As I watched “Mark Zuckerberg” repeatedly hit refresh on a laptop that at five years old appeared somewhat archaic, I whipped out my iPhone and tweeted:
The Social Network is the most homosocial shit ever.
David Fincher’s contemptuously sexist telling of the arduously sexist story of Facebook’s genesis is certainly a disappointment worth discussing. However, I am far more concerned with the similarity between the social organization portrayed in the film and the one that shapes so much of my reality: that which I classified as homosocial. Homosociality describes a community that revolves around and is engrossed in same-sex bonding and relationships.
You see, just like the dorm in which Zuckerberg nested, like the fraternity he so desperately wanted to be a part of, like the family he made for himself in the California rental house, and like the glamorous big-money world of Sean Parker, the creative communication field in which I work* is a homosocial mecca. And despite its historically unique intention, motivation, and raison d’être, this exclusionary social configuration is disadventagous to women on levels both personal and professional.
Last week at TEDxDetroit, my friend Henry Balanon gave an important talk called “Building Relationships Over Scotch and Cigars.” The title of this speech is not a metaphor. It is not a charming projection of mythical, old-fashioned “adult” masculinity. IRL, the male population of my tightly knit Metro Detroit social media community periodically enjoys “scotch and cigars” together. And Balanon’s presentation hit the nail on the board: It is in the intimate space of “scotch and cigars”—the homosocial space—where relationships are formed, be they personal, professional, or creative-casual.
Since I myself enjoy smoking and scotching—not to mention building friendships and exploring new possibilities for vocational and artistic excursions—I was enthusiastic about joining in on a night of “scotch and cigars” as soon as I became aware of their happening, so one evening over some pre-#tweetea banter, I asked a male friend if I could come along to the next scotch/cigar occasion. He was not inclined to extend an invitation.
These men are my friends, and I trust that they enjoy my company as much as I enjoy theirs. So when I am excluded from such a highly regarded bonding ritual, I can only assume that my presence as a woman is somehow inhibitory to the creation of meaningful male-male relationships…and to the creation of “billion dollar companies.”
When I first became active in my regional social mediascape, I immediately observed the dominance of male leadership in/and/of “boys clubs” in the well-intentioned organizations that were forming and collaborating online and off. iDetroit consists of an exclusively male ensemble. Along with Terry Bean and Charlie Curve, Balanon and the men of iDetroit (Hubert Sawyers, III, Adrian Pittman, Brandon Chesnutt, Ken Burbary, David Murray and Damian Rintelmann) come together in various combinations to spearhead nearly every significant social media/technological/entrepreneurial/start-up/etc. event and community formation in Detroit.
I am proud to be friends with these men and support their endeavors to the brink of my personal means. I do not believe they would make a conscious effort to make me feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. Yet at the same time, I cannot shake the haunting feeling of “no girls allowed.” Nor can I reduce it to political paranoia…
The awkward Harvard students in The Social Network are over-exposed, delicate, castrated, self-castrating, and bitterly beyond-the-point. The distant yet uncritical portrait of Zuckerberg as well as the screenwriter’s inclusion of the inconsequential truth-telling lawyer suggests a similar inhumanity and self-involvement in the films’ creators.
Contrary to the fictionalized Father of Social Media, the men I know are all socially apt, confident, self-aware and outward looking. Nearly all have wives and girlfriends with whom they share a healthy and supportive (or at seemingly so) relationship. This tells me that these men are capable of connecting with the opposite sex in meaningful ways and on both intellectual and emotional levels. Yet statistically inter-sexed relationships are something that remains in the personal realm, and the homosociality that has for so many centuries cock-blocked women from political and economic arenas remains in check. One might argue that male dominance in the public sphere is even mightier today, given that no argument can actually be given against the pretentious grin of neoliberalism.
The homosociality of geek “boys clubs” are something I think about a lot and have been concerned by for a good deal of my life. Despite years of preoccupation (back-burner though it may be), I am too timid to make and defend any statement regarding the reason such blatant gender divisions exist in the here and now. Even in my own head I shy away from constructive philosophical thought about the soft exclusion of women—particularly single women—because I am uncomfortable with the speculations that I make (“and it wasn’t good, because it was in secret”).
I’ve got a pretty nice bottle of scotch on hand if you ever find yourself having similar thoughts or discomforts…
Or…you know…we could always kick it online…