‘The Red Pill’ Delves Into the Men’s Rights Movement
“The Red Pill” movie poster.
by Josh Morris
“If men have all the power, why can’t they talk about their problems?”
Have you ever thought the Men’s Rights Movement might actually have some validity? Have you been warned of its “toxic appeal?” That it’s a hate group?
Have you ever even heard of it?
I imagine most people haven’t. Truthfully, I also hadn’t heard very much about the Men’s Right Movement (MRM) until I watched the “The Red Pill,” a documentary written/directed/produced by Cassie Jaye. The film was released on VOD March 7 (yes, it was probably timed to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8), but had its official opening last year.
And, yes, it certainly has some appeal, though I don’t know if “toxic” accurately describes it.
The film starts with Jaye’s backstory. She guides us through the personal journey that led her to embrace feminism as a young adult and prompted her to migrate from the front of the camera (she had aspired to be an actress) to behind it; she has found much more fulfillment as a director and less misogyny.
As Jaye was researching what to tackle for her third documentary, she came across a website titled “A Voice for Men,” and was very much intrigued. What followed was a years-long exploration into the lives of the people behind the MRM.
It was not an easy tour to take, as we discover.
In fact, what Jaye navigates is an upstream torrent of censorship, misunderstanding and extreme bitterness (if not hate). But that can come from both sides of the gender equality spectrum not just from the MRM, as some would have us believe. Most of the interviewees are rational individuals; calm, collected and quite civil.
The “red pill” is a reference to “The Matrix.” It symbolizes the choice between understanding the “true” nature of your reality versus existing comfortably in fantasyland. It’s catchy, sure, but it’s almost cliché already. Not to mention, it’s more than a bit presumptuous to assume you, your “group” and/or your ideology has access to the ultimate source of “truth.”
Indeed, it’s exactly that fanaticism that Jaye is caught in the middle of. As a feminist, it was her intention to combat or expose the MRM, but instead she ultimately becomes sympathetic to their cause.
But what is their cause exactly? According to their website it is ultimately “to promote a culture that values equal treatment under the law for all human beings.” As opposed to, say, giving women any form of special treatment, including chivalry.
“The Red Pill” is successful as a documentary because it starts a dialogue about these issues; not because it promotes blindly embracing the MRM or arguing against the efforts of suffrage, feminism and/or gender equality.
An example of this can be found in its examination of “The Patriarchy.” In the film (and in general) there’s not much debate that the patriarchy actually exists. But the dialogue allows an investigation as to why it might exist for different reasons than feminism constitutes; the MRM suggests patriarchy exists because of gender roles. Not the other way around. Culture and feminist critic Camille Paglia (a female) might argue those gender roles are actually based on fundamental sex differences; but the film doesn’t delve into that debate.
Further, there’s also the implication that at least some men are just as oppressed by the patriarchy as women. What other conclusion can be drawn from the fact that close to 99 percent of all military deaths are males? Or 78 percent of suicides? Or 94 percent of work-related deaths?
The MRM opposes the view that men should be the “disposable sons” of society.
For the most part, Jaye is simply presenting the facts as they are being presented to her; she isn’t necessarily building a case. In fact, the most intriguing segments in the film are her video diaries: as she reflects on what she is learning, as she questions her presuppositions, as she evolves, she positions herself with the rest of her audience who is undoubtedly experiencing something similar.
Jaye understands how the ideas of the MRM will be new (if not shocking) to most of us, and it is precisely because of her empathetic approach that we feel compelled to follow her down “the rabbit hole.”
Eventually, she starts to wonder, “Don’t feminists and the MRM have more in common than people think? Shouldn’t both sides working together for a more encompassing gender equality movement? Why aren’t they?” For the most part, those questions remain unanswered.
And how can they be if films like this one can’t get funded?
A major theme in the film is the active silencing of the Men’s Rights Movement: their needs, theirs struggles and their histories drowned out by protests, slander and fire alarms. Jaye similarly suffered when her funding was pulled and crewmembers abandoned the project once she began taking a sympathetic, non-combative view.
If “the truth is somewhere in the middle,” as Jaye claims, no one should be silenced. Ignored. Unchallenged.
To fully analyze the film, its claims and the stats presented as evidence would take countless hours. But as far as a review goes, there isn’t much else to critique. “The Red Pill” is an excellent documentary; eye-opening, schema-challenging, fair, genuine and compelling.
Like Ms. Jaye, I was skeptical of the voices behind the MRM (as well as her eventual sympathy towards them). Yet as I viewed the film, if I questioned something Jaye would eventually circle back, reexamine and/or follow through sufficiently.
Towards the film’s conclusion, there is a kind of hurried wrap-up in which Jaye only briefly touches upon some issues (circumcision, prostate cancer funding versus breast cancer funding) that could each be investigated in a documentary of their own. Since “The Red Pill” runs almost two full hours, we grant her leave from any further investigations; the scope of this subject (and this is pointed out in the film) is far too broad for any one documentary to fully capture.
For that matter, it is far too broad for any one director. Or professor. Or school. Or any one “side” of the issues. That’s precisely why initiating a conversation is so vitally paramount. This is something that requires further research, and not just by those who may benefit from it; that is, not just white males. Scrutiny, therefore, is also needed.
Not all viewers will agree (nor should they, necessarily) with the conclusions reached. Rigorous debate is expected. But the feeling I got after watching “The Red Pill” is that it will become a staple of the more balanced gender studies programs of the future, even if that’s decades from now.
On a personal level: I am a white male, but I too came to call myself a feminist in my college years; education and my life experiences (especially being raised by a single-mother who didn’t make much money) made it easy to do so. While earning a degree in both film and sociology, which I say not to gloat but rather to establish my own context, I have watched dozens and dozens of documentaries. I have studied documentary techniques, social movements and inequalities. And based on that foundation, I would argue that “The Red Pill” has merit.
The film ends with Jaye stating, “I no longer call myself a feminist.” Spending years face-to-face with Men’s Rights advocates may warrant such a conclusion. I still consider myself a feminist, but I also feel persuaded to dig a little deeper in to all of this.