Brenda Song’s Crazed, Hypersexualized Asian Female Stereotype in “The Social Network”

October 5, 2010

The Social Network portrays Asian American women as hypersexualized, buxom women of loose morality -- and programming nerds as sexist assholes.

I haven’t seen The Social Network — nor do I really plan to see it anytime soon. I mean, how much do I care about rich White guys battling other rich White guys to be the richest White guys out there?

But, out there on the blogosphere, there’s been some vague excitement about the return of Brenda Song, freshly grown-up from her Disney Channel days. She is shown prominently in The Social Network‘s trailer, and there was some early speculation that Song would make for an interesting supporting character against the backdrop of Jessie Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake making billions of dollars with some simple databasing and a lot of drunken debauchery.

Turns out all of that hope was for naught: despite Aaron Sorkin’s normally brilliant writing of strong female characters (to wit, C.J. Cregg of West Wing), Brenda Song’s Christy in The Social Network is only the most visible of a long litany of hypersexualized, dehumanized female props that exist merely for the sexual gratification of the movie’s White male main characters.

In Rebecca Davis’ review of The Social Network, Davis describes the viewer’s introduction to Christy:

We first meet Brenda Song’s character, Harvard co-ed Christy, when she throws her cleavage at newly successful (and, ohmigod, final club member!) Eduardo Saverin. A few minutes later, she’s giving him oral sex in a public restroom. Afterward, Christy and her friend sit uselessly on a couch while the men plot the expansion of Facebook. This isn’t the only time in the movie when two girls are drunk and irrelevant on a peripheral sofa.

Then, inexplicably and suddenly, Christy becomes mad with jealousy. Near the climax of the film, Christy lights a scarf on fire in Eduardo’s apartment, then turns and asks, doe-eyed, if he’s leaving her. What this scene contributes to the film’s development is beyond me—unless Sorkin is trying to explain why Harvard’s all-male final clubs won’t let women become members: We might all be vindictive pyromaniacs.

Kartina Richardson, a filmmaker and writer, described this scene to me as “really the only cheap move on the movie’s part—here’s the erratic hyper-sexed Asian woman totally obsessed with her white Harvard man.”

The counter-point to the Social Network‘s army of bubble-headed groupie women are apparently, according to Davis, “feminist killjoys”. Because, of course, any woman who actually has respect for herself, and can think for herself, must automatically be ugly and hate fun.

And, this is the film that critics are calling “brilliant“?

Awesome. I’m really gonna go see this movie now…

By contrast, at least this Taiwanese animated news version of the movie is honest about the movie’s sexism. (Warning, minorly NSFW because it animates the “sex in the bathroom” scene.)

  • hannah

    interesting supporting character against the backdrop of Jessie Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake making billions of dollars with some simple databasing and a lot of drunken debauchery.
    —-
    Song is one of the main characters, whoever has seen the movie would know she is the one who introduces Justin Timberlake’s character to Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield and Timberlake’s character isn’t in the majority of the film, he’s introduced halfway throughout the film and how much more ‘STRONG’ can you get when you COMMIT arson? She committed arson in the movie, put Andrew Garfield’s character in his place, told him off, basically took in charge. She wasn’t some bimbo, she was instantly attracted to Andrew, love at first sight, immature; yes, but naive. She thought he was the one, then she became extremely jealous and insecure because he was the successful one in the relationship creating a successful online business venture. She became jealous of Andrew Garfield’s character as clearly noted in the movie, therefore ends the relationship. Why would someone interested in another person’s money dump him when she felt a lack of balance in power in the relationship? Andrew’s character was OBVIOUSLY the man in power solely due to his MONEY, his SUCCESS. Brenda Song’s character, a middle-class Harvard University student, WASN’T secure at that point, she felt insecure and extremely feared that he would cheat on her as CLEARLY stated in the movie. Being sexually drived, letting your emotions take over, doesn’t make you a slut. All she did is have sex with him, sex is a very common and quick act among university students. You of all people should know that, sex nowadays is random and out of place. The movie was representing how Generation Y no long performs the act of love based on ACTUAL love. Generation Y and quick sex is a normal synonymous act.

