“How do you do this thing where you manage to get all girls to hate us?”

The actual Mark Zuckerberg has often contested his portrayal in “The Social Network” (2010) as a vindictive, pathetic, insecure, power-hungry dropout. He was happily in a relationship with his girlfriend at the time, and there was no real-life version of Erica Albright (Rooney Mara, “A Ghost Story”) nor any crude reference to her below-average cup size, or so the real Zuckerberg says. The multi-billionaire cannot, however, wash away the creation of FaceMash. The inciting event of the film (and Facebook itself) revolves around Zuckerberg drunkenly designing a website to compare female Harvard students by their looks. Really, this was an actual website that existed

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“Molly’s Game”) gave the line about comparing women to farm animals to one of the fictional Zuckerberg’s roommates — perhaps so that the audience doesn’t find the protagonist completely deplorable from the outset. But there’s something more telling about Zuckerberg in what he writes next in the slightly fictionalized version of his actual zuckonit.livejournal.com posts from November 2003. It’s an offhand comment about how the website has “a whole ‘Turing’ feel.” 

In the scene and in the infamous blog posts, Zuckerberg seems to only mean in the algorithmic sense. I just can’t help but think that a reference to the Turing test, which is meant to test whether or not a computer is capable of thinking like a human being, might relate to Mark’s ideas about how these women are barely human beings. 

Now, “The Social Network” is not meant to be a perfectly accurate biography, and there isn’t a 1:1 ratio between Jesse Eisenberg’s (“The Hummingbird Project”) Zuckerberg and Zuckerberg’s Zuckerberg. You don’t watch the film so that you can feel informed about some guy who made a website your parents use. You watch it for, well, the dude-ness of it: the friendship between Mark and Eduardo (Andrew Garfield, “Silence”), the betrayal as Mark chooses Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake, “In Time”) and cuts Eduardo’s shares, the second betrayal as Sean gets caught with underage interns and cocaine. A superficial look at the film might lead you to ask, “Hey, where are all the women?” And yeah, maybe women are tertiary characters in the film, because that’s how Mark and Eduardo and Sean and the Winklevoss twins see the women in their lives: as interns, as assistants, as psycho girlfriends. 

Then again, this all started because some girl called Mark an asshole at a bar. He was correcting her and patronizing her and outright insulting her, saying that it would be beneficial for her if he got into a final club as well, because he’d be able to introduce her to people she “wouldn't normally get to meet.” 

“You would do that for me?” Erica replies, sarcastically. 

She doesn’t need to study — she goes to Boston University. She probably slept with the doorguy to get them into that bar. She’s getting all kinds of help from her friends at Victoria’s Secret. She’s a bitch. 

Mark spits his venom into a blog post “because that’s what the angry do nowadays.” He wants to get into a final club because it’s what all the strapping young would-be presidents who row crew do. He makes a website that turns women into “Girl A” and “Girl B” so that he doesn’t have to think of them as people who’ll completely tear him a new one more than once in the film. Mark doesn’t see the abrupt cut in the beautiful score by Trent Reznor as a girl walks by a group of men surrounding a computer with FaceMash pulled up, saying, “That’s my roommate.” To Mark, she’s not even a girl, she’s just collateral damage of his success as he and Eduardo wistfully remember “the algorithm on the window at Kirkland.”

When the tall, muscular, handsome guys who row crew say that Mark’s collaboration with them will improve his reputation, the other shoe drops.

“You would do that for me?” Mark says sarcastically. 

This was all it was ever about. If he’s not the guy making some girl feel bad about herself, he’s gonna be the little guy who feels bad about himself because he’s not a big guy. His curtness isn’t necessarily because he can’t pick up on social cues, but more because every interaction he has is a competition — especially when it comes to his masculinity. It’s not even that he’s an asshole, it’s that he’s “trying so hard to be.”  

There’s a point in the film when Mark is in a club with Sean. Mark feels like Sean’s date is familiar, but he can’t quite place it. Sean tells him about how the original founder of Victoria’s Secret sold the company for a cool $4 million, then killed himself a year later when the company’s worth became $200 million. The “poor guy just wanted to buy his wife a pair of thigh-highs.”

“Was that a parable?” Mark says.

“My date is a Victoria’s Secret model,” Sean says matter-of-factly.

Mark asks Sean if he ever thinks about the girl he loved who chose a boy from the lacrosse team over him; if his first “big thing” was meant to impress her. Sean laughs and says no, he doesn’t think about her.

He absolutely does, though. Maybe not consciously, but men don’t keep a revolving door of women around because they feel secure with themselves. Everything to straight men in “The Social Network” is about pissing off a girl and impressing another, and then making those two girls make out. Yeah, Mark Zuckerberg has everything he ever wanted, but he’s still refreshing Erica Albright’s Facebook page to see if she accepted his friend request.

It’s almost scary how prophetic “The Social Network” feels. The film shows Facebook at its roots as a glorified hookup site, but now we all know it as this political battleground where people take Joe Rogan quotes as fact. It could easily serve as an early 2000s period piece with all the glamour of Napster, the “Cats that Look Like Hitler” listicle and the Gap hoodies. It’s this eerie villain origin story for all the “involuntarily celibate” misogynists of today who may not necessarily be outright violent, but wouldn’t blink twice at comparing a woman to a pig. 

Contributor Mary Elizabeth Johnson can be reached at maryelzz@umich.edu.

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