A Feminist Reviews ‘The Red Pill’

| by Iona Italia |

I’ve just watched Cassie Jaye’s documentary The Red Pill and I think you should, too. A superb interviewer who knows how to draw out her subjects’ deepest beliefs, Jaye takes viewers on a tour of the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM), by talking to some of its main proponents and detractors. She also charts her own changing attitudes through a series of moving miniature video diaries. She comes across as highly intelligent, thoughtful and empathetic throughout.

I’m a lifelong feminist and approached the movie with the expectation of finding the main figures in the MRM unsympathetic, misogynistic or puerile. In fact, it was the controversy surrounding the film which first drew my attention to it. The film itself shows footage of protestors drowning out talks by MRM activists with shouted chants and noisemakers. Once released, life echoed art when protestors in Australia, in particular, tried to shut down performances of the documentary. These attempts at censorship made me all the keener to see it for myself. When people try to shut down a speaker, it’s generally because they have something disturbing, but important, to say.

Cassie Jaye

Surprisingly, what most struck me about the film were the many similarities – in both their strengths and shortcomings – between the MRM and modern Western feminism. Towards the end of the movie, a feminist activist called Big Red is yelling at an MRM campaigner, telling him that the MRM is unnecessary because feminists share all their aims. Once stripped of its hostile vitriol, her speech basically states that she fundamentally agrees with him – and yet she’s branding him a misogynist and an enemy. This clearly has more to do with tribalism than with a genuine difference of views. Unfortunately, this refusal to listen with empathy was characteristic of the feminists portrayed in the film.

I do have some problems with some of the MRM’s statements and arguments. Like many feminists, the MRM tends to argue on the basis of statistical outcomes, without really examining the reasons for those outcomes. We know that only 4% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women, for example. But is that because women are discriminated against in business or because many women do not choose to pursue high-pressure careers? We should ensure discrimination is not a factor, but there is no need to aim for a specific proportion of each sex in any field.

Similarly, some of the statistics the MSM cites as evidence of society’s mistreatment of men – such as the fact that men are more likely to take on high-risk jobs which may result in workplace injuries and deaths or that men live, on average, six years less than women – may be the result of testosterone and its related biological and psychological effects, rather than social oppression. The parts of the film I found least convincing were those arguing that men and women are equally prone to violence. I felt especially squirmily uncomfortable during the interview with Erin Pizzey, a prominent social campaigner and activist for both women’s and men’s rights, who argued that most domestic violence is a consensual struggle between equally violent men and women. These and other sexual blank-slateism claims go against everything I’ve learned from evolutionary biology. I remain skeptical about them.

Erin Pizzey

Having said that, the film outlines some clear injustices against men. These include the widespread acceptance of male circumcision in the United States and among Jewish and Muslim communities worldwide. While female genital mutilation is rightly deplored, circumcision is permitted. We allow people to perform what is in effect a cosmetic surgery with no medical benefits and which causes significant nerve damage and lasting reduction of sexual pleasure on male babies, who cannot consent. This is a clear violation of the Hippocratic oath.

The other major injustice against men takes place in the family courts. At the film’s heart is an interview with MRM activist Fred Hayward who was denied access to the son he loves through an egregious miscarriage of justice. He was the most sympathetic character in the documentary. His affection and care for the son who is now lost to him were so palpable that I watched that section through tears. We rightly complain when men neglect their duties as fathers. We should therefore be encouraging, not persecuting, those divorced or unmarried dads who want to take a full role in their children’s lives.

Beyond legal discrimination, there are also societal attitudes to combat. I firmly believe that a sexist society benefits no one. It forces individuals into roles based on the contents of their knickers, roles which may make them very unhappy. When we talk about harmful aspects of society’s conception of masculinity, we often focus on their knock-on effects on women. But men are also victims of imposed and internalized stereotypes about maleness.    

One example of this is the continued expectation that men will be the family breadwinners. Perhaps, the film suggests, men’s overrepresentation in stressful careers is not a sign of their dominance. Maybe we should re-evaluate our fetish for these outward signs of wealth and status and reconsider the importance of free time and relationships with friends and family. We only have a limited time on this planet. Personally, I’m glad I’m not spending it supporting a wife and children through some unfulfilling and empty money-making activity.

But perhaps the most striking example of these pernicious attitudes is that we tacitly expect levels of self-reliance and physical courage from men that we would not ask for from women. We often behave as though we valued men’s lives less than women’s – at least, in the secular West. A powerful section of the film showed news coverage of Boko Haram’s killings, illustrating how the press places more importance on female deaths than on male ones. Women and children are first into the lifeboats. Men are first on the battlefield. As a society, we do not encourage men to express fear, vulnerability and loneliness. We expect them to tough it out. I believe this may be part of why so many more men than women commit suicide. In fact, his internalized perception that as a man he should be a success, a provider, self-reliant, was a major factor in the suicide of one of my dearest friends six months ago.

The film left me feeling that feminists and MRM activists should work together. Sex is an accident of fate. Most of us do not choose to be male or female. It is pointless to demonize everyone who shares a heterozygous set of chromosomes. It is divisive and harmful to both sexes to engage in competitions as to who is most victimized. As Hayward puts it, “we can’t compare suffering, we can’t quantify [it].” Instead, we must work to ensure that everyone has an equal chance at happiness. If women’s rights are close to our hearts, men’s should be too.


