|al(j)ʊˈmɪnɪəm| mass noun - the chemical element of atomic number 13, a corrosion-resistant metal named after Habib Alamin, a computer programmer

My thoughts on Cassie Jaye's “The Red Pill”

I went to see Cassie Jaye’s documentary, “The Red Pill”, a couple of weeks ago now (19 November, International Men’s Day) with a friend and brother. This is less a review, and more me recounting my experience without spoiling the movie in any major way. Disclaimer: I backed the movie on Kickstarter.

I travelled out to London to see it. It was supposed to start screening at 6 o’clock in the evening, but there was a period of confusion for everybody for an hour and a half, as the film only started playing at 7:30. I’m not sure who was responsible for the screening, but that was a bummer (though not really a fault of the movie). I only mention it to make the point that if you’re going to a screening, keep in mind that they’re not all made equal. This was a really low-key venue situated in South East London. It was small and inconspicuous - not all that official. There was no Q&A segment, no appearances by Erin Pizzey, Cassie Jaye, or Warren Farrell, all of whom had attended other screenings.

Once we got past that hump, the movie began.

I guess the first thing I have to mention is that it did not go into a lot of the stories/interviews in the trailer, which I wasn’t expecting. I still really enjoyed the movie, but I was looking forward to seeing some of those narratives expanded in the movie. There’s a really moving part in the trailer where a man talking about his experiences suddenly stands up and is visibly upset, saying, “I don’t like sympathy for any of this stuff”. That said, there were also parts featured in the movie that I know a lot of people (including myself) were hoping to see — such as the interview with Karen Straughan (GirlWritesWhat) — that weren’t in the trailer. I really hope all the footage is released to the public some day. I think it could prove very valuable.

I think Karen Straughan really made palpable the hypocrisies of feminism with regards to language control. As always, she was very articulate and makes these connections that are clear after the fact, but few people think about before she points them out. She’s very good at spotting distant inconsistencies, which is a skill I really appreciate.

I don’t know what kind of footage we missed, but the stories that were shown were so compelling and infuriating (Fred Hayward’s experience with losing his son comes to mind in particular). Overall, I think Cassie did really well with the editing.

I really enjoyed the video diaries, and I think they added an interesting and convincing dimension to the movie. The diaries offered a chance to see Jaye’s internal struggle with her own long-held beliefs. As the film progresses we begin to see her attempt to resist change and double-down on her feminist belief system by leaning on her friends and feminist groups as she realises she is losing a part of her identity. This will send a clear message to any feminist (or non-feminist) who watches the film, I hope.

There was a no-holds-barred scene when talking about one particular issue, footage that came as a bit of a shock, but I’m really glad she showed it. It really forces the viewer to be confronted with the unfiltered truth right in front of them. There was no warning, and an audible groan from the audience shows that it did its job.

After the movie, I stayed and chatted with members of the audience for quite a while. A lot of people there had already taken the red pill, which was quite disappointing to me, as it essentially meant the movie was just preaching to the choir. I had hoped for a bigger turnout by blue pill people, but I guess that’s to be expected before the general release on places like Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, etc. That will be a big boon for getting the message to people who haven’t heard about the issues, or even those that have, but have not yet come into contact with some of the case studies, statistics and arguments made in the film.

The movie wasn’t made for people like me; it was a good primer into a lot of the common issues, but the rabbit hole, as they say, goes so much deeper. As someone who’s been involved with the movement for a long time, mostly through regular donations and mostly anonymous discussion online and raising the issues whenever they are relevant offline (i.e., more advocacy than activism), I already knew about all of the issues raised in the movie, barring some individual interviewee’s stories. I often want to start talking about some of the stuff you discover deeper in, and I think Cassie did a really good job tailoring this to people new to the issues (but obviously I don’t say this from a noob’s perspective).

As I said earlier, most people there were already red pill, but there was one person there (a self-proclaimed freelance journalist) who came in with opposing ideas about the movement to write an article about the movie. It’s sad that I have to say this, but props to that person for actually going to see opposing ideas and staying behind to have a discussion, instead of just signing a petition to stop the screening. In the midst of the group discussion, some points they made slipped through the net, which I will take the time to address here. I gather they were a feminist, but I don’t recall if they explicitly said so. I had a much more interesting and engaging conversation with the feminist than the other people there, incidentally. Listening to my own opinions echoed back to me has never been my idea of a good time.

