It's hard to remember a film generating as much controversy as The Red Pill. Last year, following pressure from activist groups, Melbourne's Palace Cinemas cancelled its screenings. A screening last week at the University of Sydney saw its fair share of heated protests. And most reviews of Cassie Jaye's journey down the "rabbit hole" into the world of men's rights activism have labelled the film bullshit, sexist, and misogynist.
But it was tough to work out whether all the outrage around The Red Pill was actually about the film's content, or simply the fact it exists. So I decided to head along to Wednesday's screening, which was a surprise in a couple ways. Firstly, I wasn't being pelted with rotting fruit and torrents of vitriol as I walked to the cinema. Then there was the fact the crowd was an even ratio of men and women.
The film itself though… well, honestly, The Red Pill isn't terribly thought-provoking. As a straight white guy, I'm ostensibly Cassie Jaye's target demographic. And, sure, it does raise genuine concerns about mandatory conscription and child custody, but I definitely didn't walk out of the cinema holding my flexed bicep and chanting, "We can do it, too!" All in all, it didn't really sell its central premise—that men are oppressed just as much, if not more, than women.
Aside from Mike Cernovich's unsurprising producer credits I didn't find the film vile, just unnecessary. But I decided to ask other attendees what they thought of The Red Pill and whether or not they think feminism is the root of all evil.
*VICE: Hi Meredith, what did you think of the film?*
Meredith: I was very moved by it. It had me in tears at one stage. I'm happy it's being shown. I very much feel I don't want to be called a feminist. I'm now offended if anyone refers to me as a feminist.
I saw them as aggressive. And I saw a lot of gentle, intelligent men trying to get their story across and not being listened to. And I liked that they were finally being listened to.
What were your feelings about Men's Rights Activists (MRAs) before seeing this film?
I've seen firsthand the demonisation of men that's being promoted in society. I feel very strongly about it. Whenever I read the newspaper and I see a mother who's murdered her child it's called a "murder." But when I see a father who's murdered his child it's called "family violence." There's no equality here. I'm constantly writing to newspapers and saying, "Have you noticed this?" And they'll say, "Yes, we have noticed." But it keeps happening.
Do you think men are more oppressed than women?
They're being demonised and vilified, and there's nowhere for them to get help. The threat of suicide is a very big problem. I knew a man who we lost to suicide. He had a court order to see his children but the mother wouldn't let him. It's quite raw for us.
Hi Max, thoughts on the film?
Max: I thought the film raised genuine problems men face in society. But what I think the movie lacked is the idea that everyone is the problem. Everyone is so concerned with themselves. Nobody wants to be silenced. Gender equality is like a weight with unequal amounts. In order to weigh it you can only use the weights you have. It's not possible. To give you need to take from the other part.
That's pretty deep stuff, Max. I'm guessing you don't subscribe to either men's or women's rights activism?
I think both men's and women's rights are needed.
Do you feel oppressed as a man?
I do not feel oppressed as man. Oppression is what's in a third world society where someone says, "You cannot work, you must have children, you must have your clitoris removed." That is oppression.
You seem critical of everything, Max. Why did you come tonight?
I'm interested in opinions. I can't stand it when activists—both men and women—silence each other because of their opinions. It infuriates me so much. I see it every day. If you believe in women's rights then go for it. If you believe in the gender pay gap—I don't believe in it—but if you do then fight for it. I don't believe in a gender spectrum, but if you do then go for it. But don't let other people's opinions hold you down. Freedom of speech is a two-way street.
Hi Robert, what were your thoughts on the film? Robert: I've worked in family and criminal law and I can tell you the inequalities in the family law system they discussed in the movie are not new to me. I used to see them every day. My fiancée currently works for the family court and she still sees it every day.