    ‘The return of Brenda Song, freshly grown-up from her Disney Channel days’-Brenda Song is still on Disney Channel, her show is on its 3rd season and she is currently in Vancouver filming a Disney Channel movie. Her long series of Disney movies are still on the Disney Channel and her 2 disney shows remain on the channel. Her show will be renewed renewed soon for a 4th season.

    I bet you didn’t know she put the ‘White’ (racist, much? stop focusing so much on colour because the movie’s makers CLEARLY didn’t when they cast Brenda Song in the movie and held auditions for Brenda’s character without restricting which ethnicity group and race can audition) MALE character in his place.

    By the way, the movie has a lot of main characters. Justin Timberlake is promoted as the sole, main character because he is a big name, he’s more famous than all of the movie’s cast so they promote him as the lead when in reality there isn’t a sole lead and it’s not solely about ‘White’ (again, why must you be so racist?) men making social sites while drunk because THAT is exactly not what happened.

    Don’t judge a movie and a character before actually seeing them. Your post is completely and utterly shameful and disgusting. It’s such a shame to see a so-called ‘Asian American feminist’ judge an a sexually-driven arsonist so fast. You don’t know her intentions, if she’s a bimbo why is she a 22 year old undergraduate studying at Harvard University? Why isn’t she chasing men? This isn’t an ‘ASIAN female’ stereotype because the last time I checked, sexual props don’t commit arson and put their boyfriends in their places while demanding honesty.

    Don’t judge a book by its cover or by what ONE ‘SITE’ is disgustedly claiming.

    But, out there on the blogosphere, there’s been some vague excitement about the return of Brenda Song, freshly grown-up from her Disney Channel days. She is shown prominently in The Social Network‘s trailer, and there was some early speculation that Song would make for an interesting supporting character against the backdrop of Jessie Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake making billions of dollars with some simple databasing and a lot of drunken debauchery.
    ——
    There isn’t ‘VAGUE’ excitement about the return of Brenda Song because SHE NEVER LEFT out TV screens. Sorry to break your bubble, Brenda Song is still the television star of the most-watched kids show on TV right now and since its premiere.

    I’m truly disgusted by this article.

  • cat

    I admit, I do love Brenda Song. What I wish is that there would be a role for a talented, beautiful, comedic Asian American actress that wasn’t a stereotype. I want to see Song as the lead in the female positive equivalent of Harold and Kumar go to Whitecastle. Now that is a movie I would pay to see.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Brenda Song’s Crazed, Hypersexualized Asian Female Stereotype in “The Social Network” « reappropriate -- Topsy.com()

  • miles

    so sad, but i guess shes gotta pay the bills somehow

  • Ide Cyan

    And Mark Zuckerberg’s actual longtime significant other, Priscilla Chan, who is a medical student, isn’t even in the film.

  • Come on! Is it possible to create an Asian character (with a bit of character) without being blamed that it is stereotype?

  • Keith

    @Crystal – your site, By teaching foreign men to relate to Asian women you mean white right. I’ll pass on this, It seem that most everything as of late in movies and t.v. is geared toward the white male libido.

  • @hannah

    First of all, you need to take a very deep breath and calm down. The world will continue to spin, even though someone has criticized Brenda Song. Trust me.

    //whoever has seen the movie would know she is the one who introduces Justin Timberlake’s character to Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield and Timberlake’s character isn’t in the majority of the film,

    That’s true. Which is why I said I didn’t see the movie, and I don’t think most people know or care who the other actors starring in the film are.

    //and how much more ‘STRONG’ can you get when you COMMIT arson?

    About as much arm strength as it takes to flick the switch on a Bic…?

    Seriously, though, being a pyromaniac is not a sign of a strong (or fierce) person — it is a sign of a *crazy* person. Take for example, Waiting to Exhale, which is a movie that contains four portrayals of four strong women. Angela Bassett is shown as a fiercely independent woman — but that’s after she shows she doesn’t need her former husband anymore. The scene where she burns the car? Yeah, that scene is supposed to show how she’s NOT independent of her man — and how she’s effin’ crazy.

