This week I watched the Red Pill movie, the new documentary in which a 29-year-old, feminist filmmaker, Cassie Jaye, explores the world of Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) in North America writes Glen Poole.
It was an interesting experience as I have met and have shared platforms with at least five of the people interviewed in the film including Warren Farrell, author of The Myth of Male Power, who wrote in 1993:
“Feminism articulated the shadow side of men and the light side of women, but neglected the shadow side of women and the light side of men”.
By contrast, it can be argued that MRAs highlight only the light side of anti-feminism and the dark side of feminism. Cathy Young, whose 1999 book, Ceasefire, called for men and women to join forces to achieve true equality, has already made this point in her review of Red Pill, saying:
“MRA critiques of [feminism] are well-deserved: With few exceptions, feminism has not only ignored male disadvantages but openly opposed attempts to rectify biases in such areas as child custody and domestic violence.”
Young goes on to argue that anti-feminism (in the form or Men’s Rights Activism), also has a dark side. “One valid criticism of The Red Pill,” she says “is that it soft-pedals or evades the extreme, even genuinely misogynist rhetoric spouted by some of its subjects”.
Who's promoting real diversity?
Here at insideMAN, we receive many comments from MRAs around the world that point to this dark side, such as the following comment on an article written by a pro-feminist who had changed his mind about marking International Men’s Day:
“Feminists have made their filthy, sticky, flea-ridden bed and this time they are going to have to lie in it. Lucky for them, lying is what they do best. It boils down to this, Feminism now has 2 simple options: 1) Get out of our way OR 2) Be utterly destroyed. Choose!”
On the same article, we saw the lighter side of MRAs in this comment from Peter Wright, who works alongside some of the key characters in The Red Pill movie:
“It's true that feminists are the strongest promoters of diversity on the planet,” said Wright “yet ironically display the most ignorance of real diversity among those supporting men's issues -- which most all feminists lump into the one category of "men's rights activists" before dismissing that variety of voices and even censoring them. In that notorious 'feminist' move a great range of diversity is lost.”
If you want to make sense of where The Red Pill sits in the messy world of gender politics, then you need a map to guide you. A map, as they say, is not the territory but it contains enough truth to help you make sense of the terrain you are navigating.
A map of gender politics
So there are two things to keep in mind when watching The Red Pill.
Firstly, there are a whole load of binary pairings at play: men/women; feminism/anti-feminism; men’s issues/women’s issues; men’s rights/women’s rights. Each component has a light side and a shadow side. If you want the whole picture, you need to see all sides---and if you want to know where someone is standing, simply observe which sides they highlight or exaggerate and which sides they ignore or deny.
Secondly, there is a whole world of conflation at play, both in the male corner (between men’s issues/men’s rights/men’s rights activists/anti-feminism) and in the female corner (between women’s issues/women’s rights/feminism/gender equality).
As the comment by Peter Wright suggests, there is a broad church of people who are concerned about and committed to addressing men’s issues and most of us are not MRAs or anti-feminists.
I wrote recently in The Telegraph about the First National Conference for Men and Boys in 2011, which saw nearly 100 organisations sign a joint letter to the Government, calling for more focus on the specific needs of men and boys and how to address them. Reading the list of signatories provides a useful snapshot of the diversity of people committed to making a difference for men and boys in the UK, most of whom do not identify as either feminist or anti-feminist/MRA.
What about the non-feminist majority?
A recent poll by the Fawcett Society, for example, found that while the majority of people “believe in equality for women and men”, only 7% of people identify as feminist and 4% as anti-feminists. This means that around 93% of people in the UK are not feminist, we are non-feminist. Further more, the overwhelming majority of all non-feminists do NOT identify as being anti-feminist.
As the libertarian conservative blogger, Anthony Masters, has observed: “It is worth remembering that public debates between a self-described feminist and anti-feminist will only represent about 11% of the adult population.”
So while MRAs and others point out, quite rightly, that feminism is not the same thing as gender equality, by the same token, anti-feminism and men’s rights activism, is not the same thing as men’s issues, as I discuss in the article: Is International Men’s Day About Men’s Rights or Men’s Issues?
