Mark Zuckerberg – Headquarters for Facebook
“Mark Zuckerberg has set up a makeshift headquarters for Facebook out of a house in California. All the men are working relentlessly, coding around the clock, and talking business to reach their goal of making Facebook into what it is today. In the background we see two young, beautiful women giggling aimlessly while sitting on the couch playing mindless video games and using a bong (“”The Social Network””). The viewers can tell that the women are not contributing to the building of the site, nor do the men want their input on the work that is taking place. Instead of viewing the women in terms of the intellect that they have to offer it is very apparent the two are serving as a pretty face for the hardworking men. We can also see that sexism exists in the tech industry today. After watching David Fincher’s 2010 movie The Social Network, the question is not “is the film sexist?”. Rather, the question becomes “does the sexism in the film reflect the tech industry today?”. Unfortunately, people in the technology industry do not appear to have learned much in the nine years that have passed since the release of the film. Although far more subtle than this scene from the movie, sexism persists as a problem in the tech industry today.
The extensive sexism in The Social Network is a result of the attitudes of the people who created Facebook as well as the opinion of the film’s screenwriter. Once the movie hit the big screen, many people were outraged due to the sexism throughout the film. An article for The Sydney Morning Herald summarizes the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s justification of the way the film was made. Sorkin claims that the sexism in the movie is very apparent purely because the film was based on very prejudiced, sexist individuals. However, Sorkin apologized to anyone that may have been offended by the film. In his apology he went on to say that “women are both prizes and equals,” and he understands why some may be upset with the film (Hambly 2010). Sorkin’s comment about women being “prizes” shows that the screenwriter was an extremely chauvinistic, sexist individual himself. If Sorkin were talking about a man, he would most likely not refer to him as a prize. Also, if Sorkin honestly viewed women as being equal as he stated, then he would never refer to women as something to be won. An equal is a partner or someone on the same level, rather than a prize.
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Sorkin’s inappropriate statements are no shock since he has found himself in hot water because of his other works also exemplifying his sexist views. Some even say that in Sorkin’s mind “there’s no insult more grave than being a woman.” For example, in Sorkin’s television series, The Newsroom there is a scene where a male character refers to a woman he went on a date with as a “”bitch” (Lyons 2012). To those that have seen The Social Network, this may ring a bell. In the film, after Zuckerberg’s girlfriend breaks up with him, he runs back to his dorm, cracks open a beer and beings to blog. He writes many remarks degrading women, including “Erica Albright’s a bitch”” (“”The Social Network””). Sorkin’s screenwriting seems to use this term to refer to women consistently.
An article in Psychology Today discusses how the film makes men out to be the ones that have all of the control, and women as being there to entertain them. In The Social Network there is a scene that discusses the fact that before the creation of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg made a website known as “”Facemash.”” On Facemash, male students were able to vote on who the best looking girl on the Harvard campus was (Peele 2010). The creation of Facemash alone shows how the men on the Harvard campus treated women like objects and not people. Moreover, the fact that women did not have a choice in whether or not they wanted to participate in Facemash further exemplifies that the film portrays male dominance.
Zuckerberg’s closest colleagues in the film share his sexist attitude. The film portrays Sean Parker, the inventor of Napster which a major company that allowed people to share music free of cost, almost as a mentor to Zuckerberg when Zuckerberg was creating Facebook. In a scene in the film, Parker explains to Zuckerberg that Parker started Napster because he wanted to win over a girl he had a crush on when he was in high school. With Napster, Parker wanted to create something that would get him a lot of attention. During this scene, Parker defends Zuckerberg’s sexist Facemash website claiming it was justified because it enabled Zuckerberg to gain attention (“”The Social Network””). Parker’s denial of Zuckerberg ’s ill-suited actions mirrors how authoritarian figures in the tech industry try to blame others for men’s sexist behavior in the field.
Sexism in the tech industry today exists at every level, from new hires fresh out of school to senior management, and many people do not want to fix it. In a study for the Center for Talent Innovation, a former Microsoft senior director uses the term “bullying culture” to describe the work environment in the tech industry. He goes onto say he thinks there is sexism in the workplace throughout the tech industry because the men working in this industry are often those who were left out, or were outcasts when growing up and now these men do not know another way in which to behave (Mitchell 2015). This former senior director blames society for the sexist attitudes of the men in the tech industry. Other senior managers in the tech industry likely have similar points of view which is why sexism persists. Rather than addressing the sexism problem in the industry with potential remedies, senior management appears to blame society and dismiss the issue.