    In short: burning stuff != a strong independent woman who doesn’t need a man to “complete her”. burning stuff = just plain crazy woman who is flat-out obsessed with her guy, not to mention unbalanced.

    //She wasn’t some bimbo, she was instantly attracted to Andrew, love at first sight, immature; yes, but naive.

    Yes, because when *I’m* instantly attracted and in love with someone, I — too — immediately fall to my knees and suck them off in the bathroom.

    //You of all people should know that, sex nowadays is random and out of place.

    … why should I know this?

    And let’s not confuse sex-positive feminism with just random acts of hooking up. That cheapens feminism so much I just don’t even want to go there.

    //I bet you didn’t know she put the ‘White’ (racist, much? stop focusing so much on colour because the movie’s makers CLEARLY didn’t when they cast Brenda Song in the movie and held auditions for Brenda’s character without restricting which ethnicity group and race can audition) MALE character in his place.

    Oooh, yes, because pointing out that a person is White is CLEARLY racist. Because talking about race is racist, and if only we pretended that race doesn’t exist does racism go away.

    And “putting the White male in his place”? You JUST said that Christy has an irrational fear that Andrew Garfield’s character will cheat on her, and therefore prematurely ends the “relationship”. Does Andrew Garfield change his tune and decide to pursue a humanizing relationship with her? Does he give up his pursuit of money or women? Does he change his behaviour in any way?

    Or is the whole scene, as Davis suggests, completely out-of-place and without context, promoting virtualy no personal growth on the part of Christy or her ex-boyfriend?

    //Justin Timberlake is promoted as the sole, main character because he is a big name, he’s more famous than all of the movie’s cast so they promote him as the lead when in reality there isn’t a sole lead and it’s not solely about ‘White’ (again, why must you be so racist?) men making social sites while drunk because THAT is exactly not what happened.

    uhm… if you IMDB the movie, the entire male cast is White.

    Oh, right — because *my* pointing out that a story about White men getting rich is being played on screen by White men (who are already rich) is somehow racist. But making a movie where the only prominent Asian American woman is a bubble-headed bimbo suffering from undiagnosed pyromania is somehow NOT racist?

    //Don’t judge a movie and a character before actually seeing them.

    I didn’t. I commented on a judgement written by a writer who writes for a prominent feminist site, and proclaimed that based on her description of the movie, I have no plans to see it.

    It’s possible that the movie is nothing like its trailer, or what scores of critics have said. It might even be two hours of unicorns and glitter. Since I won’t spend my hard-earned money seeing it, I might never know…

    //It’s such a shame to see a so-called ‘Asian American feminist’ judge an a sexually-driven arsonist so fast.

    Yes, it’s very shameful for me — an Asian American feminist — to decry one of th few depictions of an Asian American woman as being 1) stereotypically hypersexualized, and 2) fucking crazy. Because feminists shouldnt be upset that female characters are praised when they are sexualized and crazy, and denounced if they are… I dunno… feminist.

    //if she’s a bimbo why is she a 22 year old undergraduate studying at Harvard University?

    One word: legacy.

    I’m not saying Christy Lee’s character was or wasn’t legacy — but certainly, as someone who actually went to an Ivy League university, I can safely say that just because Christy went to Harvard, doesn’t mean she can’t be a complete moron (or a Zippo-happy psycho).

    //There isn’t ‘VAGUE’ excitement about the return of Brenda Song because SHE NEVER LEFT out TV screens. Sorry to break your bubble, Brenda Song is still the television star of the most-watched kids show on TV right now and since its premiere.

    I suppose you’re right. There’s genuine excitement amongst people who still watch The Suite Life on the Disney Channel. There’s only vague excitement amongst those who have grown out of watching the Disney Channel.

    //I’m truly disgusted by this article.

    I’m sorry for you.

  • Rick

    As an Asian male who simply stumbled on this by accident, i appreciate that someone Asian and from the opposite sex, also acknowledging this stereotype’s existance and the dentriments that it ensues.

