Colbert Asks Aaron Sorkin About the Ladies in The Social Network

by Melissa Silverstein on October 1, 2010

in Sexism

Guess I’m not the only one who noticed the fact that there are so few women in The Social Network. Stephen Colbert hit up Aaron Sorkin about the lack of women on his show last night.

Colbert: Can I ask you about the ladies?

Sorkin: Surely

Colbert: You got the opening scene which a lot of people have heard about, it’s very crisp it’s Zuckerberg and his girlfriend…

Sorkin: Right

Colbert: The one who broke his heart.

Sorkin: The girl who would start Facebook.

Colbert: Exactly.  She’s super smart and she definitely gets the best of him.

Sorkin: Right

Colbert: The other ladies in the movie don’t have as much to say because they’re high or drunk or bleeping guys in the bathroom.  Why are there no other women of any substance in the movie?

Sorkin: That’s a fair question.  There is one other woman.  Rashida Jones plays a young lawyer in the deposition scenes.

Colbert: I apologize – she’s not doing anything in the bathroom.

Sorkin: She’s a trustworthy character and she’s a stand in for the audience.  The other women are prizes basically that you um um um.

Colbert: Are women at Harvard like that?  That’s what I want to know.

Then they talk about how Sorkin didn’t go to Harvard

Sorkin: The women in this story who are prizes it really doesn’t speak to the entire female population at Harvard.  This is just the people who are populating this story.  But the movie does movie to Palo Alto when Facebook takes off there and they (the women) are just tech groupies there.

Wonder how the women at Harvard are feeling today being referred to as “prizes.”  Good thing it doesn’t refer to all women at Harvard, just the ones that populate this story.

Check out the whole episode here.

h/t Sasha Stone

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Kai Jones October 1, 2010 at 5:21 PM

Or the women in Palo Alto, who are all just tech groupies. None of them are techies on their own, or college students, or lawyers, or anything–they’re all just tech groupies.

Allison October 1, 2010 at 10:11 PM

I got a feeling this movie wasn’t female friendly just by watching the trailer. One of the shots in the trailer is of a young woman with her butt cheeks hanging out of her tight red underwear.

It’s kind of sad that there are only two women of substance in the whole cast.

prize bitch October 2, 2010 at 1:54 AM

Wow, I think I understand why Sorkin took at least 6 showers per day while writing the script.

I’m not going to pay to watch his masterbation via facebook story on film.

dlwillson October 2, 2010 at 10:42 AM

Did anyone ever think that it seems lacking of women of substance because there is barely ANY women in web dev/IT culture… when I go down to Cambridge…it’s 95% men. Because women have not been encouraged …or wanting (not sure which is the chicken or the egg) to follow that path. Web Dev needs math backgrounds… so you have a culture that makes Professional Sports seem a bastion of gender balance.

sally October 2, 2010 at 1:34 PM

Let me be the one to say it. Many guys in technology just want a woman who is not as smart as him as “the girlfriend/wife” and they can talk about “the wife” as someone befuddled by technology, that is, when they don’t use their mothers as examples of befuddlement and wonder at their “magic” technology. I know, I know, you’ll be the one to write in a comment that you know that one guy. I know some of those guys. But go out to the top silicon valley or haut tech company and take a look at who are the VPs, directors, managers, architects, team leads.

To these guys, women are marginally okay in technology in starter, supportive roles. Perhaps the hip girlfriend for a while. But they can never get promoted, lead a team, get put on the sexy new technology projects. If you get older, perhaps you can work in database administration if you stay in tech. But on the hottest new technology? Just check out all the lead teams for the iProducts, new devices, Haut Web Service companies, animation, mobile….it’s dudeland. And they are sure it is a biological affirmation.

(But if you really look again, there are inventors, company founders, and smart women who build and design – I think it is ironic that I see far more Indian women who are visible tech company founders. It’s as if they have a cheerleading group, often a proud pushy relative who saw no limits for their girl and who were first generation immigrants. Where are the proud, pushy white dude fathers who are now in positions of power in tech pushing their daughters into seeing no limits in tech?)

These dudes got into technology partially to distinguish their sex, to be the smartest guy to feel masculine. Distinguished from “mom” or “the girl” and to be special, to be told “ooo, you’re so smart…I can’t understand all that tech talk” and eventually hook up to have a kid and a stay at home mom. They think women are just to hook up with or to have a kid with. A woman in technology once told me she promoted daycare at Amazon.com, and was sitting around a table with top tech managers, and they all had stay at home moms or nannies and couldn’t understand the need for daycare assistance. Women stay at home, of course, and support the man and perhaps have a cameo career of a few hours a week where she doesn’t seriously have to think about making house payments. This is when the dudes make the high tech salaries. They can live in the 1950′s. And do. I work with these guys who may think they are progressive, they recycle, they wear college guy clothes, perhaps bike or climb if fit, think they are more modern and less bias than their fathers – yet, I have to say, I often have less trouble with older men than guys in their twenties and thirties in actually being more even handed with women in tech and actually seeing them as potential leaders. What happened?

