Memo to Aaron Sorkin: You Invented this Angry Nerd Misogyny Too

Ok, Aaron Sorkin, you have to pick. Either you are proud that you don’t know a thing about the Internet, Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and the world you wrote a movie about or you are simply the empty vessel here to tell the world a larger truth about Silicon Valley. Because so far, you seem to flip-flop based on the accusation.

When called out for not being an accurate representation of the facts, it’s all “Oh this is Hollywood! What did you expect?” But when people raise objections about the portrayal of women in the film? Suddenly, you’re just the messenger, faithfully documenting a world where women routinely take their tops off for men, leave the room when men want to talk about business and a new modern super-nerd hates the women who spurned him, using his power to tear them down.

Let me spoil the ending for you, Sorkin: You don’t know a damn thing about either the men or women who build tech companies. The inherent exaggerations and misguided depictions in the movie have already been written about to death, so let’s assume we all agree on that one. No one who has met Mark Zuckerberg would recognize the fast-talking, thin-skinned depiction of him in your film– even with the flipflops. Yet, in a reply to the accusations of how women are portrayed in the film, suddenly, Sorkin is an expert on the Web 2.0 world.

In a response to a comment on this post Sorkin writes:

“I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people. These aren’t the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the 80’s. They’re very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the quarterback instead of the men (boys) who are running the universe right now. The women they surround themselves with aren’t women who challenge them (and frankly, no woman who could challenge them would be interested in being anywhere near them.)”

I’m curious, Mr. Sorkin. How can someone who admits he doesn’t know most of the people he is writing about, know so much about how they treat women? I’m particularly curious, because I happen to be a woman who moved to Silicon Valley in 1999 at the age of 23 and spent much of my “exploitable” years going to parties and hanging out with exactly the type of people that you insist are so misogynist. I’m also a woman who knew Mark Zuckerberg during those early years, spending time in the offices and attending several birthday parties of Facebook’s senior staff. I wasn’t exploited. I did have several long conversations with Zuckerberg’s smart, non-bimbo, longterm girlfriend who was cut from the movie. I assume, because it wasn’t convenient to your story line of the angry nerd who couldn’t get laid.

But let’s put Facebook aside. In ten years in the Valley, I can count on one hand the times I’ve been hit on at a techy party or event– and even during those few occurrences the people apologized as soon as they realized I was married. I have never had an illicit proposition, I have never seen a girl stripping at a party, I have never seen giggling underage girls in panties doing bong hits as male programmers code. I have seen far less misogyny in this scene than I have during stints in New York, or nearly a dozen countries around the world where I’ve reported. Anyone who has gone to a Valley party will probably say one thing about the girls: There are hardly any there to be objectified. But this will really shock you: I don’t even own a pair of red, Stanford panties to lounge around in seducing young millionaires!

Stop trying to blame others for what you wrote: You made this up. The Silicon Valley you depict lives only in your imagination.

To be fair, I can see where you’d get this. There’s definitely a lot of misogyny on the Web in general– just look at any mass-audience site that allows anonymous comments. But that doesn’t mean the people behind those companies behave that way anymore than it means there are cats playing keyboards and babies in watermelons all over YouTube’s headquarters. It’s sad that you didn’t respect women who work in these companies enough to spend the time learning what their lives are really like.

The truth is most of the entrepreneurs I know in the Valley don’t treat me like a girl at all. I’ve rarely been bought a drink at an event and almost never had a door opened for me. In fact, I went on a trip with several Valley techies to Israel a few years ago and the women in the group joked about how unique it was to actually be “treated like a women” by the flirty Israeli coders we encountered. Your depiction isn’t just insulting to the men here, it’s insulting to the women here to assume we’d put up with such behavior. The “facts” you say you based it all on– the final club parties and one night of Zuckerberg’s drunken blog– all happened at Harvard. That seems to have more to do with Ivy League college life than some angry nerd startup culture.

Sorkin, you made a movie people love. But you created it out of a few depositions, blog posts and your LA-influenced imagination of what a company you have nothing to do with in an industry you don’t understand would be like. I realize not everyone has the same ethical issues that I do with a film about a living person that isn’t based on the person in question at all. And that’s fine. But don’t start pretending this isn’t a world you created when people get upset with it– because it certainly doesn’t exist in any version of Silicon Valley I’ve ever seen.

You can’t have it both ways, Mr. Sorkin: Either you write the boring truth or admit the sexed up version that sells movie tickets is fiction.