Hard to Swallow: A Review of The Red Pill

The Red Pill tackles the latest issue Western society is addressing: Men’s Right Activists, otherwise known as MRA’s. Director and presenter Cassie Jay takes us—and herself—on a journey through the minds of MRA’s and what, exactly, their agendas are. She interviews Paul Elam, controversial founder of the website "A Voice for Men" as well as popular feminist-turned-MRA Warren Farrell, writer of The Myth of Male Power. Alongside these in-depth discussions are voices from other "everyday" MRA’s and their radical feminist counterparts. 

The Red Pill , dir. Cassie Jay (2016)

The Red Pill, dir. Cassie Jay (2016)

The film leaves Cassie questioning her previously strongly-rooted feminist beliefs. In fact, at the end of the documentary she signs off with the statement "I no longer call myself a feminist," which is certain to shock many. However, having gone on the two-hour journey through "the rabbit hole" with Cassie, the audience may feel somewhat sympathetic to her new decision, and even question their own views on feminism. Whilst this statement is effective in delivering the "shock factor" at the end of a truly thought-provoking film, it would be interesting to see whether or not Cassie still feels this way and what her views are now. The film is emotional, confronting, and full of strongly opinionated men (and even women)…is her "denouncing of feminism" simply an emotional response for all she has experienced? 

Of course, there is a lot in the film the audience can sympathise with and understand, even if you are a feminist. We cannot argue with the fact that more men commit suicide than women, and the unfairness of family court in the US, where many men lose any sort of custody over their young children. These arguments purporting that men are "the disposable sex" are the main points of Farrell’s The Myth of Male Power, which I read and reviewed earlier this year too. Farrell backs up his argument with legitimate facts and figures, but (for me, anyway) he seems to still miss the mark. Cassie interviews him in The Red Pill, and many other MRA’s quote his bestselling book and say it was the reason they became involved in the Men’s Rights Movement. However, he places his points directly against feminism—i.e., men are disposable and women have it better, or at least not as bad as they think they have it. Oddly, Cassie Jay doesn’t query his points in The Red Pill, even though a lot of the things he argues are a direct result of a patriarchal and capitalist society. For example, more men get killed in the workplace, yet it is only in the last century that women have been more freely allowed into these workplaces. Indeed, more men commit suicide, yet there is still this attitude that men do not speak about their feelings, and certainly do not seek help for their mental wellbeing; since they were in charge and could not be seen as weak in any sense of the word. Farrell’s argument could be nuanced and effective, yet it appears he has chosen to attack feminism in a bid to appeal to more men and, ultimately, gain more publicity. 

The Red Pill (2016) Official Trailer 

Thoughts like these and the opinion that both groups are (and should be) directly against one another is an issue which I believe the film highlights perfectly, even if that is not its initial intention. It is true that a lot of MRA’s are not "anti-woman" and are simply trying to alter the way men are perceived in the West which, as we all know, is unhealthy and toxic. It is also true that not all feminists are "anti-men" and want a society where women are superior. Unfortunately, the lack of listening to one another or collectively fighting for gender equality means that the two groups are, effectively, going head to head, especially in places like America. It also fuels the media's portrayal of MRA vs. radical feminism, which means that we may ignore bigger problems not necessarily associated with gender, such as mental health stigma or how the courts handle parental custody. As one speaker says in the film, the real "enemy" is capitalism, not necessarily the patriarchy. The Red Pill shows shocking protests where feminist groups effectively shut-down MRA meetings, or even meetings where prominent MRA’s speak on a related issue. Surely this suppression of free speech is something which capitalism actively promotes, and this only adds fuel to an already raging fire, thus preventing any debate that could be productive for a collaborative approach. In fact, the documentary shows speakers from the two groups misquoting the views of each other—feminists say MRA’s are "jealous" and "want women back in the home," while MRA’s say feminists "blame men for everything."

...the real ‘enemy’ is capitalism, not necessarily the patriarchy....suppression of free speech is something which capitalism actively promotes, and this only adds fuel to an already raging fire, thus preventing any debate that could be productive for a collaborative approach.

Ultimately, the film addresses something that seems to be a reoccurring theme in our modern society: feminism is now the norm. It has been discussed, interrogated, explored, and dissected to death in various films, books, articles, anything. People are increasingly no longer afraid to call themselves feminists, and we even see high-street stores stocking feminist apparel for young girls. Of course, this is not a bad thing initially…but has it gone too far? Are we ignoring what feminism actually set out to achieve, which is gender equality, not female superiority, as the selected radical feminists in The Red Pill suggest? Cassie Jay begins her film saying that, as a female director, she has covered nearly every feminist-related issue out there, and actually stumbled across MRA’s through research into "rape-culture." She explains how she came across an article which promoted "Bash a Violent Bitch Month," seemingly showing support for female domestic violence. However, as the film draws to a close, Paul Elam (writer of the article) reveals that the piece was actually in response to an article on a female website, where the writers and other staff jokingly revealed that they had beaten up their male partners, either as part of a joke or because "they were asking for it."

Of course, how true this is is up for debate. And some may argue that fighting fire with fire is never going to achieve a positive outcome. To be honest, I am still unsure as to where I stand having watched The Red Pill. Ever since I became interested in feminism and gender equality, I have always looked at the issues facing our young males too. I read and write essays dealing with the toxic expectations for men our society holds, alongside discussing major issues that women still have to deal with everyday too. To me, the harmony between the two "sides" can be achieved, and can be effective. Whilst I don’t think I’ll ever denounce my feminist status like Cassie Jay, the film definitely expanded my knowledge of MRA’s, and perhaps even showcased a more realistic (albeit negative) image of some feminist groups. Esteemed writer and gender studies professor Michael Kimmel summed up my muddled feelings perfectly by saying: "men have gotten a crappy deal, but it is not the fault of feminism."