Posts Tagged ‘Jennifer Armstrong’

Nerds and bimbos on the silver screen

October 6, 2010

This blog post is about my gratitude to Entertainment Weekly

Okay, so I don’t read Entertainment Weekly. I don’t watch TV shows about celebrities or read magazines about Hollywood. When I’m on the treadmill at my gym, I’m about 10,000 percent more likely to be reading a New Yorker story about the influence of the right-wing, billionaire Koch brothers on American politics than a story about the movie business. 

But I did go see The Social Network over the weekend. 

I enjoyed it, although that’s not the point here. Directed by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing, it’s a well-plotted, intelligent story of the rise of Mark Zuckerberg from nerdy Harvard sophomore to billionaire founder of Facebook. The plot is great, acting is great, main characters are fascinating, and it can spur all sorts of date-night conversation about values, friendship, and cutthroat business decisions, as well as about the line between fact and fiction in this kind of looks-real-but-could-be-totally-made-up drama. 

But the women. 

This was my second response as I came out of the movie theatre, after the above thoughts. 

All the women in the movie are bimbos, with the exception of the college girlfriend whose dumping of Zuckerberg eventually leads to the creation of Facebook.

The women in the movie are minor characters, and they spend all their time taking clothes off, giving blow jobs, snorting coke, getting drunk, and hanging on the arms of guys with status. Busloads of gorgeous girls stripping at frat-type parties. Clubs full of gorgeous girls getting drunk. Houses full of gorgeous girls partying and having sex. 

And this is a story that takes place at Harvard, for God’s sake, in the 2000s. And in San Francisco and Palo Alto

Those are all places that are pretty close to my own orbit. I was at Harvard, although it was 30 years ago. And I’ve reported  about Silicon Valley, although I’ve never lived the culture of a Web 2.0 start-up. There are certainly ditzy, shallow women in all these places (and ditzy shallow men ready to exploit them!), but I’ve never seen that as the dominant culture. 

In fact, it has always seemed to me that if you are a non-ditzy, non-shallow woman, Cambridge and the Bay Area are two really good places to be. 

So my first reaction was horror: My God, I hope that isn’t the reality for young women in their 20s today.  

Followed by a spurt of self-censorship: Oh, Ilana, there you go on your feminist horse again. 

Really, I felt predictable. Repetitive. Boring. I don’t know whether I was more fed up with Hollywood, or with my own reaction. It seems like I have spent my entire adult life going to movies and being angered by their depictions of women. 

At a certain point, you just stop getting angry. You get used to it — like smog, like trash in the streets. You don’t even see it. Or you see it, but get sick of pointing it out over and over again. It becomes much more interesting to talk about whether the portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg is accurate or not. 

But then a friend posted a link to this Entertainment Weekly story on her Facebook page. 

(Is this getting circular or what? Facebook posts about movies about Facebook? And then of course I’ll promote this blog entry on my Facebook page, so it will be a Facebook update about a Facebook post about a movie about….) 

In any case, EW reporter Jennifer Armstrong wrote:

Without sifting through the backstories of Zuckerberg and company for strong female figures, it’s hard to know what the filmmakers could have done differently while still hewing to some version of the truth. And it’s clear that they’re showing us, for better or worse, how women function in these particular boys’ worlds, which, apparently, is as objects to be conquered with fame and fortune. The Social Network certainly provides, if nothing else, strong evidence that we still need feminism, that we need to inundate boys with it in particular — and that we need to nurture math and science skills in girls more than ever before, so they have as good a chance at changing the world as these guys did.

Armstrong raised exactly all the right feminist points about The Social Network. I found myself cheering. I found myself saying, “Yeah! Now why didn’t I write that?” 

So here I am, writing it. 

And feeling unexpectedly grateful to Entertainment Weekly.

And telling myself to remember: Trust your instincts. Don’t self-censor. When it comes to the way our culture continues to objectify women, it may be necessary to be boring and predictable, to repeat the same critiques, angrily, over and over and over.