Stephen Colbert mentioned something my review of The Social Network last week missed when he asked screenwriter Aaron Sorkin what happened to all the "ladies in the film." Truth is, there are some, but they're basically portrayed as partying groupies intoxicated with -- or as Jezebel points out, dropping their panties over -- power, a valid complaint that's also been aired here and here.
Some wrist-slapping is in order for the film’s portrayal of women, but complaining that Sorkin forgot to present more staid studies of the women who helped invent Facebook is perhaps not the most productive response (especially if there happened not to be any). The broader problem has less to do with how the social network started than with what it has become. Just as in the field of screenwriting -- for which we can possibly blame Sorkin's female caricatures -- women are underrepresented in Silicon Valley, in management, and particularly in management in Silicon Valley. I’m sure the women of Facebook do great work, but according to this list, only two out of 14 are among its executives.
Of course, it's not just Facebook. In April, The New York Times ran a story about the "stark imbalance of the sexes" in the high-tech world. Just as women are underrepresented in the sciences and engineering, they are finding it harder to make careers in Silicon Valley either within established companies or as entrepreneurs. Just 22 percent of software engineers across industries are women, and the number of female venture capitalists in a position to lend to tech start-ups run by women is just 14 percent. And as with the many fields where women are underrepresented, the numbers for women of color are even more discouraging. But it’s not like employing women in the tech world is charity; it’s good business; women are the majority of Facebook users, so it couldn’t hurt to get more women on board.
As in all media, The Social Network had a responsibility to make sure that sexist portrayals of women do not come across as normal or OK, but it’s everyone’s problem when women are left out of an important and growing industry. There probably should have been more women of substance in the film, but there should also be more women at Facebook.
-- Pema Levy
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