How to review an allegedly feminist film

Now that the production of Cassie Jaye‘s movie The Red Pill has been fully funded, the questions are continuing: will this documentary be a feminist film? It was filmed by a feminist, and it is concerned with equal rights. That makes it feminist, right? Although feminist support is fleeing from the film, some in the MGTOW/ red pill community still fret that because she is a feminist, Cassie is insincere; one YouTube commentator insisted that “she has no humanity to appeal to.”

When evaluating entertainment, I’ve concluded that every show is feminist. And, just as strongly, every show is anti-feminist. How is this apparent contradiction even possible? The answer, of course, is that these conclusions are a reflection of the contradictory nature of feminism itself: an ideology concerned with equality that hates the idea that men should have legal rights equal to women.

As a critic who reviews entertainment from a Men’s Rights (and MGTOW) perspective, I’m often concerned with evaluating the bona fides of a purported feminist show. My problem is that because feminism is vast, incoherent, and an often contradictory movement full of logical traps, the same trope in a show can be argued either way.

Feminists themselves give little help to evaluating the feminist nature of a show beyond the Bechdel test: this test states that, for a show to be considered feminist, two named female characters must discuss something other than a man or men. This standard, of course, is both tongue-in-cheek and ironic in that it disqualifies almost all of feminism from being feminist, since feminists talk exclusively about men and how they hate how the patriarchy (all men) treat them.

The Bechdel test leads to some other ludicrous results: for example, the movie Gone Girl passes the feminist test although it is men who are the only real victims in the film – the woman lead character fakes one thing after another, painting the men in her life as abusers so she can abuse and even kill them without her suffering the legal consequences for her crimes.

There is one other popular feminist idea of film critique but as far as I can tell it has never been formalized into a test like Bechdel. It is called the “male gaze” focus: camera shots that objectify women characters by lingering on attractive female bodies (or, sometimes, other things that excite or please men, such as explosions, decapitation, car chases, and so on.) The “male gaze” has never been formalized into a test because only a film about pets wearing funny hats could pass it, and indeed, women also look at women’s bodies but for less charitable reasons than sexual desire: a man might look at a sexy woman and think “nice” while a woman would think “she thinks she can wear that.”

When there are no standards that can be tested objectively, feminists are unrestrained from asserting, often erroneously, that a show is feminist. Such claims are a form of tactical feminist triumphalism: a show is touted as feminist in order to buoy rank and file feminist morale as well as bootstrap feminist social power by trying to manufacture fake victories that scare people into giving feminists more tangible victories. My recent review of Supergirl was an attempt to puncture this feminist triumphalism: of course Supergirl had a few themes that might be construed as feminist – all shows do – but it explicitly adopted the anti-feminist term “girl” and explicitly outed itself as anti-feminist!

Let’s look at some examples to see if we can tell, using feminist’s own assertions and practices, what makes a show “feminist” in the eyes of feminists.

First, let’s construct a hypothetical show called, say, “Angels in Feminism.” The show depicts feminists defending a convicted lesbian pedophile in Florida, assaulting churchmen in South America, scheming up the rape hoax that became Roe V Wade (which legalized abortion in the US), plotting to protest a new form of male-focused birth control, marching and reading bad poetry in a slut walk, disparaging trans women in England, protesting and pulling fire alarms at men’s issues meetings, and verbally mauling each other over what the larger world sees as minutia. The show would be 100 percent accurate and 100 percent of the screen time would depict feminists in action.

Here’s the question: is “Angels in Feminism” a feminist show? Feminists, of course, would not only say “no,” they would girlcott the show, attack the producers, and throw used tampons and dead fetuses at show-goers. When questioned about the reasons for their protest, they would then scream “read the dictionary” and other non-sequiturs as they always do when asked what feminism really is.

“Angel’s in Feminism” is an illustration of what we can call the “Big Red” problem: the real world, accurate depictions of feminists are necessarily anti-feminist because the tactics and behavior of feminists is awful. A show can be chock full of feminists and not be feminist at all unless feminists are depicted in a positive, sympathetic way. We’ll call this the “Big Red” test, after that lovely but cantankerous feminist Chanty Binx.

Unfortunately, a positive, sympathetic view of feminists is not enough to establish a show’s feminism.

Let’s construct another hypothetical show called “Angel Empowerment.” A tiny female computer expert is brutally raped. Once she recovers, her life is treated in a positive and sympathetic way: she takes stock of her situation and hatches a plan of revenge, not only on her own rapist but on any man who hurts women. Her plans, though their execution is harrowing, succeed wildly and beyond her dreams: not only does she humiliate her attacker in a unique and creative way, but she brings another man, a murderer of a woman, to justice and along the way she becomes one of the wealthiest, most powerful women on the planet.

Again, we can ask: is “Angel Empowerment”  a feminist film? Not according to feminist Jessica Valenti: the rape scene disqualifies it. The feminist mind is so traumatized by the depiction of a fictional rape that nothing that follows counts toward making the film feminist. Indeed, any conflict faced by a woman character at all shakes the feminist credibility of a show. Of course, all drama (including melodrama) involves some sort of conflict, so again we are back to dogs wearing funny hats as one of the few genres of film that might pass as feminist.

By the way, the hypothetical plot of “Angel Empowerment” is identical to the plot of the actual movie The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the English remake of the Swedish film Män som hatar kvinnor, “Men Who Hate Women.” I’ve discussed the movie with feminists in real life and they all dismiss the rape scene as gratuitous, even though it is not; it is central to the lead character’s motivation. Almost everyone can recognize this movie as a feminist fantasy, except, of course, feminists.

The movie illustrates what we can call the Pearl Clutching Problem: any show with a disquieting theme is anti-feminist despite any other themes, tropes or dialogue in the film – women are so fragile that any emotional disturbance linked to gender disqualifies a show as feminist. A single microaggression can damn a man in real life, so we can assume that the depiction of aggression against even sympathetic women will make a film fail the Pearl Clutching Test, even if the aggression is avenged.

The Pearl Clutching Problem/Pearl Clutching test is an illustration of my general reviewing process: anything that feminists find “problematic” (sinful against women) can be spun into a test to assess a show’s purported feminism.

This gives us an enormous palette to paint shows as feminist/anti-feminist based on objective evidence:

  • Does a show depict masculinity in a positive way? If it does, it fails the “Toxic Masculinity” test. Any show depicting men working effectively and ethically would fail this test. This one trips up feminists all the time: the Cat-calling video 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Womanpublished 1 year ago and with over 41 million views, passed the Toxic Masculinity test as the perfect feminist film until some critic pointed out the obvious racism in the film, turning it into a titanic feminist fail. 
  • Does the show depict fathers as deeply involved and invested in the lives of their families? If it does, it fails the “Deadbeat dad” test.
  • Even a show praising women’s achievements or even feminist “victories” would fail the “Perpetual victim” test: the feminist practice that, in order to perpetuate female supremacy (longer lifespans, voting majorities, educational dominance, men’s disposability, etc.), all women’s successes must be downplayed, ignored and dismissed lest people wake up to the fact that there is no significant feminist issue of legitimate concern in the first world anymore.

One can imagine a nearly endless series of such tests: each taking a feminist principle and stripping it bare.

At last, the point of criticizing a show’s alleged feminist character should be clear: exposing it exposes the deeply horrible nature of feminists and their antagonism towards their supposed goal of gender equality and the freedoms of both men and women.

All truth, it seems, harms feminists and their lies, as Cassie Jaye may show in her forthcoming film.

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