The best publicity any film can have is for it to be banned. That alone immediately sparks interest. You simply cannot buy that kind of singularly focused attention. Throw a cringeworthy interview on The Project into the mix and you have the perfect storm. I simply had to watch this film and see what all the fuss was about.
So the other night I watched The Red Pill, a documentary by Cassie Jaye about the men’s rights movement. I was aware of the movement and its main antagonist, Paul Elam, but had never heard of Jaye, a former actor who decided she wanted more from her film career than the roles in which she was being cast, and made the decision to place herself on the other side of the camera. Such a move is to be applauded, but sadly, that’s where the clapping ends.
So, to the film. The title, as you may or may not know, is a reference to the plot of the 1999 feature film The Matrix, in which the character Morpheus offers computer programmer Neo a choice between seeing ‘the truth’ by swallowing a red pill, or remaining blissfully ignorant by swallowing a blue pill: “You take the red pill … and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
I took the red pill and was ready to be shown ‘the truth’. I went in with a very healthy dose of scepticism, and rightly so. The film is predominantly a propaganda piece that steers clear of Elam’s more controversial public statements on rape (despite Jaye being shown dutifully googling ‘rape culture’ early in the piece) and attempts to focus on ‘the issues’.
Jaye fails to give the ‘fair and balanced’ look promised by her Kickstarter campaign, which might be because at least some of the funding for the film was provided by the very movement she was supposed to be investigating. The film’s credibility was also not helped by its recommendation from former Breitbart editor and paedophile apologist Milo Yiannopolous.
That being said, some of the issues in the film did manage to raise my eyebrows. In no particular order, they included:
- the disparity in sentencing for men and women who commit the same crime
- paternity fraud
- the inherent bias towards women in the family court system
- the lack of targeted support services for male victims of violence and sexual assault
- the higher rate of male fatalities in combat and in the workforce
- the higher rate of suicide among men
- the idea that men’s lives are considered ‘disposable’
- the reductive way in which mainstream media sometimes reports on tragedies involving men while giving precedence to tragedies involving women
- that men are as much a victim of traditional patriarchal views as women
- that the number of men affected by prostate cancer is equal to the number of women affected by breast cancer, yet breast cancer charities receive more awareness and funding
I will give it this: the film appears, on the surface at least, to try very hard not to detract from the seriousness of women’s issues, and the undercurrent of misogyny is subtle. It attempts to highlight the issues faced by men and instil the idea that ‘male privilege’ has its own consequences and complications.
For example, while I realise it is a fraught generalisation, there is a notion that when it comes to the issue of reporting any type of sexual misconduct involving a man and a woman, the pendulum of belief tends to swing in favour of the woman. I have my own tale that, sadly, lends credence to that idea.
When I was in primary school I had a ‘girlfriend’, which pretty much entailed the two of us eating lunch together, passing notes in class and holding hands in the playground. We would sneak into a little copse at the back of the school grounds and ‘play house’. I remember she took me to the bike sheds one time so that we could watch the older kids making out, and from then on we would sneak into our copse and (try to) make out. It was all very awkward and, so I thought, harmless. Until suddenly it wasn’t.
This girl was my first crush, my first kiss. She was also the first girl to show me what ‘nice’ girls aren’t supposed to show boys. But what transpired next was quite traumatising. We had a falling-out over something trivial, as kids tend to do. Next thing I knew I was yanked out of class and pulled into a meeting with the principal, my parents and the parents of my ‘girlfriend’. She had told everyone – students, teachers, the principal – that I had ‘done things’ to her. While neither of us had exactly been innocent, neither of us was guilty, either. We were kids.
Nevertheless, my reputation at school was destroyed. While police involvement was avoided to ‘protect’ the girl, I was sentenced to several months detention, stripped of my standing at the school (including leading the school choir), and shunned by the student body except for the beatings I was subjected to, which I was forced to suffer in silence because, well, who cared about the creepy kid? Meanwhile, her reputation remained unaffected.
But the worst part was not what happened to me. Sure, the taunts and physical abuse escalated beyond mere schoolyard bullying, but the stigma wasn’t just attached to me anymore. My brothers and sister, all younger than me and all coming up through school behind me, were tarred with the same brush. My bullies became their bullies. My mother eventually sent me to live with my grandmother so I could attend a school in another suburb to give all of us a fighting chance at beating this thing.
Fast forward to high school. Same girl, different boy, only now we were all older, and the allegations were much more serious. Again the parents were called (I can’t remember if the police were involved this time) and the student body was abuzz with the scandal. Behind closed doors, she eventually admitted that she had made up the whole thing. The boy was vindicated before he suffered my fate. And finally it was my turn, as news broke that her allegations against me were also false.
The apologies from those who had tormented me for almost three years came quicker than a one-minute man. Suddenly I was invited to sit with the popular kids, the guys who not weeks prior had been kicking the crap out of me behind the prefab buildings were giving me high-fives in the walkways, and the girls who had labelled me ‘the creep’ were lining up to talk to me. As is expected of a young man who is told by their father that showing weakness is ‘for girls’, I had to simply ignore the last several years, smile and move on. So, we did. At the end of that school year our family literally moved on – to another school, another town, another country.
