Cassie Jaye’s controversial documentary, The Red Pill is a film about the Men’s Rights Movement, male-focused analogs of feminists who lobby for legal and social changes to remedy discrimination against men. It’s also about Jaye’s own personal journey in making a film about them.
The Men’s Rights Movement, a small movement of men’s rights activists (or MRAs) typically treated with opprobrium, couldn’t have asked for a more sympathetic portrayal. Jaye gives them and their female supporters ample space to tell their story. And they used it to great effect, reeling off an array of statistics about the struggles men face in today’s world: 93 percent of workplace fatalities are men; 4 out of 5 suicides are men; men are sentenced to 63 percent more prison time than women for the same offense, et cetera. Jaye even validates their statistical claims with her own fact check.
The data are complemented by family court horror stories of men whose children were given up for adoption by the mother against their will, or men forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars in child support for children who aren’t even theirs. The calm, reasoned demeanor of the MRAs on film stands in stark contrast to their oft-times caustic online writings.
Jaye brings in a number of feminists and gender studies professors to try to rebut the MRAs. They clearly spoke with the assumption that their position would be shown as self-evidently correct, and so made little effort to convince or hide their contempt. But Jaye doesn’t provide them with their expected pro-feminist lens. For example, she shows some of the kookier members and more questionable tactics of the anti-MRA protestors—things typically edited out of media coverage. If anything, she employs a negative slant, such as gratuitously making clear that the location of her interview with Ms. Magazine executive editor Katherine Spillar was in Beverly Hills to contextualize Spillar as occupying a position of elite privilege.
It’s telling that the featured MRAs tend to be late middle-aged men, often appearing to be in their 50s or older. Their movement is modeled on the gender equalist vision and arguments of second wave feminism. They agree with those feminists in rejecting intrinsic differences the sexes and in viewing traditional sex roles as socially constructed, outmoded, and harmful. They also agree with them that a statistical disparity between sexes shows discrimination, although they cite different statistics. MRAs seem to believe they are seeking to complete rather than overturn the feminist revolution, creating a truly gender neutral society. This focus on 1970s-style activism and argumentation may be generational, as the MRAs imitate the types of movements they remember from their youth.
Unsurprisingly, some MRAs had bad experiences with family court or other trauma, such as being molested by a woman. And they are a quirky group, as one might expect from those willing to publicly lead a socially-stigmatized activist movement. The story arc focusing on Jaye’s personal journey added little to the film other than to show that she was moved by the MRAs, and one can’t help but think that one reason she gives them such favorable treatment is because she feels sorry for them.
While much of what they argue has some merit, MRAs seem destined to remain an ineffective niche movement. They fundamentally portray men as victims, which is not an aspirational masculine vision. Self-respecting men don’t want to think or act like victims. And they make unnecessary and off-putting arguments like labeling circumcision “male genital mutilation.”
The world has also moved on from the gender equalist vision of second wave feminists. Jaye says in the film, “I’ve always thought about feminism as the fight for gender equality.” But today’s feminism is a branch of explicitly leftist intersectional political activism that isn’t really about gender. For example, Guardian feminist outrage blogger Jessica Valenti recently defended a man that harassed Ivanka Trump and her children on an airplane. Politics trumps gender.
Jaye found this out the hard way. When it became known she wasn’t going to slam MRAs, she couldn’t find funders, forcing her to turn to Kickstarter to pay for the completion of the film. While her previous films were moderately well received, The Red Pill received vicious condemnation as a “bull**** documentary” by a “propagandist.” Feminist protestors successfully got screenings of the film cancelled in Australia and Canada.
Conservatives too reject MRAs. Once, when confronted by MRA-style claims, right-wing commentator Tucker Carlson said, “Every word of that is true, and let me say, who cares?… If you’re a man, stop whining.” Rick Scott, the Republican governor of Florida, vetoed a law that would have established a presumption of joint child custody in divorce. With friends like these, who needs feminists as enemies?
The MRAs’ plea for gender equality will fall on deaf ears because neither feminists nor conservatives actually want it. But most importantly, one of the central MRA claims—that men are “forced” to continue in their historic protector and provider roles by taking on dangerous work, or otherwise sacrificing themselves for their family and society—is simply wrong. Nobody is in fact forcing men to do that.
It’s true society has traditionally relied on men to produce surplus value for redistribution or to sacrifice themselves for the community if needed. But increasingly many men are saying, “No thanks.” For a growing number of men today, playing video games or watching porn in mom’s basement or joining the alt-right—not going to college, joining the labor force, or getting married—these things aren’t problems, but solutions.
A new generation of younger men has rejected the failed MRA approach in favor of new strategies. They figured out that modern society is a racket, but rather than trying to reform or submit to it, they are exploiting or checking out of it. So it is that having long mocked and denounced MRA-style activism, feminists and conservatives alike are now horrified at the actual forms in which “men’s liberation” is arriving on the scene.
Aaron M. Renn is the publisher of The Masculinist, a monthly newsletter about masculinity and Christianity.