This leads one to think, “is sexism the reason why the tech industry has problems retaining female employees?”. An article in The Atlantic discusses the reasons why women leave the tech industry at an exponential rate. Some argue that women leave the industry because they want to raise families or other stereotypical reasons. This argument itself is sexist and is not the case. Women leave the tech industry for many reasons including the fact that they are not given a chance to take on key positions which results in them feeling as if their careers have plateaued. Women also leave the tech industry due to “undermining behavior from managers” (Mundy 2017). In the film, there is a scene in which Zuckerberg and his friends meet to develop a strategy to get Facebook, which was then only at Harvard, to other universities. He gives each male in the group a job crucial to the execution of the strategy. When the women ask if they can do something to help, Mark dismisses them out of hand without hesitation (“”The Social Network””). This scene exemplifies how a senior manager in the tech industry clearly views women as less capable than men and discourages women from staying in the tech industry or even joining it in the first place.
Women in the tech industry face gender-based pay disparity, which likely results in women leaving the industry. An article in The New Yorker allowed us to have a glimpse into the life of a female Tesla employee. After about a year of working for what is considered one of the most forward-thinking companies, she began working closely with a group of other male employees. She soon discovered that even though she had more experience than most of the people in the group, she was being paid less than them. She then tried to make an appointment with management in hopes of justice. She was ignored, but after a while, she finally got her meeting. She was told that the only way that she would get a raise was by meeting standards that were impossible for anyone to accomplish (Kolhatkar 2018). The fact that the female employee was ignored for so long shows that the female was not appreciated as much as the male employees. Also, the fact that a raise was made extremely unattainable even though the female was obviously qualified is further evidence of management’s lack of appreciation.
From the film, we can see that it is not only management in the tech industry that does not respect women, but men in general. Zuckerberg, his best friend, and business partner Eduardo Saverin, and Saverin’s girlfriend meet with Sean Parker over dinner. The men get to know each other discuss Facebook’s potential and strategize ways in which they can grow the company. As soon as Saverin’s girlfriend attempts to say something business related, Parker responds with “you are dry” and calls the waitress over to refill her drink (“”The Social Network””). The woman in this scene was viewed as something that is nice to look at, but not worthy enough of meaningful interaction. Instead of allowing a female to give their opinion and contribute to the conversation, the men decided to muffle her voice by attempting to get her drunk.
An article in The Feminist Spectator discusses how most of the women in The Social Network are unrealistically sexualized or made out to reflect the stereotypical, defenseless woman with lives revolving around men. There is a scene in the film in which Bill Gates is a guest speaker at the Harvard campus. In this scene, the women attending the speech are not interested in what was being said. Instead, the women are only there in the hopes of being flirtatious and alluring for the men in attendance. The article points out that these women were attending Harvard, one of the top universities in the country, and likely possessed the “brains and intellectual talent” to pay attention to the speech (The Feminist Spectator 2010). The film’s absurd over-sexualization of women is clearly shown during a scene in which Zuckerberg’s best friend and business partner Eduardo Saverin sneaks off to the bathroom with one of their female “groupies.” At first, they are making out in the bathroom stall. When Saverin hears someone walk into the bathroom, he suggests they stop. His “groupie” responds by saying “I don’t care” and proceeds to unbuckle his belt (“”The Social Network””). Absurdly, this scene portrays the male figure as someone that is respectful, while the woman is depicted as being sex hungry and desiring solely to please her partner sexually. Both this article in The Feminist Spectator and scenes from the film highlight that throughout the film women are often described by and appreciated for their physical appearance, and there are very few instances in which women were respected based on their intellectual capabilities or academic achievements. Conversely, when male figures in the film are described, their academic achievements and abilities are often mentioned.
All in all, after watching the film The Social Network as well as looking deeper into the tech industry today, one can conclude that both are riddled with sexism. Throughout the film, men were the only ones treated as people of value, while the women were just there to please and entertain the men. In the tech industry, today women are mistreated by the men in the field because the men view them almost as if they are disposable. Men tend to feel justified in belittling and discrediting women for no apparent reason, other than the fact that they see others doing the same. Women are just as if not more capable than men. Hopefully, the tech industry will catch up and start treating women as equals.”