I often wonder what happened to that girl, not just in the years following that fateful day when the truth came out, but about what was going on in her life that made her think the behaviour she engaged in was acceptable. I’ve more than put that situation behind me. Even at that age I had already been deemed a weirdo by the stereotypical male standard (I was lanky, bookish, artistic, disinclined to play sports, a loner), so in hindsight I can understand that believing I was a pervert was probably an easy pill to swallow for my fellow students. I hope that, wherever she is, her life has improved and she too has had the opportunity to move on and find happiness.
Mine is but one story, and I acknowledge that if you want to look at it strictly from a numbers perspective, it probably falls in the statistical minority. But it does happen more than it is discussed, and I see no reason why these situations cannot become part of the greater conversation.
Anyway, back to the film. I think there are genuine men’s issues that need to be discussed, and it is a shame that the banner for a movement with the potential to be a balancing force for gender equality is being taken up by people who are so stained by disgusting controversy that it is extremely difficult to take anything they say seriously.
Regardless of how much the men’s rights activists (MRAs) in this film state that feminists are important, I found it odd that the ones featured throughout were portrayed as slightly unhinged and very, very angry – especially in the B-roll footage.
The one shining feminist moment for me was from Chanty Binx (aka ‘Big Red’), who finally managed to bring some much-needed balance when she told a group of MRAs that if they would just ‘shut the fuck up for a minute’ they might realise that there is a lot feminists and MRAs agree on.
The best we can hope is that this film will spark a dialogue, and I am confident that if this is going to happen anywhere, it will be Australia, where organisations such as Beyond Blue are doing great things for men in the mental-health space, and with things like Movember, we have a fantastic focus on men’s health awareness (coincidentally, it is currently Men’s Health Week).
There’s a typical if not somewhat outdated stereotype that men talking about their feelings, or admitting they are weak or a victim, is wrong. However, there is also the idea that if men are going to be weak, they must do it privately, in secret, behind closed doors. I’ve experienced that stigma on my own road to mental health, and it shouldn’t happen. Part of ‘smashing the patriarchy’ is smashing the notion that men must always appear impenetrable, and destigmatising the reversal of traditional gender roles before abolishing them altogether. Interestingly, this is something that most feminists are already working towards.
There is a conversation to be had, but it must be done in a way that doesn’t invalidate the suffering of another. Both sides need to be willing to listen to each other and respect that there are pros and cons of every gender identity, good and bad in all.
Feminism and the men’s rights movement have the potential to join and be a driving force for a singular purpose: true gender equality. Trying to silence or negate the other only helps to prove the other’s point, and the vicious circle continues. It’s a losing battle, although the odds are stacked heavily in the favour of feminism – a movement that spans the better portion of the last few hundred years.
Despite its best efforts, this film does little to give credibility to the men’s rights movement. To be honest, I was a little disappointed not to hear Shannon Noll bleating ‘What about me?’. At the end of the day, that’s pretty much how the men in this film come off.
I need strong women in my life, and I have them because of feminism. Women have taught me so much about what it means to be a man. And because I am a man, I must at least consider the possibility that there are issues for both men and women that can be brought to the table and examined, with a solution found by both sides working in harmony. I don’t think a conversation about men should detract from the ongoing struggles of women.
Unfortunately, the men’s rights movement as it stands seems to be a parody of feminism that is more interested in cockblocking the feminist movement, stirring the pot and pissing off women than in doing something constructive. It tries to be serious, but ends up calling female men’s rights supporters ‘honey badgers’. Which stoner came up with that name?
If something good comes from The Red Pill, and I hope it does, then it won’t have all been for naught. It will be interesting if Jaye goes on to make another documentary about rape culture (she said on The Project that the subject ‘deserved its own film’). Films about rape culture already exist, such as Audrie & Daisy and The Hunting Ground, but based on the angle of The Red Pill I almost shudder to think what Jaye would do with the subject. I also look forward to her releasing, as she stated she intends, the hours of footage she couldn’t fit into this two-hour film that is bound to leave you with nothing but a bad taste in your mouth and a desire to take a shower, regardless of your gender.
Should this film be banned? No, I don’t believe so, because I think that would give it more attention than it deserves. If the spotlight hadn’t been put on it, it might have quietly slipped under the radar and into the DVD bargain bin at JB Hi-Fi.
At the same time, I’m glad that it’s out and people are talking about it. Where the conversation goes from here, be it screaming at each other or opening a dialogue, well, that’s up to each of us.
We can keep perpetuating the idea that men and women are opposing forces, continue fighting and get nowhere, or – a better idea – we can start lifting each other up instead of cutting each other down. We can accept that everyone has their own struggles, issues, lived and shared experiences, and subscribe to the notion that people are more than simply their gender. We can, as human beings with more in common than not, get shit done.
Or, in simpler terms, we can be feminists. It’s not the dirty word The Red Pill would have you believe it is.
What’s it going to be?