Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Dude, Aaron Sorkin is not sexist.

Don't we have bigger problems than this guy?
There's been a minor uproar on the ladyblogs about Sorkin's fledgling series, The Newsroom, and how bad it is for women. For the most sustained version of the argument, see Alyssa Rosenberg's piece on Slate. Though I do have trouble with one of the women on the show, I think this is different than pathologizing Sorkin as having a "woman problem."

Because, first and foremost, The West Wing. Any discussion of Sorkin's oeuvre has to account for his masterpiece which was, incidentally, fucking replete with interesting, complicated women. Exhibit A is obviously C.J. Cregg, press secretary turned chief of staff who was funny, feminist, brilliant, and as much an object of interest on the show as any of the boys. But she isn't' a token. Ainsley Hayes, Andrea Wyatt, and all the non-Jed-Bartlet members of the first family are fully realized women with inner lives and outer opinions that are taken seriously by not only the other characters but by the show itself. There is the Donna Moss problem, however. . .

Which we can re-christen the Margaret "Maggie" Jordon problem on Newsroom. Maggie is unsure of herself, has pervasive anxiety that manifests through hyperactive nonsensical rants, and, at least in the first two episodes, has a tendency to speak before she thinks. Though Donna didn't share these same characteristics, I was always put off by her pouting, whining, and the passive aggressive way she managed her crush on Josh. However, she was undeniably good at her job. So is Maggie. Her personal tics might be irritating, but so is the condescending posturing of her on-again/off-again boyfriend Don and the lazily arrogant misanthropy of the show's star, Will McAvoy. Some people are irritating. We all work with people. We know this. The show is also still too young to ascertain whether some of Maggie's neuroses might be related to the systemic hostility women have historically faced pursuing careers in media and journalism.

Speaking of which, the other female character whose getting raked across the coals, Mackenzie McHale, is the executive producer of the evening news broadcast of a major network, which somehow is getting read as "subservient" to the (male) anchor. The scripts of the first two episodes are careful to insist upon the equal power between these two characters, with Will buckling to Mac at the conclusion of each. The other supposed sexist traits of her character--she is obsessed with her past relationship with Will and not tech-savvy--could be equally applied to Will himself and the head of the news division, respectively.

Aaron Sorkin isn't perfect on gender, but his record is strong enough for me at least to give him, and The Newsroom, the benefit of the doubt.

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