But to the man, I’ve never met a technology leader that encouraged their daughter to be in his field and believed she’d be befuddled by it. While, they may practice bringing up the promising young man relative/guy-who-reminds-him-of-himself who is a tool and of course, is management material.

Young women aren’t without ambition or the smarts to work in an isolated fashion at a computer – most “women’s” work is isolated “boring” concentrated work at a computer. They are discouraged early that really cool in tech is a sex-linked trait. You can be the groupie. If I had not a had a full belief in that you can rise according to ability, I would not have chosen technology as a field. Because, truly, I am always having to prove myself – and even with a Masters having to start over with every layoff at a lower station on a new job to work up again while watching tools with half the ability being brought along by the dude club. And these are the guys who are the first to complain that any program that encourages women is certain to bring down the standards for talent.

While I was watching an Android video on youtube, I was watching the chubby dude talk about developing with Android and thinking…where are the chubby women in t-shirts who talk with authority about technology for a company? Or – where are any women on the Android team? Where are they in tech architecture and management at Facebook now? Don’t pull out the accountants, the HR lady, the one lady marketer like that picture of Daily Show “leaders” and say it is a nonbiased environment.

Mike Ward October 2, 2010 at 8:14 PM

Acknowledging this is a simple take on the issue raised, I felt that the depiction of women in the film were shown as Zuckerberg, Saverin, and Parker viewed them. I never extrapolated the thought out to the point of it being demeaning, although I certainly see the argument.

Zuckerberg, in the context of the film, had no time for a woman who wouldn’t just follow him around and indulge his arrogance. Rooney Mara’s performance as the girlfriend is strong and I completely agreed with her disdain and rejection of Zuckerberg, especially at the table with her friends later in the film.

Saverin and Brenda Song’s character, Christy, was another reflection of a self-centered man who cannot understand why his girlfriend will not just follow him around and smile and nod when he says how things are gonna be.

Sean Parker is attempting to live the rock star lifestyle and in the film, it made sense to have that Stanford scene take place, because it was a worthwhile understanding of what kind of character we were being introduced to.

Look, far be it from me to be an apologist for “The Social Network” even though I found the film to be one of the year’s best thus far. I think it is a very interesting argument to engage in but ultimately there are many other films, perhaps even those contending for Oscars, which will depict women in a much more negative light. For these characters and in this story, the women were depicted as the lead characters viewed women as a whole. And again, many people that I know that saw the film point out Rooney Mara and Rashida Jones as strong women who circumvent the misogynistic slant of the main characters.

Just a thought…

Davidson October 2, 2010 at 11:09 PM

@Mike Ward: The characters certainly see these women as sub-human “prizes,” but the film didn’t have to see them that way by preventing any other vision of them to be seen. The classic example of showing the true power of misogynistic bigotry is, of course, “Mad Men.” No doubt the male contempt for femaleness itself is obvious and the show makes it more powerful by showing these women (and girls) as actual human beings. Without seeing them as people you can never really feel the impact of that bigotry. Instead, you dismiss it.

Sorkin really surprised me by saying that these women shown in the film were “prizes” and that’s all that they are simply because the male characters saw them that way due to their misogyny, no less.

L.A. filmmaker October 3, 2010 at 1:26 PM

Davidson, thank you for writing that!

It’s disappointing that even in today’s generation, men still only see women as “prizes” , servants, followers & sex toys.
WTF?
What happened?

I thought it was common knowledge (in our culture) that females have brains, know how to use them and can benefit society and individuals beyond the roles that only they can take on (giving birth and having hetero sex with males). What the hell is wrong with Sorkin? I’d love to have a sit down with him.

Sally October 3, 2010 at 4:24 PM

I think that on the one hand – the movie is about men who are sexist and the technology business, which is sexist.

So to just insert attractive lawyer here and a college educated woman in there is false. May I suggest an accountant or an office admin…..

But to make a movie, say about a successful business in the racist South during the 1950′s without having some note about how exclusive and racist it was, then that is untrue filmmaking. To say that women are the prizes without any irony or distaste and just around to screw, really points out the sexism of the filmmaker. If he’d said that about a race, then he’d be attacked from all sides.

Julie Kerr October 3, 2010 at 9:26 PM

I saw the film today and from a filmmaking point of view, I was blown away with how good it was.

Unfortunately, what I had to do (which is what I have to do with a lot of films) is ignore the fact that most of the women in the film are just ornaments. In fact, one woman in the film plays a coffee table/mirror. Her sole purpose in the film is to have other people sniff/snort cocaine off of her stomach. That’s all she does in the movie. She plays furniture.

I also had to ignore how male-dominated the cast was. The three lead male characters are so wonderfully written, it’s just too bad such depth wasn’t given to any of the female characters.

