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Misogyny in screenwriting

Angriest posted a short blog about Aaron Sorkin, with links.  It’s this article by Sarah Nicole Prickett that showcased fundamental problems with a lot of television and movie production in the current era: breath-taking misogyny masquerades as nostalgic longing for the ‘good ol’ days of yore’ when America Was A Great Country.  Jezebel gives the bare bones of Prickett’s article along with commentary.

Sorkin idealises the 1940s, he says America hasn’t been great since then, not since before Vietnam and Watergate.  You know, back in the days when polio killed and maimed children, mortality rates were higher, noble white men ruled the world bravely, slavery had been outlawed but equality was non-existent and the little woman knew her place: not allowed to own property or to get a loan, often not allowed to hold down a job if she was married.  (Let’s not look at rates of use of alcohol, Valium and similar drugs by middle-class housewives.)

Sorkin’s arrogance and misogyny extends to ‘teaching’ a reporter to high-five because he’s sick of girls who can’t high-five.

Sorkin may be a brilliant writer – people I respect laud his work – but his sheer arrogance has put me off following up on his work.  His blindness is leading us back into the Dark Ages.

The problem with history is man does not learn from history.  The pendulum swings back and forth, conservative to liberal, single-task assembly-line style jobs – even in offices – to multi-tasking then back again.  In the twentieth century, when men went off to wars, women were released from their homes, taking up vacancies left behind.  Melbourne has the ‘ladies’ bridge’, a bridge built during one of these times by a female crew.  This bridge has apparently needed far less maintenance than the other bridges built by men, but when the men came back from the war women were sent off building sites once more.

We’ve had a gentle swing of the pendulum towards a more progressive society,  with more hope for equality, only to have the conservative right backlash.  John Howard wanted women back in the home, sexism masquerading as protecting and caring for women.  I believe he claimed his wife had ‘never worked’ since their marriage?  What is that?  Some 19th century ideal of bored women sitting around gossiping over needlepoint?  Tony Abbott may even be worse.  In the US they’re legislating about healthcare, access to contraceptives, abortions and so forth, but when a woman stood up and dared to use the medically correct term – vagina – she was gagged as being offensive, prevented from speaking further.  Male priests sit on boards discussing birth control while nuns in the same denomination are censored for being too focused on poverty and caring for the needy.

Where are we headed now?  Will women, who comprise 51% of the population, stand up for their rights?  Or will they submit to their lords and masters, self-righteously supporting removal of women’s rights?  There’s a term for this: Stockholm Syndrome.

What impact does someone like Aaron Sorkin have on the political climate?  He’s evangelising for a man’s man’s world, subtly brainwashing the masses into belief that misogyny is a fundamental principle of an ideal world.

How do we counter-act this?  We need entertainment for the masses showcasing women in a huge range of roles, from captains to carpentry, housewives to hospitality, showing how a person’s gender matters less than their willingness to work hard to achieve their goals.  How does this affect relationships?  Does it destroy romance?  No!  A happy, fulfilled woman is less likely to be needy.  Think of all the ‘nagging wife’ cliches, the ‘needy wife’ cliches.  Imagine a wife capable of taking the car for a service herself, fixing the leaking tap or calling the plumber to fix it.  Men will probably feel threatened by this kind of independence, but imagine a sitcom where you have two married women, one of whom gets the car fixed while the other whines and nags.  How will the two husbands talk about their wives?  This might sound really simple and obvious, but common sense often is.  I have read text-book examples on marriage counselling where a contract is instated between partners to save the marriage.  The wife asks her husband to do a specific chore, like fix a leaking tap.  After two reminders and 30 days, she calls the plumber and the husband is not permitted to complain about the plumbing bill.  This kind of common-sense arrangement has been put in place by a counsellor paid $$ in order to save marriages.  You don’t see that so much on TV, do you?

Why not?  Because the Sorkins of this world paint the nagging wife as the butt of the joke, disempowering women further, painting them into a corner.  Without good role models in real life and entertainment, the divorce rate has gone up, and continues to climb.  Most murders are also committed by family members.

Let’s break the damn mould and change things for the better.  Let’s start by randomly reassigning the gender and possibly the sexual preferences of some of Sorkin’s characters.  Another even more radical thought: get women writers on the team.

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Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


  1. Damn. He is such a good writer. West Wing is brilliant – and FWIW,it has a lot of strong female characters. It’s depressing to hear the nasty side of artists you admire. 🙁

  2. It’s hard to get women writers on the team of Sorkin’s shows because he legendarily writes every episode (or damn close to it) of every series he does.

    He peaked at The West Wing – I think you would really be missing out if you don’t want at least the first two years of that series, which I still regard as the pinnacle of narrative television in the USA.

    • I’ve heard so much about it, I think I must. My TV viewing is largely dictated by compromise in this household, but I do have a lot of time at home alone. I’m more likely to iron if I have something intelligent on which to focus, keeping me sane. West Wing it is!


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