Iona Italia is a former academic who now works as a freelance writer, editor, translator and general wordsmith. With a mixture of Scottish and desi ancestry, she has lived in five countries and speaks four languages. Iona is currently based in Buenos Aires, where she teaches Argentine tango and is completing a book on the culture of the dance. You can connect with her on Twitter @IonaItalia


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  1. Matze

    “Similarly, some of the statistics the MSM cites as evidence of society’s mistreatment of men – such as the fact that men are more likely to take on high-risk jobs which may result in workplace injuries and deaths or that men live, on average, six years less than women – may be the result of testosterone and its related biological and psychological effects, rather than social oppression.”

    Similarly, some of the statistics the Feminist cites as evidence of society’s mistreatment of women – such as the fact that women are less likely to take on high-risk jobs and jobs with managerial responsibility which may result in a on average 21% lower hourly earnings – may be the result of less testosterone and its related biological and psychological effects, rather than social oppression.”

  2. Kåre Fog

    I noticed especially this sentence:
    ” . . . some of the statistics the MSM cites as evidence of society’s mistreatment of men – such as the fact that men are more likely to take on high-risk jobs which may result in workplace injuries and deaths or that men live, on average, six years less than women – may be the result of testosterone and its related biological and psychological effects, rather than social oppression. ”
    Now, we are used to hear that feminists are uncompromisingly against any biological explanation for the relatively poor situation of women in certain fields. The poor situation, according to them, can only be due to faults in the social system and thus must be remedied.
    But here we see that i men are in a poor situation in certain other fields, then the explanation must be biological, rather than having something to do with faults in the social system, so such problems concerning men should not be remedied.
    Double standard.
    By the way, there seems to be no evidence that the shorter lifespan of men than of women has a biological explanation. For instance, monks and nuns that live quiet lives in monasteries live approximately equally long. So if the lifespan somehow is an integration of all harsh and pleasant experiences during life, then we may conclude that men on average have a harder life than women.

  3. Alan Fournier

    What the author and movie avoid is the male and female oppression are constructs of gender roles which are constructs of the male female dynamic.
    Prison, racism, violence, murder, homelessness, homophobia, mental illness, suicide, reproductive rights, rampant misandry in our courts, workplace discrimination, workplace injuries and death, military deaths, parental bias, failing our veterans failing education, lack of empathy and compassion, lack of choices, degradation, dehumanization, etc., are all overwhelmingly male experiences of gender injustice. Even sexual assault and domestic violence equally affect men. These are all examples of historical disadvantages that men have endured due to male gender role expectations

    There’s a huge male underclass in this society, as compared to those in power, influence and authority. Chivalrous men who more often than not attain their influence, power and authority at the expense of other mens value, rights, justice, dignity, humanity and compassion. Patriarchy is actually a construct of the male female dynamic. It is a collective male gender role response to female demands for deference, protection and resource provision. Since the dawn of humanity men have slaughter each other by the billions to fulfill gender role expectations and seek approval from potential mates. Yet feminism still reinforces male gender roles with the help of white knights in power, influence and authority. Women through feminism have thrown off gender roles that they deem oppresses or victimizes them. Now it’s men’s turn.

  4. Luke Artanis

    Circumcision isn’t just a violation of the Hippocratic Oath which is merely an abstract intellectual principle about medical ethics. Circumcision is an ugly euphemism for the criminal act of raping, torturing, and sexually mutilating a child. Those who survive male genital mutilation (every year babies die) are sentence to a lifelong injury that is physical, emotional, and spiritual.

    The first step of male genital mutilation is to penetrate the penis with a weapon called a circumcision probe to tear the foreskin off from the glans. At birth the foreskin is fused to head of the penis like a fingernail. Next the penis is put into a clamp and the foreskin is crushed. Finally, the foreskin is amputated. All the while the baby’s brain is recording every sensation and screaming bloody murder.

    If performed in a religious context, the assailant may finish the procedure by forcing the infant’s penis into his or her mouth to suck the blood off of it. This is called metzitzah b’peh and it still happens in 2017 in the United States to American citizens who live in fundamentalist religious communities. There are cases every year of herpes or other communicable disease being transmitted to the infant, which is sometimes fatal.

    This is far more than a violation of the Hippocratic Oath. It’s child rape of the absolute worst kind. No person can escape genital mutilation without incurring psychological trauma.

  5. Insidious_Sid

    “If women’s rights are close to our hearts, men’s should be too.”

    But they’re not. Feminist Theory 101 says men (especially white men) are oppressors of women and minorities under patriarchy and therefor cannot be discriminated against or oppressed in any way by a woman, women, or minorities.

    Balanced reviews like this are nice to see, but it’s like putting band-aids on third-degree burns. The idea that feminists want equality for men too, and to stop injustices against men are still, to this day, just that: nice words. When feminists protest along side men against the divorce industry and the joke that is the family law system, then I will believe that feminists are allies of men and hearing OUR stories and what things WE have lost.

    When feminists stop silencing and no-platforming male speakers on men’s issues then I will START to believe that feminists care about men.

    Until then, it’s all just band-aids and nice words.

  6. Scott Turner

    Iona, that was a well thought out review. I saw Casey Jaey struggling at times throughout the movie. I believe this was her experiencing cognitive dissonance. In regards to your comments of domestic violence, i hope that you do further research. http://www.oneinthree.com.au/ . Also with your comments of male suicide does not reflect peered reviewed studies in australia, i suggest that you contact Griffith University and ask why they are considered the lead national body on suicide and whether children are a protective mechanism against suicide and a denial of access a clear source of male suicide. Also ask if the ABS figures of 6 suicdes a day are accurate and why the ABS themseleves state they do not have accurate data https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B_nCBgRb8hSYNndjd0NhZXRyazA

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