It's not about men's issues
If you want a map to navigate your way through The Red Pill or know what to expect, here’s what you need to know:
a) It’s not about men’s issues. Yes it highlights some of the key men’s issues that continue to be overlooked, but it doesn’t explore any of those issues in depth. Take suicide as just one example, the movie will give you the American statistics on male suicide but provides no understanding of why the rates are so high or how we can stop it.
b) It’s not about the MRA movement. If you want a 360 degree understanding of MRAs then this isn’t the film for you. In making this film, Cassie Jaye will help you see the lighter side of anti-feminist, men’s rights activism and the darker side of feminism. She does so fairly and without recourse to exaggeration or denial, but she also ignores the darker side of men’s rights activism and the lighter side of feminism.
I offer these observations as way-markers rather than criticism, for anyone who is interested in the whole map of gender issues and wants to know what territory The Red Pill does and doesn’t explore.
What is this film actually about?
So if it isn’t about men’s issues or men’s rights activists, what or who is the film about?
The answer lies in identifying the “hero” in the piece, which is an easy job for anyone who knows anything about the theory of scriptwriting or ise familiar with Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero With A Thousand Faces".
The “hero” of the film is Cassie Jaye. It is she who takes the archetypal “hero’s journey” that has dominated human storytelling for millennia and returns to where she started, a changed woman who knows that things will never be the same again.
“The truth is somewhere in the middle,” she says. “There are so many perspectives on gender and I believe they are all worth listening to, however, the conversation is being silenced. I don’t know where I’m headed, but I know what I left behind. I no longer call myself a feminist.”
The Red Pill is ultimately a biopic documentary that charts how a woman who identified as feminist (like 7% of the UK population) spent time with some people who identify as anti-feminists (like 4% of the UK population) and ended neither feminist nor anti-feminist (like nearly 90% of the UK population).
Building a better future
Personally, I ended the film in the same place that I started, convinced that the most effective way to address men’s issues in the UK and beyond is to engage and mobilize more of the 90% (the non-feminists) in tackling the problems that men and boys face and understanding the different ways that the noisiest (and at times most powerful) 10% or so, can both help and hinder our progress.
It is sometimes said that minds are like parachutes, they work best when they are open.What The Red Pill reveals is that the world needs more open-minded people, like Cassie Jaye, who are prepared to think about gender issues in a way that considers both the light and dark sides of feminism and anti-feminism; rather than the censorious feminists who have tried to stop the film being shown in Australia or the anti-feminist who stood up to make this comment at the end of a screening in London:
"Feminism cannot be negotiated with, it's a female supremacy movement driven by the hatred of men and to me the idea that you can negotiate with feminists or that feminists will cede power to men and boys...it's as fanastic as Jews in the Second World War thinking the Nazis would help them."
It's an entirely false victim-narrative that infantilizes men and suggests we have no agency or personal power to address the issues that men and boys face, unless feminists "get out of our way or be utterly destroyed".
Can feminism be a barrier to addressing men's issues? Yes it can, as sure as gravity can be barrier to human flight! Is destroying feminism the answer to the problems men and boys face. Of course not. That's not the way to stop suicide or improve boys' education or end workplace deaths or tackle homelessness or improve men's experiences (and rights) as fathers. Those kinds of complex human problems need men and women to apply the same kind of world-changing thought and action to gender issues, that the Wright brothers applied in their successful battle to overcome and work with gravity, to reach for the sky.
Belinda Brown has argued in her review of The Red Pill on the Conservative Woman blog that the answer to gender issues cannot come from feminism as long as "it is a movement that is based on the assumption that women are victims and men are bad". What is missing from her argument, is an equal and opposite acknowledgment that the answer to gender issues cannot come from an anti-feminist movement that is based on the assumption that men are victims and feminists are bad.
So while as many as 10% of the population seem to think that the answer to all gender issues is to either dismantle patriarchy or destroy feminism, the vast majority of us, like Cassie Jaye, think “the truth is somewhere in the middle" and want to build a better future.
Glen Poole has recently published his latest book, You Can Stop Male Suicide, which is available to buy online from www.StopMaleSuicide.com.