    To throw in my 2 cents, i have first hand experience of this stereotype: my two best buddies from high school are cauasian, both had yellow fever, one had a calling for god, but the other found out that dating an asian girl wasn’t what he thought it was. First she wasn’t so “submissive” and secondly she wasn’t as “tight” as he thought asian women would be. Ironically however, he did say that although there is a prevalent tendency for asian women to date white men, the “good” ones always seem to stay with asian men. What he means by this, i will not explain, it is up to your interpretation. I will tell you this however, that those who date outside of their race in hopes of raising their “status” are doing nothing more than reiterating the repression by stereotypes that put them there in the first place.

    I want to take this time now to thank Brenda Song for reinforcing the idea that asian women are mere sex objects.

    Last thing i want to say is: I live in America- where the media and celebrities, basically vanity, gets more attention than our politicians. Because of this, and the fact that we are such a small group, characters like Brenda Song will be interpreted wrong and will be used to characterized all of the asian women population. I think the status quo for asian women right now speaks for itself. It would be nice to more asian male actors in the media, but the way i see it this is whimisical thinking.

    good day and by the way, in case any of you were wondering: dating an white man WILL NOT make you a better driver.

  • N

    @Rick

    I think for this particular topic, mixing real-life IR issues probably distracts the topic a little. But I agree that the ‘sex object’ stereotype is harmful – sure there are some that thrives on the stereotypes, but what the girls that isn’t? And there’s nothing good about the continuous protrayal of these sort of characters in main-stream media.

    @Jenn

    I thought the original article by Rebecca was brilliant, so I’m really glad you’ve picked up on that.

    In the latest three films that starred Asians/Asian Americans:

    Brenda Song in the Social Network – crazy love interest

    Ellen Wong in Scott P vs the world – stalker, underage ex-girlfriend

    Freida Pinto in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger – Plays the ‘Object of Desire’ and falls for a married, unemployed white guy with no job or talent, as you would since it’s a Woody Allen movie.

    And it’s ironic that Ellen Wong’s character is probably the most positive character of the three (since it’s a whacko movie) and she’s a…under-age stalking ex-girlfriends named “Knives”.

    Is there one recent main-stream movie that stars an Asian Actress in a major role that is strong and independent and doesn’t need to be a love interest to justify their existence?

    @Hannah

    So she introduced this guy to this other guy…and that’s her contribution really, isn’t it? She never helped with the programming or any of the business decisions, did she?

    All she did was…well, maybe you want to fill in the gaps a bit more?

    Because I did watch it and I really want to know how different your interpretation was.

    And yes, it was an over-hyped,soap-opera style, almost trashy movie that I’m truly surprised had gotten decent reviews.

    You can say it’s fairly well-directed and cineographed, but 99% of movies with that kind of budget are and it doesn’t save the film from being trashy and blatantly sexist.

  • reappropriate gets it

  • Fantomex

    Brenda Song’s portrayal aside (and yes, the movie deserves brickbats for that), I’m supposed to blow this movie off because it’s ‘about rich White guys battling other rich White guys to be the richest White guys out there’ according to you? What kind of bullshit is this, and who am I (as a POC) supposed to empathize with then? The losers from Better Luck Tomorrow who blow their futures away due to pressures brought on by their own overachieving? At least the main character in The Social Network had made something of his life during his own youth and didn”t fuck it up by getting rid of somebody.

    This article is typical of bloggers today-all blather about nothing important in particular, except the racism of the writer involved Sorry, but as most of the kids say today, this is epic fail on a grand scale.

    @N: Knives Chau is like that because of the way the original writer (Bryan Lee O’ Malley) wrote her in the original comic books-take it up with him. Ellen Wong didn’t seem to care, and enjoyed the script and the character quite well for her part.

    If any of you want to change the silver screen, put you money where your mouths are and write some with Asians in it that are good and entertaining, not just bitch like mad over the ‘Net about it. Because at the end of the day, the films are on the screen, your bitching’s on the ‘Net, and the film will have greater prominence, while the bitching will simply be read and forgotten.

