I'll take the blue pill — and I don't mean Viagra

 A belated review of The Red Pill, a film by Cassie Jaye

In February, federal Conservative leadership hopeful Maxime Bernier received an endorsement from Alberta Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt.
It was an important coup for Bernier who would normally face an uphill battle convincing right-leaning Albertans to bet on a Quebecer. He wanted to tweet something clever, something to show that Fildebrandt "gets it" — that he sees the real thing when he sees it. So he posted the following meme.

It's an allusion to a scene from the 1999 film The Matrix in which the main character is offered a choice: take the blue pill and remain in the artificial reality you're blissfully trapped in now, or take the red pill and discover what's really going on behind the scenes.
As metaphors go, it's a sledgehammer. And it's been exploited endlessly since the film came out. We're being manipulated by the system. Do you want to wake up to reality, or stay asleep?
The tweet would have seemed innocuous — except for one thing.
In the past few years, the term "The Red Pill" has been hijacked by men's rights activists (MRAs) in the form of a Reddit forum by that name. And the movement gained even more traction with the release last year of a similarly titled documentary by American filmmaker Cassie Jaye.
So, Bernier found himself pilloried by feminists of all stripes, who were convinced he was giving a wink to the MRA cause.
I was personally unaware of the MRA connection — as was Bernier, apparently.
So I decided to rent The Red Pill online.
Below is an extended trailer:

Jaye presents her film as a journey of discovery. She'd done a couple of pieces on women's issues such as abortion and single motherhood and wanted to try something different. She typed the term "rape culture" into Google and found a flood of rebuttals from the MRA brigade. Hmm, she thought. What's all that about? I think I'll tumble into that rabbit hole and see what happens.
And fall she did. Head over heels.

Cassie Jaye
The opening sequences seem innocent enough. Jaye summarizes her beginnings as a child actor, and her frustration at landing only bit roles as a victim — she had a good scream, she says. So, at the tender age of 21, she decided to try her hand at filmmaking.
The meat of The Red Pill then consists of Jaye driving to the homes of well-known MRAs and lending them  a sympathetic ear. She listens intently as they posit a supposed pattern of discrimination against men and boys, aggravated by hard-hearted women.
Jaye could have lent some credibility to their claims if she had actually asked a tough question or two. That doesn't happen. Instead, she seems entranced by this horrible new revelation that men are the real victims in the battle of the sexes.
Interspersed throughout the film are short video diaries, where Jaye ponders her findings thus far. It should be a chance to offer analysis and context. But she comes across as bereft of critical thinking, unable to distinguish fact from fiction. I don't know what to think, she says time and time again.
"(S)ometimes I think the MRAs are just duping me and giving such a strong pitch about what they believe in to convince me of … some out-there theory that men are discriminated against and that women have the advantage," she muses at one point.
Alas, the notion never seems to stick. 
Jaye solicits a few comments from feminists, but they only offer broad strokes. The MRAs spout their grievances at length. Counterpoints get short shrift.

First, let's get one thing straight: men do have legitimate issues.
Men often have a hard time in custody battles. Even when both parties are competent, the woman usually prevails.
Men do experience domestic violence. Those that do deserve as much support as women.
And it's no secret the education system has failed boys in many respects.
But The Red Pill ultimately fails to properly address any of this.
On the contrary, it tries to make the exception the rule.
Listen to what her subjects actually say. It's truly remarkable.
"Why aren't more people angry about discrimination against men?" asks outspoken MRA Paul Elam. "The only reason that I can think of is that people aren't angry because they don't see men as human beings."
Fellow warrior Dean Esmay chimes in with his own lament: "It's an ocean of pain out there."
And it's a walk in the park for women?

Paul Elam
So what's the evidence for this holocaust of hatred?
One of the most touted statistics comes from a 2010 Centers for Disease Control survey that found one in four men suffer violence from their opposite-sex partner — compared to one in three women.
Hold the phone! This sounds serious.
Indeed, Jaye lingers for a while on the thought that men are being battered at an extraordinary rate. There are thousands of women's shelters all over the country, one MRA laments. Where are all the men's shelters?
Well, don't trust everything you hear.
The CDC cites violence as all manner of aggression, including rape, stalking and psychological abuse.
Furthermore, it's a survey, a telephone poll, not an analysis based on objective facts.
When you look at hard numbers, you get a different picture — like these cited in the Huffington Post, based on actual Justice statistics.

Perhaps the most absurd arguments are those that have nothing to do with women's rights, i.e., the fact vastly more men die in battle and in the workplace.
But feminism is not the culprit.
In a patriarchal world, it's men that make the decisions, and the ones who face the consequences. They declare wars and fight them. They go off to face the big, bad world while the women stay home and keep house.
The Red Pill makes every effort to lull the viewer into a dream world where men are the oppressed, not the oppressors. You're meant to feel sorry for these big, old teddy bears who've been crushed under the heels of feminist zeal.
Instead, I couldn't help but think these dudes need to get a grip.
Stuck in a dead-end job? Trying to make ends meet? It's the economy, stupid. Knocked a girl up and now she wants you to scram? Yes, maybe she's a miserable person — or maybe you're just a loser. It's hard to know without context.
The point is this: there is no conspiracy. But there is definitely an elephant in the room. If you honestly think women's shelters are a product of overzealous advocacy and not dire need, you really need to re-examine your knowledge base — or lack thereof.

Anti-MRA protesters in Toronto.
When the film first came out, it was greeted by a storm of protest. In some places, such as Australia, opponents even managed to shut it down.
This is not healthy.
We should be alarmed at this increasing trend towards stifling the free expression of ideas, no matter how distasteful they may seem. Frank debate is key.
But I understand the anger.
The Red Pill paints a ridiculously milquetoast picture of men's rights. Many of those interviewed have said some pretty hideous things over the years, yet Jaye seems oblivious. She lobs her softball questions and nods earnestly as they feed her their tripe.
In reality, the movement has provided a front for what is nothing short of raw misogyny. You can see it every day on far-right websites, and even in mainstream media. They undermine rape victims and bully women over abortion rights.
Take the clip below of  British MRA Mike Buchanan from a recent TV spot. As soon as it's his turn to speak, he has little to offer but nasty insults. If I were on this show, I'd be a lot angrier than these women appear to be.
But I haven't walked in their shoes.


Popular posts from this blog

The simplicity of pasta

'It all begins here!'

Into the lion's den: respected climatologist survives attempted mauling unscathed