Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Aaron Sorkin does not have a woman problem.

There. I said it. Now let the onslaught of disgusted comments begin.

I’ve watched, as you ought to know by now if you’ve been reading this blog with any regularity, every episode of the West Wing multiple times. I’ve watched Studio 60 at least twice; I’ve watched and rewatched the Social Network. I’ve watched the first two episodes of the Newsroom.

I’ve never once felt insulted as a woman.

I’ve also never once felt insulted as a Christian. Yes, he writes about some pretty strange, crazy and dislikeable people who call themselves Christian. In one case, he writes about one who is neither strange nor dislikeable but who behaves in ways that I would see as being at odds with her faith. (Yes, we all do at times, but that’s the subject of another blogpost.)

Do those people exist in the real world? Absolutely.

Do the women Aaron Sorkin writes about exist in the real world? I think so too.

So, you’re all shocked that McKenzie can be competent as a journalist in a war zone yet fails to use email properly and over-reacts to a mistake she makes that she knows will make Will crazy, jeopardise their already difficult working relationship, and embarrass both of them in front of their staff. Of course I know women who would calmly breathe, tell themselves “I’m a professional”, and walk away. I think I also know women who would react like her. I know women (and men) who are hopeless with technology despite being intelligent people, too. It’s plausible. It’s more than plausible- it’s reality.

People are full of contradictions. Aren’t they?

Intelligent but lacking in emotional intelligence. Incredibly messy yet borderline obsessive compulsive about not cracking their book spines. Working in war zones yet shying away from conflict in their private lives.

Do you really not know any women who are super confident in one area yet a little ditzy or flaky or crazy in another? I do. On a good day, I might even put myself in that category. Maybe the reason I get protective of Mckenzie and Maggie is that I can relate to them. Bright and ambitious but far from perfect. 

Maybe this is also why I wrote a novel that people criticise because its main character is an accomplished politician yet still wistfully daydreams about a guy she never quite got together with a long time ago. Maybe Aaron Sorkin has influenced me even more than I realise.

I don’t think he is laying out a blueprint for all women everywhere: he writes about a certain kind of person. Do you get men bemoaning that most of the guys he writes, for example, are hopeless at relationships? They understand it’s fiction. They understand that he is not saying all guys everywhere are hopeless at relationships.

Come to think of it, most of his characters are super-intelligent and articulate. Is everyone in real life super-intelligent and articulate? No. Hardly anyone is. But some people are. And those are the people he chooses to write about.

Here’s the thing: if you are a woman, he is not writing about you personally. Nor is he writing about all women everywhere – about how they do behave or how they should behave. He is writing about these particular people, and he invented them, so he knows how they react and what makes them tick. So let him write about complex, contradictory characters, even if they are women. They’re his characters. He should know.

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