Im six episodes into The West Wing, and its really, really, good but also one of the most casually misogynistic shows Ive ever seen. Which isnt to say that theres a complete absence of good female characters, because nothing is black and white and clearly C.J. Cregg is a queen, but when episode five ended with all of the upper middle class white dudes standing around proudly watching every girl on the show and patting themselves on the back: These women! Look at em! Being women! And as good as us! How quaint! it felt like the end of a Mad Men episode in the worst way.
Ive spent the past hour googling Aaron Sorkin, sexism, and West Wing in every possible combination, and I've come to the conclusion that there are not enough people talking about this. An article on a blog run by Feminist Law Professors summed up my own thoughts pretty well -- basically, it points out the following problems with women as portrayed on The West Wing: 1) Men are generally perceived as smarter, and regularly have to teach women about Math and Politics when they dont understand. 2) When a woman actually does show intelligence, everyone is blown away as if its this huge statistical improbability and plot twist. 3) The word girl is used as an insult on an alarmingly frequent basis; being feminine is equated with weakness and stupidity.
In my internet quest, I was spoiled in a few different regards to what happens beyond episode six, which, whatever; but I think the writing was officially splayed across the figurative wall when CJ became Chief of Staff only after Sorkin left the show. I can guarantee you that never would have happened if hed stayed on. Thats just not how Sorkins mind works.
Not to say I dont like The West Wing a whole lot, and that Im going to stop watching it or something: its a very, very great show. I care about these characters. But Im really liking watching it with my Aggressive Feminist Taylor glasses on, as well. I think the fact that its a recurring problematic thread throughout all of Sorkins works is whats most troubling.
In that way, Im kind of glad The Newsroom wasnt as brilliant as The West Wing, so people are able to recognize and dialogue about it all more openly. Im not trying to say the man isnt talented hes influenced an entire generation of screenwriters, myself included. But just because he can write a fucking awesome monologue doesnt mean hes without flaws. He knows how to write really, really, really wonderful and well-crafted stories that are mostly about upper middle class white dudes.
A look at the shows writing staff only further proves every point Im making: out of the 29 people given writing credits over the course of the shows seven seasons, nine are women and twenty are men. 9 vs. 20. That is. actually the stupidest thing Ive ever heard. (I checked out Newsroom, too, and its 4 women vs. 7 men. Not as atrocious, but not great, either.)
Does he have a wife? Can you imagine how terrible it would be to be married to Aaron Sorkin? This is also because in every interview Ive read, he reads as childishly proud of what a self-important assh** he is. In this interview I quoted, the reporter told Sorkin shed watched The Newsroom, twice, and he actually, literally asked her Because you liked it so much the first time, or because you didnt understand it the first time? Which, I think, says everything I want to about his character better than I ever actually could.
I think weve come a long way in viewing media critically as a society since The West Wing premiered in 1999 which is probably partly why theres been more backlash at The Newsroom for having similar issues. The internet and the emergence of TV criticism as a real Thing have helped with this. Douchebags still think Girls sucks, but I find comfort in the fact that, for the most part, no one who isnt an idiot really takes those criticisms seriously.
I think a lot of screenwriters have adapted Sorkins style of rapid dialogue and fine-tuned balance of emotional gut punches and idealism, but also managed to expand their character worldview to actually include well-rounded women and minorities: Amy Sherman-Palladino and Shonda Rhimes immediately sprung to mind, but Im sure theres plenty more. Sorkins an important man with an important legacy, and I personally enjoy a huge amount of the things hes created, but he also kind of sucks.
On that eloquent note -- I think we're done here.
Taylor Tetreau is an Emerson College graduate with a degree in screenwriting, smoothies, and statues of founding fathers. She currently is attempting to figure it all out in Los Angeles. She speaks mostly in all caps and would love to dialogue about Degrassi with you.See more from Taylor