The Red Pill: A controversial documentary about the men’s rights movement

redpillThe latest documentary by sometime feminist Cassie Jaye has caused no small amount of controversy. More so than previous documentaries such as Daddy I Do, where she criticizes purity balls and father’s attempts to protect their daughter’s virginity. Or The Right to Love, which supports the fight for marriage equality.

The Red Pill looks at the men’s right movement, challenging what we think we know about gender issues. 

Tough questions

The film is controversial because of its positive portrayal of the men’s rights movement. Jaye gives A Voice for Men founder Paul Elam a sympathetic hearing without challenging him on his ranting online persona. Also unquestioned is men’s rights activists (MRAs) failure to take women’s issues seriously while demonizing feminists and blaming them for problems men face. And left unexamined is the claim that society is gynocentric.

But Jaye does ask feminists tough questions. They avoid the issue of paternity fraud and stand firm in their opposition to a legal presumption of shared parenting. On the issue of father’s rights Katherine Spillar from the Feminist Majority Foundation says a man’s choice happens before he has sex. Another feminist in the film says men have a responsibility not to put themselves in these situations. Which would be misogyny if someone said that about women. 

Later in the film feminist Michael Kimmel denies that domestic violence against men is a serious issue despite a Centers for Disease Control report (tables 4.7 and 4.8) showing that 5.066 million men have been pushed or slapped by an intimate partner in the past 12 months compared to 4.322 million women. Even with severe domestic violence the CDC found more male victims than most people would expect – 2.266 million men and 3.163 million women in the past 12 months.

Men and gender: It’s complicated

Since the advent of second wave feminism a half century ago men have struggled to proactively discuss gender issues. Today the Internet is the primary medium for MRAs to vent their concerns and anger, often anonymously. And anti-feminism is their focus.

Meanwhile, male feminists advocate men checking their privilege and acknowledging their collective guilt as oppressors. But feminism is a female perspective on gender where men’s issues are usually discussed in terms of how masculinity affects women. It’s difficult for men to speak genuinely about men’s lived experiences when taking their cues from women.

It’s a complex situation without a clear solution.

A movement is born

The central text of the men’s rights movement is The Myth of Male Power, written in 1993 by former male feminist Warren Farrell. His key point that the male role requires men to devalue their lives in the service of others sparked a movement even if it didn’t become mainstream.

Male disposability garners such little concern that few people have even heard of it. But MRAs present several statistics backed by United States government reports, including men being 93% of workplace deaths, almost four in five suicides, and 98% of combat deaths. They note that Boko Haram kidnapping girls generated an outpouring of international concern while the boys they burned alive were ignored.

Male disposability isn’t just about death. High divorce rates have decreased father involvement in children’s lives, reducing men’s value to a child support check. Yet research shows the essential role of fathers in children’s lives – boys especially. And boys are falling far behind girls in school, but little is being done about it.

Anger

MRAs are angry because they feel dehumanized. But feminists feel dehumanized by MRAs. Jaye shows footage of a feminist protest against Farrell without giving the context for why feminists labeled him a rape apologist. In The Myth of Male Power Farrell writes, “before we began calling this date rape and date fraud, we called it exciting.” MRAs respond that this quote must be understood in its larger context. Though Farrell was not advocating rape, flippant comments about rape are always cringeworthy.

Where do we go from here?

Both feminists and MRAs seem passionate about equality and sensitive to gender bias while at other times being anti-equality and promoting gender bias. But this isn’t as inconsistent as it seems. Both feminism and the MRM are primarily about self-interest.

In the end Jaye concludes that she supports gender equality but is neither a feminist nor a men’s rights activist. But she’s not sure what direction that might go in. Despite my criticisms of the documentary, I agree with Jaye’s conclusion.

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Ray Harrington Presents Docu-Comedy “Be a Man”

It seems everyone these days is asking what it means to be a man. It’s a serious question. Maybe too serious. So Ray Harrington decides to have a good laugh about it in his docu-comedy Be A Man.

Harrington’s hilarious look at the traditional male role finds him boxing Vinny Paz (who is hilarious in his own right), and taking a good knock on the head. He drinks 10 manly drinks in one night. (The secret to drinking whisky without making a funny face? You like whisky. Otherwise, you’re gonna make a funny face.) He also drives a Ferrari really fast, shaves with a straight razor and says ow a lot, and has 10 young women rate his looks and fashion sense. Luckily, he’s already married to a woman who adores him.

The movie had me and everyone else laughing out loud so many times that I lost count.

But there’s a serious side too. Harrington’s reason for asking what it means to be a man is personal. After all, that one is a man is a fact like being an American is a fact. But the question is really about something different. In an article for insideMAN I wrote that,

We ask what it means to be a man because men’s roles in modern society are shifting. Part of this is due to the diminished need for brawn. Part of it is due to a dramatic expansion of women’s options, meaning that women aren’t dependent on men as they were in the past. Part of it is that many men both want and are expected to take a greater role in child rearing. And gay and transgender men are fighting for their equality as men.

I concluded that “a man’s dignity has always been about who he is as a person, not the particular role he serves.”

And that’s why boxing and heavy drinking have nothing to teach except that Harrington is already the man he wants to be. Being a man is about striving to be the best of who Ray Harrington is.

He’s a son, a husband, a friend. And a dad. Harrington was raised without his father present and so wants to be the best father he can be. And the fact that he cares about being a good dad shows us the kind of man he is.