  • Pingback: In which Mark and Eduardo fulfill their yellow fever dreams « Restructure!()

  • @N

    //Is there one recent main-stream movie that stars an Asian Actress in a major role that is strong and independent and doesn’t need to be a love interest to justify their existence?

    Not that I’m aware of. You’re right — APIA females may be more visible in media than APIA males, but the portrayals are incredibly degrading.

    @Fantomex

    Sorry you feel that way.

    //If any of you want to change the silver screen, put you money where your mouths are and write some with Asians in it that are good and entertaining, not just bitch like mad over the ‘Net about it.

    Which is why this blog supports the “MILLIONS” web series project.

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/millionstheseries/millions-a-web-series-about-our-dreams-and-how-mon

  • wtf

    argh! just a side thought- why is the portrayel of the women that are engaging in sexual activity in this film automatically interpreted as them being ‘loose/whores/hypersexualised’… while the men engaging in the SAME reciprocal activity does not even give them even a inch of criticism… geesh times are still sooo backwards!!! (bumps head on wall repeatedly)

  • Pingback: Five Otherwise Decent Films Ruined by Asian Stereotypes | You Offend Me You Offend My Family()

  • Chris

    I’ve met the three characters in person while attending college in Boston and have seen Saverin in person several times with his ex-girlfriend who was indeed Asian. As far as how crazy she is, I don’t know if that’s based on some truth. The real person seemed like a normal, super smart, and confident woman so seeing how crazy Saverin’s gf in the film was really surprised me. Oh, and the real ex-girlfriend is farrrrrrrrrrrrrr prettier than Brenda Song.

  • xw

    As an Asian American, I’ve seen these kinds of movies far too often. To the blogger, obviously anything dealing with race is going to set off some people, no matter how much the truth is probably on your side if we analyze the situation. I’m speaking from an objective standpoint, like others have said, I don’t recall an Hollywood movie where the asian woman is independent or not a love interest or used as some sex object.

    I do think that this has more to do with something else though. Like how all Disney princesses pursue whorish careers…Even if she was not asian, I would expect the same role. The fact that she is asian just makes it a little more horrible.

  • Yun

    Good intentions but misplaced. This is pointless. Manaa has been criticizing these fucks for years with no change.

    If any of you want change then work with upcoming Asian directors/writers and encourage them to put the kind of images that ASIANS want to see.

    Your best bet is digital distribution using youtube and other video sites.

Comment Policy

Before posting, please review the following guidelines:

  • No ad hominem attacks: A person's identity or background is not up for debate.
  • Be courteous: Respect everyone else in this space.
  • Present evidence: This space endeavours to encourage academic and rational debate around identity politics. Do your best to build an argument backed not just with your own ideas, but also with science.
  • Don't be pedantic: Listen to those debating you not just for places to attack, but also where you might learn and even change your own opinion. Repeatedly arguing the same point irrespective of presented counterfacts will now be considered a violation of this site's comment policy.
  • Respect the humanity of all groups: To elevate the quality of debate, this site will no longer tolerate (racial, cultural, gender, etc.) supremacist or inferiority lines of argumentation. There are other places on the internet where nationalist arguments can be expressed; this blog is not those places.
  • Don't be an asshole: If you think your behaviour would get you punched in the face outside of the internets, don't say it on the internets.
  • Don't abuse Disqus features: Don't upvote your own comments. Don't flag other people's comments without reasonable cause. Basically, don't try to game the system. You are not being slick.

Is your comment not approved or deleted? Here are some common reasons why:

  • Did you sign in? You are required to register an account with Disqus or one of your social media accounts in order to comment.
  • Did a comment get flagged? Comments will be default be published but flagged comments will be temporarily removed from view until they are reviewed by me.
  • Did you not play nice? You may have gotten banned and a bunch of your comments may have been therefore deleted. Sorry.

I monitor all comment threads, and try to address comments requiring moderation within 24-48 hours. Comments that violate this comment policy may receive a warning and removal of offensive content; overt or repeat violations are subject to deletion and/or banning of comment authors without warning.

I reserve final decision over how this comment policy will be enforced.

Summary:

Play nice and don't be a jerk, and you'll do just fine.