Featured Image by Lucy Brown, used with her permission. Erin Pizzey p>
This November I was lucky enough to attend the screening of The Red Pill at the swanky Soho Hotel in London, England. The film is a documentary focusing on the world of Men’s Rights Activists directed by Cassie Jaye – a young feminist who had initially set out to make a film about Rape Culture. Cassie’s personal journey and creative integrity instead led her to produce an entirely different movie than she had originally intended, but the results were fortuitous, and the final product is a cultural game-changer, in my opinion.
The film gained some notoriety across the web when a screening in Australia was pulled from the cinema, thanks to a petition created by feminist Susan Smith. Smith was concerned that it could be ‘potentially damaging to our credibility’ before labeling it as ‘misogynistic propaganda’ – that’s before having watched it herself, by the way. The petition gained over 2,300 signatures and resulted in the Kino Cinema in Melbourne canceling the screening.
This event is how the film first came to my attention. A YouTuber I watch regularly named ‘Computing Forever’ posted a video concerning the petition, and I was outraged to think that it had been removed not because of what it was, but because of what people thought it might be. I signed and shared the counter-petition before checking out the official website, learning that a London Screening was imminent (I later found it took eight attempts to find a venue to agree to host it). I got in touch with one of the organizers and managed to get myself a ticket to the event. I was ecstatic.
When posting about this on my Facebook page, I was challenged by a couple of my friends, who were worried that I was unwittingly claiming my support for misogynistic rape apologists. They seemed to feel that it was their job to enlighten me on my blunder, which I found both considerate and patronizing at the same time. I kept this in mind as I found my seat at the screening, and was curious to overhear members of the audience discussing the friends they were also losing over differences of opinions. I also kept a close ear on a Daily Mail reporter, who I noticed was conducting an interview with a man behind me. I heard her ask him in an accusatory tone, ‘so you think feminism is to blame for men’s problems?’. My blood ran cold.
While I had originally intended to write a review of the film, I would rather just tell you that the proof is in the pudding with this one. It’s such a poignant and self-explanatory piece that I don’t think I could do it justice. Instead, I wanted to share my personal experience of moving towards, and then away from the feminism label this year.
I also feel it’s important to mention first and foremost that when I say ‘feminist,’ I mean third-wave western feminism. I know that all over the world girls are being subjected to female genital mutilation, married off as child brides, stoned to death for the crime of being raped and living with inadequate access to education and contraception, among countless other problems. But where I agree that there is still a lot to be done, I feel that a lot of our efforts are being wasted over here doing things like marching through the streets with no pants on, trying to combat causes such as the wage gap and rape culture. Which to my mind are intellectually disingenuous, the claims of which warrant more research and a broader perspective for me to be annoyed about just yet (i.e., my pants are staying on).
Something which increasingly frightens me is the way that some women are using feminism to excuse their own sexist, racist and hate-fuelled behavior. I believe that it’s part of my duty as a member of the ‘sisterhood’ to make a stand against it – because those people do not talk for all women, and they certainly don’t represent me.
The funny thing is, to the untrained eye, I’m every bit as feminist as the girls you see portrayed in the film. I have green hair, hand drawn tattoos, a degree in Photography and I’ve been told that I ‘look vegan.’ I was raised in an environment in which being a liberal was a natural choice. To me, it seemed ludicrous that nobody else had come to the same conclusions as I had about the way the world should operate. But as Winston Churchill put it, if you’re not liberal at 20 you have no heart – but if you’re not conservative by 40, then you have no brain. This year, in particular, I finally took to the streets with my outrage over the police shootings in America, and have been actively trying to involve myself in political groups ever since. This quest has led me through some interesting experiences. One of the most relevant of which is when I joined a feminist activist group.
I was privy to meetings that were being held with a group of women from all walks of life. Some working in prisons, some domestic abuse survivors, some who just wanted to help in any way they could. While I can’t fault the efforts of the individual members, I found a couple of things didn’t sit quite right with me on the whole, but I wasn’t sure why. To start with, I didn’t know why we had to state our pronouns after our names. I was new to all of this, so the concept of pronouns was alien to me. But I obliged. We also had to say how we were feeling too. “Hi, I’m Lucy, She/Her, Feeling Happy,” that sort of thing. It was sort of cute at first, along with flapping our hands in the air instead of clapping, which I thought was some sort of quirky group handshake. I later learned that it was because clapping was ‘triggering’ to some members.
There was also a seemingly endless discussion of everyone’s feelings, as well as new speech rules being regularly applied, to protect the ethnic minority ‘sisters’. I felt like a lot of time was spent on these topics, time which I considered as being wasted when we should have been focussing on more practical matters. This code of conduct also led to an overall tense atmosphere at times. One meeting comes to mind, where a ‘person of color’ (I’m still on the fence about that phrase) wanted to talk about the problems that she faced in the feminist community because of her race. Nobody dared speak, lest we are deemed to talk over her, but we eventually managed a very stilted conversation in which everyone present agreed that they didn’t want to be insensitive by giving any sort of opinion.
The final thing that tipped me over was when a really, really lovely girl I knew was shamed for the crime of uploading a link to an article about the group which had been featured in a well-known news publication, accompanied by image of shock horror three white girls standing in a row at a protest. I watched a couple of other ethnic minority ‘sisters’ jump in and condemn her for not noticing how racist this was, stating it was ‘typical’ that she didn’t understand, what with her being white. No matter how much she apologized and tried to explain herself and promise to be more respectful in the future, she was not excused. That was my Deborah Meaden ‘I’m out’ moment.