God bless Rashida Jones and Rooney Mara for staying very memorable in the film despite what few scenes either of them are given. They both do a really good job in the film.

Django October 3, 2010 at 10:55 PM

I thought the youthful sexual dimension of the film was true to what is the most motivating force in young men’s and women’s lives at that age. (Young college age men think of sex every three minutes) and as someone pointed out, code is a guy thing. In fact, is was insights gleaned from the pursuit of the opposite sex (what class are they taking? Is she going out with someone?) that sparked some of the most addictive/attractive features of facebook.
Gender justice comes later, in the real world, when a woman, Ms. Sandberg has both the business acumen and interpersonal saavy needed to move the company forward.

Mike Ward October 4, 2010 at 12:51 PM

Since I posted, I have read many intriguing thoughts…

@Davidson: Understand that I just passed along my interpretations and not having watched more than a few minutes here or there of “Mad Men”, I was unaware of the distinction. Ultimately, I cannot and do not disagree with your points.

@Davidson and @LA Filmmaker: Perhaps one disclosure I should make is that I am unclear if the adaptation from Aaron Sorkin changed the overall tone of how the women were represented or if the women were viewed in the same manner in Ben Mezrich’s source book.

@Sally: Interesting point of view. If your issue is that Rashida Jones and Rooney Mara were stock characters or rather, caricatures, then that is a thought I will give on a second viewing. I thought Rooney Mara’s character was impressive and honestly, anchors a great deal of my post-viewing thoughts. I guess I never saw her as a device – the smart college girl. Although I find the idea that Facebook was created by one mere rejection to a self-centered, egoist named Mark Zuckerberg a rather convenient one, I still liked the fact that she didn’t give in, seemed grounded and wouldn’t let him back into her world.

@Julie Kerr – very insightful comments.

I really have enjoyed finding this site and board. Lots of compelling commentary in and around many of the posts here.

kelly October 4, 2010 at 6:16 PM

“someone pointed out, code is a guy thing”

You know…like directing is a guy thing.

Eileen October 4, 2010 at 11:24 PM

“code is a guy thing”

Offensive. Offensive and untrue.

b October 5, 2010 at 12:11 AM

Okay, I have never added a comment anywhere, but “tech groupies”? Really? Tech groupies?

J October 5, 2010 at 9:39 AM

That was my thought exactly “Tech groupies”???

Also, code is a guy thing…just like they have a natural inclination for directing films. Hah, hah, hah….

///////////// October 9, 2010 at 3:26 PM

Not to defend the movie, which I felt was mediocre, but I believe by referring to the women as “prizes” Sorkin is speaking of the perspectives of the main characters.

Samuel Segrist October 11, 2010 at 5:39 AM

Is it problematic to expect every film/plot/narrative/story to have gender/race equity?

Looking at some of Fincher’s great films, how would you, if you were the screenwriter, incorporate “more developed female characters” into the story?

Marla Singer, played by Helena Bonham-Carter, is the only female character in Fight Club. How do you add another strong, 3-dimensional female character to that plot without adding to its already 2 hour and 15 minute running time or altering its thematic message from the thematic structure of the work?

What about in Seven? Is Gwenyth Paltrow developed enough? Considering the film is largely about Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt’s solving of the murder, what would you do differently with the plot?

What about The Game? Zodiac? The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? Panic Room?

CC October 13, 2010 at 8:50 PM

What’s interesting to me is that Sorkin goes on and on about how he’s storytelling and not telling the truth, but somehow, this misogynistic aspect is the truth and he’s trying to remove himself from it. Sorkin writes excellent dialogue, and I love The West Wing et al as much as the next person, but he is clearly a misogynist himself – he cannot write women. They are either whiny, b*tchy or incompetent as opposed to complex characters. All of the women on The West Wing had stronger, more fleshed-out characters after he left the show, and it isn’t a coincidence. It’s not the only example I can think of, naturally, but it is the easiest since there are so many instances of it from four seasons of work as opposed to one film. This movie is sexist, plain and simple, and it’s because of Aaron Sorkin more than Mark Zuckerberg.

Adam July 31, 2011 at 12:01 AM

I’ve read all the comments here and find the women comments to be hilarious. I see male sexism in movies like Twilight and nobody focuses on them. Jacob takes off his shirt at any chance to appease the women fans. Why it is that Bella gets to make choice of which guy which also includes a guy who got turned down quickly at her school. It’s like a woman’s sexual fantasy. If you are offended by this stuff then I think you are an idiot. I’m tired of this political correctness grow some balls and boobs people.

AllyJS December 17, 2011 at 3:20 AM

@Adam The thing is that women are almost consistently regulated to a token role or as ornaments. Yes, Twilight objectifies men. But it’s the 1% that does. When the rest take the The Social Network tack, it becomes frustrating and oppressive.

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