2016 Film Essays

Girls, Boys and Technology

Technology presents us with the opportunity to learn anything, converse with people all over the world and generally be our best (or, in some cases, our worst) selves. Men have utilized technology to give us 1,000 songs in our pocket while women deal with threats to murder them via Twitter for daring to speak out about women’s issues. It’s a blunt comparison, but technology helps men be innovators while being the platform to abuse women and compel them to defend their reputations. Technology in cinema works the same way.

As the glowing embers of Myspace cooled and Twitter rose to prominence, Hollywood bigwigs thought it was time to finally address the newfangled internet landscape those crazy kids were interacting with, dropping two technologically tinged films into theaters: David Fincher’s The Social Network and Will Gluck’s Easy A. Both dealt with the pros and cons of the internet, but their gender-specific representations speak more to how males and females are allowed to utilize technology while calling out an internet culture that hasn’t changed in the six years since.

Facebook, more than any technological invention in recent years, has become a global juggernaut, connecting people and businesses as the cornerstone of any successful “brand.” But its conception, as detailed in Fincher’s The Social Network, cast its creation within the wake of fickle females. The Social Network details the story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), a brilliant but vindictive college student who conceives of Facebook after his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) unceremoniously dumps him for being “an asshole.”

After taking his rejection with little emotion, Mark drunkenly decides to invent a website that ranks girls based on their looks, with Fincher delineating the college campus into two groups — males who love it and females who hate it, with little overlap in-between. The film never judges Mark too harshly for his misogynistic ways and his apology comes off as irritation as opposed to sincerity. Viewers are meant to see Zuckerberg as a flawed hero whose genius is never in dispute.

The brunt of Fincher’s film focuses on Mark’s betrayal of the Winklevoss twins (dual Armie Hammers) and his best friend Eduardo (Andrew Garfield). When the various men fight, it’s with talks of violence and/or legal maneuvering, because they see the internet, and Facebook, as the grand prize. Facebook becomes something for these men to conquer, with the various conquistadors uninterested in the site itself. (Eduardo tells his girlfriend he doesn’t even know how to change his relationship status.) The use of the technology they’ve put out into the world makes them a cabal of creators and Zuckerberg’s duplicitous tactics are simply how business is done.

In spite of the film’s true origins, which are authentically male-centric, it’s hard to ignore The Social Network’s original Eve and its routine treatment of women. The film both begins and ends with Zuckerberg using Facebook as a means of either getting back or, possibly, making amends with the woman who scorned him. The Social Network provides a landscape firmly declared as a boys’ club, with women being little more than groupies available for sex and/or the spark for a great idea motivated a need for revenge on them.

Emma Stone’s Olive Penderghast in Easy A – released a month prior to The Social Network – is the user forced to confront the brave new world’s treatment of women by reclaiming technology for herself. After taking control of her sexuality (albeit fake and non-existent), Olive embraces a rumor about being the school trollop which transforms like wildfire through the social media grapevine. As the rumor spreads through both word of mouth and text messaging, it ends up leaving Olive the victim of slut-shaming and sexual harassment. Zuckerberg’s grand invention of connecting people turns in on itself, becoming the source of abuse as well as playing in to Zuckerberg’s own judgment of women. The two films aren’t sharing anything more than a similar usage of technology, but the causation remains the same: technology is positive for men, but negative for women.

Though social media isn’t as pervasive in Easy A as it is in The Social Network, Olive is still judged for her presumed sexual promiscuity and, like Zuckerberg’s first website, judged on how she dresses and looks. Without the all-encompassing blanket of social media, Olive realizes that simply being a female leaves her open to judgment, and it has only become more rapid with the internet.

Olive reclaims the creator position by taking back her reputation online, creating a webcast that will set the record straight. However, in order to get everyone to tune in, she must, again, resort to falling back on the internet’s baser usage: sex. Olive tells the entire school auditorium that she will be having sex online, leaving countless horny teens — and a married pastor — irritated because “I thought she was going to take her clothes off.”

Easy A ends up being the timelier film of the two. The Social Network captures a moment in time, giving us the male origin story of how the internet began, so to speak (and giving Facebook way too much credit).


But with Easy A, little has changed. Like Olive, women are still forced to do battle online, reclaiming it by demanding equality and setting the record straight. Women remain mired in slut-shaming, particularly with social media being so pervasive. Technology is even being used to disseminate women’s most intimate photos illegally, as seen with the recent hacking of various stars’ phones and hard drives. The Social Network is a history lesson, but Easy A remains coldly ensconced in the here and now.

Kristen Lopez (@Journeys_Film) is a freelance writer from Sacramento with a Masters in English. In her free time, she runs a classic film website and podcast where she’s had an opportunity to work with TCM. Kristen has been published at Flavorwire, Film School Rejects, The Playlist and Awards Circuit.