The Red Pill documentary – Not the cesspool of misogyny you might think it is.

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The Red Pill is a documentary film about a self identified feminist Cassie Hayes and her investigating the Men’s Right’s Activism movement. The film features interviews with prominent MRAs like Paul Elam, counterpoint interviews with feminists, and footage of confrontations between feminists and MRAs.

The film starts with Cassie explaining that she’d heard of deeply misogynistic MRAs and so looks in to investigate. The film ends with her saying ‘I don’t know where I’m headed, but I know what I’ve left behind – I no longer call myself a feminist’.

My overall impressions on this film as a film is positive. The production quality is good, and I was engaged throughout. This film is easy to watch.

I think it’s fair to say that the film is a pro-MRA film, despite its claim that it started out as critical investigation of MRAs.

I found the film very convincing, it that it made persuasive arguments that MRAs can be reasonable people with legitimate grievances.

The film covers a few specific MRA issues, which I’ll cover – but I think the main point of the film is not intended as a comprehensive run down of men’s rights issues, but to portray MRAs as reasonable people, and also to highlight the conflict between MRAs and feminists, or to suggest that the portrayal of MRAs as misogynists is unfounded.

Some of the issues covered were:

  • Men are subject to wrongful paternity or paternity fraud, and in some cases legislation prevents men from having recourse. (For example, the film mentions how in France paternity testing is illegal without the mother’s consent).
  • It presents the example of Carnell Alexander, where the law in some places is such that in order for a woman to qualify for welfare they need to put a name on a birth certificate, which has some men being put on birth certificates when they’re not the father.
  • One MRA tells a heartbreaking story about the parenting dispute with his ex over their son. He alleges that she was intentionally overfeeding him, and whereby he eventually gives up custody. In this story – I wish I could have heard the other side of the story, not that interviewing the mother was necessarily possible.

One bit that did give me pause was when an MRA was giving an example of wrong paternity, the example he gives is ‘Ok, we went to a party, I had sex with six guys, I think it was when I was hanging out the window I got pregnant I’m not sure.. and then she names one of the other guys who didn’t have sex with her’.
I thought this hypothetical situation was gratuitous and fell on the slutshaming siding of things. A more neutral example of wrongful paternity could have been given.

There are several moments that to me do strike me as legitimate grievances of men’s rights activists or criticisms of feminism.

For example, there’s footage of feminists confronting men’s rights activists that looks pretty awful.

Or this scene from a talk show where women cheer tricking a man into concieving a child:

 

There were a couple of points that I found poignant, and that I hadn’t considered:

  • The concept of men being objectified as a ‘success object’ in the same way that women have been objectified as sex objects.
  • Cassie mentions that whenever MRAs bring up men’s issues, she feels the need to respond with women’s issues. She then considers that perhaps when MRAs have been doing this in response to feminist talking points, it’s same thing, suggesting that the conflict between MRAs and feminists maybe due to each failing to empathise with each other.

 

Criticisms and thoughts about the men’s rights movement in general

The title of the film is unnecessarily inflamatory.

The term ‘The Red Pill’ initially comes from the move The Matrix, describing the choice to to see the real world.

The term has since been adopted by a reddit community /r/theredpill which subscribes to a toxic gender essentialism which suggest that women like being dominated, and also by alt right / 4chan types as verb to mean ‘what’s the hidden truth about’.

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I think the term does a disservice to the film, by associating with these toxic men’s movements. I suspect the term was intentionally used, to court controversy and get exposure.

An alternative view would be that if Cassie genuinely did set out with the view that she was investigating a misogynistic movement, then she couldn’t change the name once she realised that there was a distinction between MRAs and redpillers. (This does appear to be the case – as is evidenced in this reddit AMA).

Cassie briefly that there’s a distinction between men’s rights activists, red pillers and men going their own way (MGTOW), right at the end of the film.

I think this is where male gender politics deserves a good look it.

I’m of the opinion that there are genuine issues that men uniquely or disproportionally face, and also that there is a toxic form of misandric feminism that is being left unchecked. I think the instant dismissal of men’s rights activists is unwarranted and unconstructive.

However, I acknowledge that there is a huge amount of crossover between men’s rights activism, and what I consider genuinely toxic male subcultures such as red pillers, the alt right and gamer gate.

Giving feminists the benefit of the doubt, I would suggest many feminists see toxic cultures like gamer gate or /r/theredpill and erroneously conflate that with what I’d consider genuine men’s rights activism.

I think the term ‘men’s rights activism’ has its own problems too. It’s been effectively stigmatised as anti-feminist or misogynistic – and as a result I think many liberal minded level headed men, although sympathetic to men’s rights issues, are unwilling to adopt the label themselves. The remaining men are then more likely to be of a more bitter or dug in persuasion.

For example, I don’t agree with Paul Elam’s strategy in writing  ‘Bash a violent bitch month‘, where he’s satirizing using a deliberately inflammatory tone in response to this Jezebel article. I think Elam’s technique is misguided, if not outright misogynistic and it’s not constructive. The Jezebel article I think is callous in its tone, I suspect it’s meant to received with a tone on apology, but they don’t make that explicit. Elam’s response on the other hand, is pretty disturbing.