So you do see cases of false paternity and unfair outcomes of child custody disputes? For sure. If you have a one night stand, you might get a phone call 14 months down the track from someone you may have met this one time. You'll be told you're the father of this child. To prove that you're not the father you have to pay out of pocket for a paternity test. These aren't cheap. You've got to engage lawyers, and family lawyers are extremely expensive. People have been financially ruined just getting through the first stages of this process
Do you hate feminism? When feminism first started, it was about equality and addressing the gender imbalance that did occur in that time.
And now? You don't think feminism is still about gender equality? What we have today is what I call "neo-feminism." It's a radicalised, bastardised version of original feminism. It's all about screaming, "Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you," until you're quiet. People are tired of being shouted down and they want to draw attention to certain issues which affect men.
LJ, 60; Alex, 16; Ryan, Chris, and Jake, all 20
Hey guys, what did you all think of the film?
Chris: It's a well presented argument on both sides. I think there isn't much of a talk about male rights and activism. I think it is suppressed by that feminist argument. When you talk about it people call you "misogynistic," "racist," or "sexist". Women don't really listen to what you have to say and I think that's oppression. I'm exercising my right to free speech. Why can't I talk about how I feel?
What do you think of feminism and women's rights activism?
Alex: I think it's more overrepresented than men's rights, particularly in schools. I'm a student and in the school, they push men as woman beaters. But it can happen the opposite way. They should give both perspectives. It's terrible that it happens to women, but it's also terrible that it happens to men. I think silencing abuse of men—and women hitting men—shouldn't be the way at all.
Do any of you feel your opinion or voice is being silenced?
Chris: Yes, because if I went to a rally against the patriarchy and I said, "Hey, suicide rates are higher in males," I would instantly get shut down as a bigot. Why can't we openly listen and discuss with other people. Whenever I say something I instantly get told I'm wrong. How is that fair?
Do you think activists were justified in pushing to cancel the film's screening last year?
Ryan: I just torrented it.
Alex: I feel a film like this being shut down and people protesting it just because it's about male rights is almost sexist in a sense. What's so bad about people speaking up about male rights?
Hi Rae. You helped organise the screening of this film, why were you so eager to have it shown?
Rae: I was contacted by Bettina Arndt, who's a well-known journalist and men's rights supporter. She asked me if I would be interested in presenting and promoting The Red Pill here in Melbourne because there's been so much trouble with the feminist movement shutting it down. Being a very strong mental health advocate, I sit firmly in the men's rights space. I work with organisations that are primarily blue-collar, male-dominated workplaces where there's a lot of suffering, invalidation, and suicide. I'm pretty geared around stopping men from killing themselves. Again, this is not to the exclusion of women. It's more about getting this gender equality that's achievable and sustainable, rather than this seesawing of who's right and who's wrong.
You believe men are more oppressed than women?
I wouldn't use the word "oppressed." I would say there's a massive disparity between the human rights of men and the human rights of women.
Do you feel the same way about women's rights as you do men's?
I'm equally supportive. As a woman, I feel enormously privileged to have access to resources, support, understanding and a lack of stigma around my issues. I feel very safe and dignified in being able to be a woman.
Were you at all involved in last year's cancelled screening of the film?
I do have some inroads to that, yes.
I don't suppose you feel those protesters were justified in pushing for the cancellation of that screening?
We have freedom of speech here in Australia that we're very grateful for and we should use it in the way it's intended for the greater-good of people. I feel freedom of speech has been somewhat negatively impacted. We've got a very strong group—being the feminist group—who've been able to prevent people from seeing an opinion, or seeing another view, or seeing another perspective of something that's a really important issue. We have sons, we have fathers, we have brothers and it's important we show we love them.
Do you think the film espouses any form of hatred towards women?
No, not at all. It's a movie and it's a perspective by Cassie Jaye. Therefore, I'm seeing a very objective view of a movie that's made by someone else and I'm always aware of that. I take that and add it to all the other perspectives, experiences and insights I gather. I'm never firmly sold on one idea. But now I feel strongly about the safety and the security of the boys I love and the future of our men who are just as important as women.
Follow Vince on Twitter.