The first thing was that a particular video diary looked really staged, and to be honest, I wouldn’t entirely disagree. I had the same thought during that particular video diary while watching it. It seemed like less of a structured diary entry (which you’d expect to be planned) and more a recording that was supposed to look unplanned, but didn’t. All I can say to that is that it’s not really a counter to the issues raised and the validity of the arguments, and it’s very subjective (and a low shot, but I think in good faith during a casual conversation). Cassie is a director, it’s not unusual that she would keep high production value video diaries, and it’s not unusual that a few of them would look staged as a result of that (and technically are, in a way).

The other thing the feminist mentioned was that the movie touched on the extreme rhetoric often employed by AVfM, the biggest men’s rights site on the web (disclaimer: I am a regular donator), but never really addressed them. I would have liked to see more of that addressed too and give them a chance to defend themselves, just to show the all the ways in which a lot of feminists and the mainstream media try to twist and distort and take out of context what he says. Alas, that would take a whole movie in its own right, and probably not one a lot of people would watch by choice. They did address one article in particular, “Bash a Violent Bitch Month”, noting that it was a satirical response to a Jezebel article, “Have You Ever Beat Up A Boyfriend? Cause, Uh, We Have”, which I think is enough to plant doubt into people’s minds about and trigger their own research. That said, it would have been nice to hear from Paul Elam directly, who was interviewed and have a quick 30-90 second explanation directly from the owner of the site.

The feminist also raised the issue of the movie seeming biased (noting the avoidance of challenging the extreme AVfM rhetoric as evidence for this). This movie is about one feminist’s journey into the men’s rights movement, who have an alternative perspective on gender issues. Cassie herself notes that she focused on the MRM as it has been so often ignored, maligned, and distorted by the mainstream media. That it focused predominantly on letting the people of that movement speak for themselves shouldn’t be surprising, and is, I think, fair. Cassie did give some air time to feminists to speak too, as she should have, and there would have been more feminist voices had David Futrelle (and others) not declined to speak with her after his smear campaign of Cassie when he found out that she was becoming sympathetic to the MRM and that the movie wasn’t going to be an attack on it.

The other thing pointed to as evidence of the bias is the focus on “baying crowds” of feminists juxtaposed with interviews with MRAs. As mentioned before, the film has a focus on the MRM’s platform, as most everyone knows much more about the feminist platform than they do the MRM’s. It’s not like Cassie completely avoided the “extreme” things people like AVfM in particular have written. In fact, the movie opens with a bunch of really extreme headlines and article snippets from AVfM, and as I said, she addresses one of those articles later in the film which plants the first seed of doubt about previous feminist responses to them. Feminists were given a chance to speak as well. All Cassie did was document (as a documentarian should) the facts. If reality has a bias, that’s not a failing of the messenger.

This bit has nothing to do with the film, but I have to address it because it’s so funny how it whizzed right past me at the time. I started talking about the “violence against women” line and how violence is perpetrated much more against men, and how we often avoid perpetrating violence against women for the sole reason that the would-be victim is a woman. I talked about my experiences with violence as a man and how it’s so normal that you don’t even think about it as a problem, but rather as something that’s just there that people try to avoid imposing on women. They started talking about how, after starting their transition to being a woman, they noticed a difference in the way people treated them, and in fact, they started being targeted for violence; they specifically mentioned an incident in which a stranger chased after them and called them a “fag”. I didn’t even think about that little extra line, but looking back on the conversation later, I think their experience proves my point. Clearly, in the eyes of this person that targeted them, they were still a man (and in this case, they still spoke and (mostly) appeared to be a man). That the person shouted “fag” demonstrates that the person I was talking to was being targeted for being a homosexual man (whether they were or not is beside the point).

Anyway, to get back to the film, all in all, I think it’s a great primer to the MRM for people who are ignorant of the issues and I really hope it gets wide distribution. I hope it opens up a wider discussion about men’s issues, and the problems with feminism, some of it inherent. I think Cassie and the team did a great job, and I really want to thank them for putting their careers and personal relationships on the line to share the journey. I know Cassie has lost friends because of this movie, and I don’t take that lightly. Thank you, Cassie! Thank you to her boyfriend for being willing to challenge her on her feminist beliefs.

I really believe this film marks a turning point in mainstream acceptance of MRM ideas. I think the excesses of feminism has accelerated this process and they only have themselves to blame. I have heard that several feminists have really been given pause after watching this film, and I hope that continues to happen.