Yesterday at an Australian screening of the documentary, The Red Pill, there was yet another protest to shut it down. The Red Pill has now been cancelled in most cinemas around Australia on the back of protesting and signature-gathering from a small group of feminists who have clearly not seen the film themselves. The media attention on the protests – highlighting unsubstantiated claims that the film is misogynist, anti-women and dismissive of rape – has damaged the reputation of the film and has turned thousands away from learning about real issues that affect men and boys.

The creator of the film, Cassie Jaye, who identified strongly as a feminist, had already produced two award-winning documentaries centred around gender: ‘Daddy I Do’ and ‘The Right to Love’. These films, which focussed on female gender issues, and same sex marriage, were received without protest.

It was while researching for her third film – originally an examination of ‘rape culture’ – that she stumbled on some articles written by Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) and changed the film’s focus. At the end of filming The Red Pill, a documentary about the social and political issues that disadvantage men and boys, Cassie decided that she was going to rid herself of the feminist tag.

This was not a conspiracy organised by MRAs, or just a nicely contrived story, as has been claimed, but an honest realisation on Cassie’s part that her strong attachment to current feminist ideology had made her blind to issues that negatively impact on men. In rejecting the label ‘feminist’ Cassie isn’t saying she’s anti-feminist. She’s just placing herself in a position to be aware and receptive to issues affecting both men and women.

After the three plus years of listening – interviewing, editing and researching for the film – Cassie was introduced to these kinds of issues and statistics (my thoughts in parentheses):

  • Family Courts are heavily biased in favour of women, (It’s assumed that the mother is the best option as primary carer. It’s assumed that the father is the reason for the relationship breakdown. The onus is on men to prove they are not abusers/rapists/deadbeats through every step of the process. False allegations against fathers are common and difficult to challenge.)
  • The challenges men face in winning custody of their children (Men face financial, emotional and mental challenges. Thousands of men have been left financially ruined, isolated, defamed, depressed and suicidal at the end of the process, which often results in them having limited or no access to their children)
  • The media will often represent victims and perpetrators of crime differently depending on their gender. (Male perpetrators are often described as evil, and will be called creeps, deadbeats, etc. Women are often simply described as ‘woman’ and ‘female’. Crimes committed by men will be attributed more directly to their gender/maleness. Crimes committed by women will be attributed to a mental illness, or to some outside pressure. In reports of large scale atrocities the maleness of victims disappears from the reporting. A striking example in The Red Pill was how the media reported on massacres by Boko Harem. Where men or boys were killed the victims were described as ‘people’. When women were kidnapped or killed their gender was included. A heartbreaking example of this was a report that included the line “A hundred and six people, including an old woman, have been killed”. The one hundred and six were all men and boys. The message in all this is that male victims are not important, and that males are ‘disposable’)
  • 93% of all workplace fatalities are men
  • 4 out of 5 suicides are men
  • 1 in 3 women will be a victim of domestic violence. 1 in 4 men will be also be a victim. But there is little funding, no networks, no shelters for men and their children. (In many parts of the world a boy has to move out of a domestic violence shelter, away from his mother and siblings, once he turns 12)
  • Men receive 66% more prison time than women, for committing the same crimes
  • Men’s health issues receive far less funding then women’s health issues (Women’s health receives four times the amount as men’s health in Aus)

One of the issues explored in the film is how men and women are finding it difficult, almost impossible to simply speak about issues that negatively impact on men without being labelled as misogynists, rape apologists, transphobic etc. This is playing out as we speak. The protests all over Australia have made it just about impossible for people to see the film, to see what it is actually trying to communicate.

I was embarrassed to hear that the most vitriol, the most strenuous misrepresentation, has come from Australia. The media coverage that I’ve seen has usually been focused around a successful banning of the film, or a heated semi-violent protest, and usually does little more than support the idea that the film is a misogynistic, hate film against feminists. I have seen the film. I can tell you it is not misogynistic, and is not denying issues faced by women in any way.

One of the most admirable aspects of the movie for me was how open and honest Cassie was about her own internal battles while filming The Red Pill. She struggled against an ‘unsettling doubt’ that came from acknowledging the very real discrimination and disadvantage that men and boys face, while also feeling she needed to counter these issues with the very real discrimination that women and girls face.

I confronted the same unease when researching feminism and listening to women speak about issues that affect them. It took me longer than it probably should have to learn to push that feeling aside, to not act on this strange defensive need to counter with male-focussed issues. Overcoming this defensiveness is difficult for both men and women when discussing gender issues but it’s something we obviously all need to work on if we’re going to work together towards equality. Both men and women should be able to exercise their right to be listened to. The disagreements and discussions can come afterwards. Solutions to large scale problems of disadvantage and discrimination can only be found if both ‘sides’ are fully informed.

What’s happening to The Red Pill in Australia is an outrage. The protesters and petition-signers who are preventing the film from being screened are impacting on the right to free speech and the right people have to choose whether to see the film or not. What makes this doubly frustrating is that these protesters reveal very clearly – in claiming the film is misogynistic, rape apologetic and anti-female- that they HAVEN’T ACTUALLY SEEN IT THEMSELVES.

I think The Red Pill is an important documentary. I’d urge everyone to rebel against the attempts at censorship by seeing the film. Put the negative media attention aside and make up your own mind about its motivation and content. I’m certain that many people will be surprised and moved by the issues the film examines.

The Red Pill – Buy/Rent/Stream