Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Red Pill: A documentary by any other name...

I watched the documentary The Red Pill on our Kanopy streaming database earlier this week, and my foundation feels cracked now. My attempt to comprehend the film has become such a constant thought, churning in my head all week, tumbling over and over again like a pebble, waiting to be made smooth; yet every time I pick it up again, I cut myself on the edge. I can't come to a conclusion. I need guidance from trusted sources - to tell me which way to lean on this, and which filter to apply - which lens to look through. The metaphors could go on for days... anything to keep me from diving into the real controversy.

For those not aware, The Red Pill is a documentary made by Cassie Jaye, a self-identifying feminist and documentarian, about her journey into the world of Men's Rights Activists (MRA's). I had not heard of MRA's before watching this documentary, so I had no opinions going in. In fact, I mistakenly thought the documentary was about the Reddit forum by the same name. The Guardian describes that Reddit forum: "The online community hosted on Reddit is where men go to air their toxic views about women." Thus, I started the documentary fully expecting to learn more about this reddit group, and equally expecting to be angry with what I learned. I was very upset by the end of the film, but for entirely different reasons.

A little about me: I identify as a feminist. I learned in Women's Studies classes in the mid 90's to say, "I advocate feminism," as a stepping stone to saying, "I am a feminist." Most of us were newly learning about racism, classism, and sexism (in an academic setting anyway - we had witnessed inequalities our whole lives, but didn't have the same words or understanding of them until we began studying them as concepts).

I need to take a moment to define "feminism" for everyone reading this. It's important that we're on the same page - especially for further analysis of this film. "Feminism" to me, is the movement that pushes for equality between all people, men and women alike. My definition would need to be updated (from the 90's) to include people who don't identify as men or women. We could shorten the definition, and clarify it, by stating that, "Feminism states that all people are equal, and should be treated as such."

When I started my education in Women's Studies, there was a back and forth between students and some professors that used to go like this:
Professor: What is feminism?
Student: That women should be equal to men.
Professor: Which men?
Student: Huh?
Professor: Not all men are considered equal...
Welcome to the beginning of my undergraduate education.

A little more about me: I was raised by a feminist mother. And father for that matter, though I don't remember him using the word. I sometimes joke that my mother read me Gloria Steinem as bedtime stories, but it's not that far from the truth. All my bedtime stories were likely read to me through a feminist frame (for which I'm grateful), and my signed copy of Steinem's book of essays was my second-most prized possession in high school (the first being my signed copy of Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye).

My bookshelf is full of feminist literature - Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Adrienne Rich, Caitlin Moran, Roxane Gay... I'm going from memory, and I'm surely missing some big ones. Many of my books were given to me by my mother; in the front flap of each book are small (now yellowing) pieces of paper, on which she wrote the date and a brief message describing why this was one of her favorite books. I cherish the books, but I cherish those slips of paper more.

So now you know a little about my foundation. Which is important for this discussion.

The rest of this will include spoilers about the film The Red Pill. If you don't want to know what the documentary reveals, you should stop reading now.

The Red Pill describes a men's movement that feels left behind by the feminist movement. Cassie Jaye interviews men, some of whom once belonged to the feminist movement, but left it when they felt that their own causes weren't given equal treatment. Others did not describe themselves as ever being feminist, but they make clear distinctions between "feminism" and "radical feminism." The latter, according to them, being much worse.

What about all of this belongs on a Librarian's Blog? Perhaps I should have started with that question. After watching the film (on one our library's databases), I got into a discussion with a graduate student from our Social Work program. I knew that this student was focusing her recent research on programs created for boys. She had been looking for resources that discussed boys falling behind in education, and this film covered that topic very briefly towards the end. I suggested the film to her, as a resource for her final project, and we fell into a discussion about the overarching theme of the film. Given that this student and I see the world through different paradigms, it was a very interesting conversation.

I was struck with the idea to show this film to a larger audience (as part of a library film series), and host a discussion afterward. We have the great privilege, as a University Library, of being surrounded by students, staff and faculty who could all contribute to an engaging (and challenging) discussion of these themes. The Library has been hosting a Civil Discourse series, which has been popular with the students. I saw this film, and potential discussion, as being in the same vein.

If you're still reading, now would be a good time to throw in the quick and dirty #elevatorspeech on Information Literacy (I promise it's quick, and mostly painless). We live in the time of "Fake News." Librarians the world round have dusted off of their capes, pulled on their superhero boots, and created libguides and lesson plans to help in the quest for Credible Information, and Reliable Sources.

Given my background as a research and instruction librarian, I set to work looking for sources to better evaluate The Red Pill. If you've never seen a Librarian in crisis, you should have been in my office last Monday. What I discovered is that there is not a consensus on the credibility and value of this film. I compiled a list of sources, including their bias-rating.

The short of it (from left to right):

  • An open letter from David Futrelle published online essentially calls the film, "a feature-length advertisement" both bought and paid for by the "Men's Human Rights Movement."
  • The Village Voice calls the director a "proproganist," and questions whether she left out pertinent information about one of the main subjects in her film. 
  • BBC reports that, “Cassie tells me that she is still passionate about women’s issues, and is sad that making The Red Pill has branded her a traitor of women.” 
  • The Guardian Austrialia, "... apologises for taking the bait," after the film's screening was cancelled at a Melbourne cinema. 
  • The Federalist notes that "dissent is not allowed" from the feminist movement.

My own opinions include shades of all of the above arguments. I am sufficiently torn, which I think speaks to the power of this film. And the film has provided the starting place for many conversations in the past week. I would not go so far as to call it propaganda, but I would also not call it unbiased. I wished, through the entire film, that Cassie Jaye would interview a feminist with whom I could relate. The only self-identifying feminist in the film I could relate to was the director, and her denouncement of that title at the end felt devastating to me.

I do hope to host a screening of this film at our Library. And I also hope to find some faculty members who would be willing to help lead and moderate a discussion afterward.

Stephen R. Covey said, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." Such a screening would require an abundance of listening to understand.

And Rainer Maria Rilke said, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

I hope (with all hope) that we can listen to each other, differences and all, and try to love the questions, and the differences, in the hopes to understand each other better, and come out on the other end, in a better place.

Thank you for listening.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The 3C's of Finals: Candy, Coloring & Cartoons!

Who says you can't have fun while studying for #txstfinals?
Stop by the Research & Information Desk on the main floor of the Library to pick up your Finals study-essentials!