I enjoyed both “The Town” and “The Social Network”, but I was struck by each film’s treatment of women.  I’ve seen a lot of articles online bemoaning the sexism of The Social Network, specifically that such a significant film contains no significant female characters.

Rebecca Davis O’Brien writes in the Daily Beast, “Women in the movie—apart from the lawyer and Erica, who sets the stage and disappears—are less prizes than they are props, buxom extras literally bussed in to fill the roles of doting groupies, vengeful sluts, or dumpy, feminist killjoys.”

But Aaron Sorkin defended his writing, saying he was trying to accurately portray deeply misogynistic characters who inhabited a male-dominated world. If you’re shooting for an accurate portrayal, you can’t just insert a strong female character when there were none. It’s the same reason you don’t see many black people in Mad Men. The characters inhabit a different world – a world that simply doesn’t include them.

Erica offers one of the most telling lines early in the film. She tells Zuckerberg something like, “You’re going to think girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. But they really don’t like you because you’re an asshole.”

I thought the lack of strong female characters in The Social Network could be seen as a reflection of the characters’ skewed perspectives. Since the film is told through the dubious reminiscences of those involved in a legal dispute, their recollections of the females in their lives may be distorted and likely over-simplified. Or perhaps we are seeing them through the eyes of Zuckerberg: Women as the one thing in life he cannot seem to comprehend or control.

Then again, maybe I am giving the filmmakers more credit than they deserve. Jezebel’s Anna Holmes rightly points out that the sexism in Mad Men does a better job of condemning such behaviour, perhaps because we get to watch the characters suffer as a result of their attitudes.

But in terms of sexism, I think a much worse offender is The Town. Ben Affleck’s sophomore directorial effort was similarly praised by critics, yet no one (to my knowledge) has criticized its portrayal of women.

It seems that to satisfy some prescribed Hollywood formula, the writers of The Town shoehorn a love story into a crime drama that has no room for one. The absurd premise of this love story is that the bank robber sent to intimidate a hostage and potential witness winds up falling in love with her and thus must keep his terrible secret hidden throughout their relationship.

This simple, stereo-typed yuppie with a heart of gold is way too easily seduced by a few cheesy witticisms. And in the time of her greatest crisis, can only manage to crumple to the floor in complete helplessness. She takes no independent action. She seems to only be capable of being hurt, confused and ultimately manipulated. I wanted so badly for her to take some decisive action; to surprise us with some hidden resilience. I was disappointed.

Ultimately, the lack of strong female characters enhances the tragedy of The Social Network, while the pathetic female character of The Town detracts from its drama.

 
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Jon Busch

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