In the March of 1946, George Orwell wrote a timeless essay for the Tribune that explored the frequency with which people hold directly contradictory beliefs in their heads. Within it comes the glorious line: “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle”. All too often, a narrative distorts the truth of the matter – even if the truth is right there for all to see. A blind spot – if you will.
I found myself confronting this blind spot recently after the release of documentary film The Red Pill made by feminist film-maker Cassie Jaye; whose previous documentaries explored LGBTQ+ issues, feminism, and sexuality.
The documentary follows Cassie Jaye’s journey into the world of ‘Men’s Rights Activism’. Known infamously as a hate group, Jaye interviews various members of said group, only to find that far from being confronted with an avalanche of misogyny, she finds herself questioning her own deeply held feminist beliefs. In this sense, Jaye becomes somewhat of an unintentional protagonist in the documentary. Originally, after hearing about the Men’s Rights Movement and their alleged rampant misogyny, the documentary was going to be somewhat of an exposé on the group. But as she talked to the members herself, the ultimate intent of the documentary changed course.
Via interviews with prominent members of the Men’s Rights Movement as well as interviews with notable feminists, the film explores various men’s issues that MRAs believe haven’t been acknowledged. In terms of structure, the documentary progresses through a handful of these issues in chapters; the concept of ‘The Disposable Male’, Custody Rights, Paternity Fraud, Domestic Violence towards Men, and finally a particularly overwhelming segment with Karen Straughan about the ignored massacres of men and boys by Boko Haram; an Islamic terrorist group who, after killing thousands of men and boys over the course of three years, were finally considered note-worthy by Western media in 2014 when 200 girls were abducted – starting the international campaign called ‘#bringourgirlsback’ (a hashtag that was more catchy than the alternative #bringourboysbackwhoopstheyarealreadydeadandwedidnothing).
Before hearing about the documentary, I was only partially aware of the Men’s Rights Movement and still viewed the concept in that bemused way. “Why do men need a movement?”, “Haven’t men always had more rights? “, etc. However, the film contains extremely eye-opening statistics that made me confront those assumptions. For example, 93% of workplace fatalities are men, 4/5 suicides are men, men are sentenced to 63% more prison-time for the same crime as women, presumption of guilt for men accused of rape or sexual assault – to name but a few issues.
As Jaye pointed out towards the end of the documentary, “Roughly 78% of suicides are men. If suicide prevention services only served men, wouldn’t we see the discrimination against women immediately?“. Whilst the slew of statistics are terrifying, the key criticism that the film successfully puts across is the cultural blind spot we have with regards to the idea of male victims. In one horrifying segment, Jaye watches footage of a baby boy’s circumcision -revealing the perturbing way in which male genital mutilation is common and almost banal as a concept and yet we all recognise female genital mutilation to be a vomit-inducing evil. (Chat show The Talk once covered a news story about a wife cutting off her husband’s penis due to him wanting a divorce; applause and hysterical laughter from the female panel and audience ensued. It’s truly a sight to see).
The Red Pill isn’t a perfect documentary. Aesthetically it occasionally utilises shots that slightly whiff of an amateur production, let alone the disappointing fact that potential confrontations between Jaye and feminists are always teased but never shown. But if you consider yourself a feminist, or are in any way interested on the subject of gender equality, you should watch this film. At no point do the MRAs in the film assert that women aren’t discriminated against, nor do they doubt the statistics or issues that feminists raise, instead, as Paul Elam says at the conclusion of the film, he just wants it to be recognised that “It’s a mixed bag. There are victims and perpetrators on both sides”. To echo Orwell once again, to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle, and this film certainly makes that struggle less of one.
The Red Pill is available to rent or buy on the following online streaming services: iTunes, Google Play, Youtube Film, Vudu, Amazon, Vimeo, and Microsoft.