I broke rank and put myself through an arduous process of ‘unlearning.’ I stopped reading fashion magazines and articles, stopped following the celebrity scandals, and stopped watching TV. It took a while, but slowly I found that the answers I was seeking came from alternative media sources who were able to explain why some things are a nice idea, but structurally unstable when put into practice.
The primary example is this ridiculous notion that men are almost always the perpetrators of violence while women are innocent victims. Under this ideology I’ve seen countless girls calling for a full on male genocide – some even going so far as to suggest rounding them up and putting them in camps. Watching this behavior go unchallenged and, more shockingly, encouraged by the media – I felt a deep anger rising. Only this anger is not shared by my friends and colleagues. It’s not a popular anger. The sad fact is that Men’s Rights Activists don’t have punchy Dazed and Confused articles and fun slogan t-shirts worn by Cara Delevingne to promote their cause, it’s not ‘on trend’ – so when you do attempt to open up a dialogue, expect confrontation. I’m now in a position where I don’t feel comfortable sharing my opinions at work, among friends, or in my home, to keep the peace. Indeed, there are times when I wonder to myself ‘why oh why didn’t I take the blue pill?’
That being said, while some things seem slightly harder, my overall journey is becoming more intellectually enlightening by the day. I am connecting with content creators who inspire me. I am lucky enough to be able to hear different points of view thanks to the alternative media (which is currently in a battle against disturbing censorship laws). And am also able to learn about History, Socio-Economics, Language, Religion, Philosophy, all in real time and thanks to people who care enough about humanity and the planet to share their findings online and give people like me the opportunity to see other perspectives than what we are spoonfed through Facebook and the like.
As the film started, I must say it felt surreal seeing what I now consider to be my ‘world’ projected onto a cinema screen. Up until then my learning experience involved sitting alone in a dimly lit room, tapping away at a keyboard into the wee hours. This felt like a collaborative effort, an end-of-year presentation if you will. Especially knowing how much effort Milo Yiannopoulos (who I used to despise) had put into helping to raise funds even to be able to get it finished and out the door. As I watched Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole during the opening credits, I felt overcome with a sense of hope.
Cassie Jaye comes across as an intelligent and inquisitive young women, a real role model. She explains how she came to produce the film, starting from her career as an actress, showing us how often she was typecast as ‘female victim’ or ‘kidnapped girl’ in horror B-movies. She starts by questioning the status quo of being a woman, particularly in the acting world, and decides to leave it behind, pick up a camera and become a documentary filmmaker instead. She studied feminist, and LGBT issues before the phrase ‘Rape Culture’ piqued her curiosity. Cassie starts her adventure by simply typing the phrase ‘Rape Culture’ into Google and finding the website ‘A Voice For Men’ on the front page. Thinking she had hit the jackpot, she got in touch with them – and before long was given access to interviews with some of their longstanding members. During the time spent with these activists, she comes to realize that they are nothing like what she thought they would be – and in fact, they make a lot of sense.
To put it mildly, the film did justice to my expectations, and then some. The points raised about the lack of empathy for men’s rights are unwittingly and sometimes comically confirmed by the response of feminists and gender studies teachers alike, who scoff at the thought. I was also morbidly fascinated to see the infamous ‘Big Red’ being interviewed, who gave the charming response of ‘cry me a river!’ when asked what she thought of men’s rights.
While the audience and myself chuckled at moments like this, I heard the wonderful Susan Morris behind me whisper to herself ‘why is this funny’? Well, Susan, I think it’s funny on the surface level because she’s an offensive cartoon character with bright red hair and an ‘I want to talk to your manager’ snarl. It’s not funny because she probably has thousands of followers, and for every ‘Big Red’ out there, there’s a guy on a school campus treated like a rapist, or losing his job for the crime of ’wrong think.’ I know some old friends of mine who tentatively message me on Facebook, telling me that they don’t dare share their opinion online anymore for fear of being doxxed, but that they’re secretly grateful for me doing so.
In fact during the Q&A afterward, one of the members of the audience stated that trying to get feminists to help Men’s Rights Activists was like the Jews seeking to ask the Nazis for help. Someone quickly pointed out that comments like that will not help us bring people together (as demonstrated by two smug girls in the audience giggling to themselves) but I do understand his metaphor, and I can’t help but agree with his point to some extent. But now, thank God, at least we have this film to try and present the argument in a way that’s easier to digest for those who are still on the fence themselves.
We watch Cassie struggle through her intellectual transition in her personal video journals, where she explains how hesitant she is to believe what she is being told. Sometimes she wonders if she is being lied to. Sometimes she hangs her head in her hands, seemingly at war with her perception of reality. It’s compelling to watch, having been through it just a few months ago myself. I found myself rooting for her, as well as admiring the effort she had put in to challenging the world around her, to always seek the truth and speak the truth. She displayed all of what I believe to be the best traits a woman can have – strength, grace and, among all else, compassion for others. THAT is what feminism should be about. THAT is the future I want to see.
And to end on a positive note, the YouTuber I mentioned earlier – Computing Forever – said in one of his videos ‘taking the Red Pill is pretty much a one-way street.’ Once you see the world through these eyes, there’s no going back.