That brings me to where I’m at: stuck between not really wanting to associate with the bitterness or misogyny that I see as common in the men’s rights movement, and also not wanting to be stigmatised as a misogynist myself; but also wanting to talk about men’s issues and be critical of what I think is some pretty toxic elements of feminism – such as wanting to suppress the discussion of men’s issues or dismissed it as either deserved or misogynistic.

This is where I would like Cassie Jaye to go next. She’s created one documentary that starts out investigating an apparently misogynistic subculture and then presented as reasonable and with legitimate grievances. What I’d like to see a documentary that investigates the genuinely misogynistic subcultures, and draws a distinction between their various political ideologies, as well as presenting where men’s rights activists and feminist identifying men are positioned in relation.

 

Conclusion

Well produced film. Cassie Jaye definitely has talent as a film producer. Having watched the film, it’s hard to see how it warrants people wanting to shut the film down for being misogynistic. At most, any criticism of the film should be on its academic merits, and for me it’s more concerning that there’s a culture of actively trying to censor this kind of film.

I recommend this movie to anyone with an interest in gender politics. Regardless of what you think about men’s rights activism, I think this movie is a good start for men and women to start talking about the issues men face.

As final insight of how this film has been received – here’s a video showing the creator on morning news show – where it’s apparent they’ve made their mind up about the film without watching it. I suspect that for many feminists who haven’t seen the film, they too may hold the same preconception. If you need something to convince you to watch the film, then watch this clip – she’s a very persuasive speaker and holds herself well.

 

 

Why I don’t identify as a feminist (or an environmentalist, or a men’s right activist).

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I don’t identify as a feminist, because I’m hesitant to identify as anything.

I support the personal empowerment of women, whether that’s becoming the CEO of a major company or choosing to be a stay at home mum. I support the free and safe expression of female sexuality, whether that’s pursuing casual sex, asexuality,  committed monogamous relationships, or any variant in between. I support access to birth control and abortions.

At the same time, I’m critical of some of the commonly touted feminist arguments. For example I believe the commonly cited US 78% median income gap argument shouldn’t be taken at face value.

I also support some of the concerns of what are commonly identified as men’s rights activists (MRAs). For example that men successfully commit suicide at rates higher than women (women actually make more attempts), and are more likely to be homeless than women warrants attention. I think the argument for the man’s right to a financial abortion is warrants consideration, without immediately being discounted.

I’m also concerned what can be considered shaming of male sexuality in the public sphere. For example I think there is a common cultural meme that in heterosexual sex the man is entirely responsible for the woman’s orgasm, and that a man coming quickly is a bad thing.

I also support various environment measures. I vote Green. I usually buy the carbon offset when I fly. I support carbon taxes / carbon trading schemes and think that meat and petroleum oil should be more expensive than it is. But I also don’t identify as an environmentalist nor a men’s right activist.

This post is about personal identity, and what it means to identify as something.

I do identify as a New Zealander, a Kiwi and a Pakeha. I do identify as male, and mostly straight.

But I don’t identify as a feminist, because I think the label means something beyond having a particular set of political values. I think the term feminist is more commonly used as a social signal.

I would argue that when assigning identities, we are doing one of two things:

  1. Applying an objective, if not always black and white, categorisation of things.
  2. Expressing a social signal to filter for a particular kind of person we want to associate with.

These identities are either self-assigned (eg. ‘I’m a feminist’, ‘I identity as pan-sexual’) or as a way of identifying others (‘That black guy over there’, ‘She’s a feminist’).

Simpler identities, like identifying as human, male, white, straight, a kiwi, a plumber fall in to this first category. Of course, there are always grey areas – is someone who moved to New Zealand when they were seven and have lived here for ten years a kiwi? (I would argue yes, though it’s more down to their personal identity).

Self-assigned identities that have political component, tend to fall in the second category. For example when someone says ‘I’m a feminist’, they’re saying more than ‘I have xyz political views’, there’s also the indication that ‘and this is a core tenant of my life’ or ‘and I want other people to know what side of politics I land on’.

Perhaps I have the wrong approach. Perhaps I’m assigning too much meaning to what ‘being a feminist’ means, beyond the view that there should be equal rights and opportunity between men and women.

But… I’m not convinced, I think this suggestion is disingenuous. The actress Meryl Streep attracted controversy, from self-identified feminists, when she said that she doesn’t identify as a feminist. That people are reluctant to identify as feminists clearly shows that identifying as a feminist has meaning beyond a black and white categorisation of political belief.

I would suggest that the term ‘feminist’ entails more baggage than any other political term. If someone one was labelled or denied the label as a ‘libertarian’, or a ‘conservative’, it would not attract as much controversy as whether they’re a ‘feminist’ or not.

Thus – I think that self-identifying as a feminist is a political act in itself, and in my honest opinion the act says ‘I’m going to err on the side of agreeing with popular feminist doctrine, without critical assessment’. This is not a stance I wish to take.

I would prefer to take an objective, measured approach, and then decide what political philosophies I agree with, than stake my claim as a particular brand, and subsequently adopt the corresposding political philosophies. Ultimately though, my politics do end up being progressive.