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.


  1. Thanks for your honest appraisal of this movie. It seems to me that you listened with the intent of understanding.

    Quoting from the theme song, "The smart speak, the wise they listen".

    For somebody from such a strong feminist background to give this documentary such a fair and unbiased review speaks volumes to your unquestionable integrity.

    Thank you for helping the conversation to take place in this age of increasing censorship of non mainstream ideas and philosophies.

  2. Your experience in a way mirrors Cassie's. She worked on that film for a while though, and had a lot more time to resolve what she was learning.

    I am sure you are well aware of what cognitive dissonance is, but understanding it is very different from being thrown into the middle of it, don't ask me how I know.

    The main thing you have to understand is that we were all taught feminism, especially if we were in higher education, and many of the articles of faith of feminism were exactly that, articles of faith.

    Unfortunately, they were presented as well researched facts, and they weren't facts at all, but professions of belief based on faith. There was no way in society or the academy to question feminist beliefs because they were pretty much unanimous, and anyone who didn't follow the narrative, even if it meant talking about their own lives, was shamed and shunned into silence.

    The message of this film is not that complicated, it is just not what most people want to hear, so it gets literally shunned.

    Cassie has had all sorts of trouble even getting it shown. The feminists she interview don't even bother using arguments, they just act dismissive.

    Strap in, if you want people to watch this film and discuss it, because you may find yourself labelled a self hating woman or worse. Look at your research: How was such a compelling, important film so blanked out of the mainstream media?

    I read that Village Voice article. Who is the propagandist here?

    As a former feminist myself the basic point is this: Feminism is not about equality, it is about women getting benefits at the expense of men, and not even those misogynists at the top, but at the expense of the everyday men in their communities, and their male family members, and men on lower socioeconomic levels.

    The most obvious question of all is: If you are for equality, why call it feminism? Why not call it something like egalitarianism, and then you will be relevant no matter who is on the bottom of things because you will always have someone to fight for?

    By feminist logic, the civil rights movement was well within their rights to call themselves the Blackism movement, and yet they didn't, they called themselves the civil rights movement, and it is pretty obvious why. Because if you don't fight for equality for all, but just for your group, you aren't really for equality, you are just another self interested party.

    This film will obviously be upsetting to feminists, and was even upsetting to the film maker because feminists have been moving full steam ahead assuming they were always the one suffering the most, while shunning and shaming anyone who said different.

    This movie makes some pretty undeniable claims that there are situations where men and boys have it far worse than women do, so any feminist watching this film will feel exactly like the person she has been saying men are, self centered and insensitive to how other people live.

    There is nothing in society or academia that will encourage any feminist to reevaluate his or her views, in fact you will only be punished for doing so. It will only be your own conscience, and your own ability to admit when you are wrong that will guide you to address the issues the film raises.

    Not an easy task, and I wish you luck.

  3. You have been exposed to a fraction of the information that Casey herself was exposed to, she spent 3 years researching and filming the documentary, just think how your little interaction with the information changed your view on certain issues. Hopefully you can get this movie out to a wider group but I'd have to say that others in your establishment will vehemently opposed your course of action.

  4. You asked to speak with other educators. I recommend that you contact Warren Farrell, who appeared in the movie. He is an educator and might agree to be there. And Karen Straughan (also in the movie). She has appeared in several college discussions. And perhaps Cassie Jaye, considering that you feel something in common with her.

    As for me, when I found out about feminism in the late Sixties, I was an instant supporter. And like Warren Farrell, I eventually fell under attack when I started articulating men's issues. I find it unfortunate that feminism has to be part of a men's issues discussion. It was feminists who rightly pointed out decades ago that most books about women were written by men who don't understand the female experience. Then feminists turned around and presumed to define the male experience, and appointed themselves as the gender-equality experts for all. There is a reason why college gender studies courses don't include legitimate men's issues, and it's not for lack of MRAs trying. MRA's have been trying since the late Seventies.

  5. You point out the the film is biased by showing only the "bad" feminists. And sure, there are good feminists. But consider this: She can't show the entire three year journey right? She has to show highlights. Typically you show what you saw most of. As a feminist she had EVERY REASON to show the good feminists and point out how only the "radicals" were crazy man-haters. But she didn't. What she saw is that this is no longer the face of feminism. Because what used to be the "radicals" are now the standard. The good feminists have become the "radicals" now. They are outnumbered, and heavily outnumbered.

    Read this line you posted:“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.”

    She is considered a TRAITOR of women. Why? For merely bringing to light issues that affect men and boys. For pointing out that those girls would have been safe, if only people had cared when it was the boys who were being killed. How is this not enough to show just how toxic feminism has become? When the founder of the first women's shelter can't enter her own building for the same reasons?

    The truth is that feminism has moved from being a movement to being a religion. And the few "good" feminists, are starting to identify as egalitarian, for the exact reason another commenter stated above:

    "The most obvious question of all is: If you are for equality, why call it feminism? Why not call it something like egalitarianism, and then you will be relevant no matter who is on the bottom of things because you will always have someone to fight for?

    By feminist logic, the civil rights movement was well within their rights to call themselves the Blackism movement, and yet they didn't, they called themselves the civil rights movement, and it is pretty obvious why. Because if you don't fight for equality for all, but just for your group, you aren't really for equality, you are just another self interested party."

    I'm sorry but you will see the results for yourself if you continue on this path. If you start these talks, show this video, you will find your feminist friends, the people you think you can trust the most? They will turn on you. It will be no different than when families ostracize their atheist kid. Or their gay kid. These ideologies always cause division. You will find out who your real friends are, and it will hurt. But you will also find out who is a good person, and who is just a self-interested man-hater. I wish you luck.

  6. Thank you for watching The Red Pill before deciding what you thought about it. That gives me confidence in you.
    I'd just like to highlight from your post something that I believe goes towards explaining the negative reputation of modern feminism amongst some people.
    Quote "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.
    The "being much worse" really hurt for me. It seems to imply that equality feminism is bad but extremism feminism is worse. As a man I fully support equality feminism, even applied wider than women. Equality feminism is a force for good.
    Extremism feminism where progress is made by demeaning devaluing and blaming men I hate. It also goes against the equality of equality feminism.
    To say ""feminism" and "radical feminism." The latter, according to them, being much worse. " Impliesthat someone who objects to radical feminism also objects to equality feminism, just objects less. In my case, and I hope many other cases, this implied dislike of equality feminism is not true.
    Equality feminism = fantastic positive
    Radical or extremist feminism = terrible and self defeating, it protrays women as victims with no agency of their own

    1. Thank you so much for this reply - you make an excellent point.

  7. I also have one more comment sorry.
    Why is it so widely assumed that men's rights have to come at the expense of women's rights? Cannot both co exist in harmony? Equality for all?

    1. Because that is a thing. Egalitarianism. But when people try to say "I'm not a feminist, I'm an egalitarian." They get what eventually (and almost inevitably) ends up as yelling and screaming at them. Either they must submit, and accept that "if they are for equality then they are feminists" or else they just "must" be a sexist pig who doesn't want equality and is just pretending to. They're really a misogynist who only claims to want equality.

      That's my experience anyway. Because feminism has basically claimed the "equality" movement for its own, and no one else may dare to claim the same. At least when talking about equality between the sexes.