The Red Pill: A Review
Paul Nathanson [2017.01.19]
The Red Pill’s title refers to a scene in The Matrix (Wachowski Brothers, 1999). Neo, the protagonist of this science-fiction feature, learns that he can take two pills, a red one that will wake him up to reality or a blue one that will allow him to stay asleep and therefore unaware of reality. The Red Pill aims to wake up viewers to a disturbing ideology that currently governs relations between men and women.
Director Cassie Jaye demonstrates in this documentary that she is not only able but also willing to question her own assumptions about both men and women, listen carefully to others (including her presumed enemies), analyze information to reach her own conclusions about truth and even revise her own identity accordingly. Jaye clearly relies on moral and intellectual integrity, which makes her stand out in world that, by and large, relies instead on ideological cynicism and political expediency. And yet she implies, correctly, that anyone who actually wants to learn, not merely to confirm biases, can do the same thing.
Jaye herself is a significant presence throughout the film. As one way of coping with increasing confusion and ambivalence, she includes her own video diary. This film works to the extent that viewers identify themselves with her, not with people who have already made up their minds (in which case the film would have no purpose beyond providing emotional comfort for those who have already chosen identities).
Much of the film focuses on feminist protesters—most but by no means all of them are women—who oppose the presence of men’s-rights activists as speakers at public venues such as college campuses. Without bothering to read what the speakers have written, much less listen to what they say, the protesters scream at these “misogynists” and “rape apologists,” drown out their words, occupy buildings, pull false fire alarms and so on. It is surely worth noting here that protesters eventually prevented the screening of this very film at a theater in Ottawa.
No viewer will remember or even hear all of the statistics (such as the ones on boys and men who drop out of school, commit suicide, succumb to drugs or disease and neglect, experience paternity fraud, lose the right after separation or divorce even to “visit” their own children, get arrested after calling the police to report abuse by their wives or girlfriends, find themselves drafted into battle, do society’s most dangerous jobs, end up in jail after turning against a society that ignores them and so on) or all of the arguments (about freedom of speech, for instance, and double standards). But that makes no difference, because many viewers will nonetheless come away with at least one idea of profound importance: that truth and justice are far more complex than any ideology can allow.
This film consists almost entirely of interviews, or “talking heads,” although it does include some cinematic news footage and other “visuals.” On her quest for the truth about men who demand rights as citizens and as people, Jaye—a feminist—interviews both men and women. Most of the latter, but not all of them, lead or work at established institutions or movements (such as Ms Magazine, the Feminist Majority Foundation, State University of New York at Stony Brook, the National Coalition for Men and A Voice for Men, Men Going Their Own Way). These folks definitely do not all see eye to eye about everything. Some men (Warren Farrel and Paul Elam among many others) and women (notably Erin Pizzey and Karen Straughan) discuss the urgent needs and problems of men. Other women (notably Katherine Spillar) and men (notably Michael Kimmel) simply deny that men have any distinctive needs or serious problems except those of their own making (as if that disqualifies them from compassion). The film’s website lists all participants.
If this film has any flaw, it would be the absence, apart from unnamed background figures, of those whose primary contribution is to challenge the orthodox doctrines of “patriarchal theory” by defining “misandry” as the sexist counterpart of misogyny and placing gender in the much broader contexts of history, cultural anthropology, religious studies, popular culture and so on. Also absent, apart from unnamed background figures, are the organizers (such as Justin Trottier and David Shackleton) of the Canadian Association for Equality, which brings a very diverse group of men together for practical projects that benefit men and boys. But no film (or review) can say everything.
To conclude, it should escape no one’s attention that The Red Pill made its debut (at least in the United States and Canada) within weeks of Donald Trump’s election. Why is that link significant? It’s because both presidential campaigns featured gender. At the last moment, someone revealed an old video of Trump boasting in very lewd terms about groping women who, according to Trump, had welcomed his advances. Next, several women accused him of groping them against their stated wishes. Immediately classified both implicitly and explicitly as “rapes” or “sexual assaults” (by journalists, activists and bloggers), Hillary Clinton’s supporters not only branded Trump a “misogynist” but also suggested that he is Everyman (even though he is clearly an “alpha male” and therefore, by definition, can hardly represent all or even most men). Whether Trump actually hates women and plans to persecute them is another matter entirely. I mention the election here only to illustrate the fact that our society is profoundly polarized not merely over Trump in particular but also over sex and gender in general. (Most people no longer know how to define “sexism” or even “misogyny,” to judge from the accusations against Trump, and no longer expect these words to involve hatred or the intention to harm.) Fallout from the election indicates that cultural warfare will prevail for years to come and that misandry will be the keystone of a worldview that demonizes men and therefore happens to illustrate The Red Pill’s underlying context.
Paul Nathan is Advisory Fellow to the Canadian Association for Equality and the co-author, along with Professor Katherine Young, of Spreading Misandry, Legalizing Misandry and Sanctifying Misandry.