by Richard Worth

Content warning: domestic abuse, gender-based violence. Contains Spoilers for The Red Pill

I’ve been waiting for a decent documentary about Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) for a while now. Because I  prefer not flying into fits of rage, I’ve avoided MRAs on the internet like the plague. What I know of them are second-hand accounts and logically baffling retweets. An impenetrable layer of laziness and self-preservation means that I have been waiting for someone else to do the hard work of getting to the core of what MRAs believe, why they believe it, and whether or not I should take it seriously.

The Christmas before last, I was excited to see Reggie Yates tackle the subject in his show Reggie Yates Extreme UK, Men at War. But, like with everything on TV around Christmas, I was pretty disappointed. Yates only touched on what we all already know about MRAs and didn’t really delve much deeper. On top of that, though Yates is personable, his interview style let me down. I felt he didn’t challenge the rape-profiteer and professional sack of shit Roosh V enough, and was then too combative with the teenage YouTuber with toilet roll next to his bed.  Not that the kid didn’t need a bollocking, he was after all being quite sexist as well as frequently masturbating and/or crapping the bed, but I felt the journalist’s approach was all over the place.

Enter: The Red Pill.

On reading the blurb for the flick, I was dubious:

“When a feminist filmmaker sets out to document the mysterious and polarizing world of the Men’s Rights Movement, she begins to question her own beliefs.”

In one sentence I was moved from the assumption that its “feminist” agenda would bias the documentary to confirm my existing politics, to the opinion that it might not even be a documentary at all, and rather some weird MRAs propaganda piece. But hey, may as well give it a go right?

Turns out the blurb was to be taken at face value. Feminist filmmaker Cassie Jaye does a pretty good job at setting up her own quest. Like Yates, she starts off on the message boards before going on to meet leading figures in the MRAs community. Alongside her interviews, she inserts footage of her own video diaries wherein she earnestly struggles with what she is learning and how she feels herself react to it.

I’m not gonna give you a blow by blow account of what happens and present the case for MRAs as offered up in the documentary – as previously stated I’m pretty lazy – I am however going to recommend that you watch it. It was genuinely insightful and looked at the human side to MRAs and presents some convincing arguments. But there are caveats.

10. Cassie Jaye Video Diary.jpg

Cassie becomes a character who moves from one state  – a proud feminist – to another…

Because of Cassie’s  journey through the story,  which is an excellent way of personalising the debate, we do end up with something of a narrative. Cassie becomes a character who moves from one state  – a proud feminist – to another, namely declaring she can no longer call herself a feminist. But the problem with this is that by design or even by accident, the documentary functions to take her on that journey.

Either at conception or in the edit, the documentary justifies her conversion. For example, at the top of the doc, we are presented with a Paul Elam article declaring October to be…(sigh) “Bash a Violent Bitch Month”. For the audience, this sets up the stakes of why MRAs are so dangerous. Throughout the documentary, we are presented with some worrying stats about domestic violence towards men, and the lack of help they have access to. Then in the final act, it’s revealed that Elam’s article is a satirical response to one posted on Jezebel arguably trivialising women beating on their fellas.

Similarly, after witnessing sincere and heart wrenching stories about fathers being wrongly denied access to their children we cut to  Ms Magazine editor Katherine Spillar coldly telling Cassie that reproductive and parental rights are solely that of women since they undergo the pregnancy. And finally, the piece of trickery that I fell hardest for: showing feminist demonstrators setting off a fire alarm to stop a lecture on gender theory before having the most obnoxious of them, Big Red (really), tell a counter-protester to ‘shut the fuck up’ while she tells people what she thinks.

3. AVFM Red Pill Article

All of this works as an attempt to frame the arguments in a more favourable way, by bizarrely and unfairly, showing poor criticism from feminists. Cassie’s own confusion seems to stem from some idea that feminism as an ideology is incompatible with her own sympathy for the personal stories of the MRAs.  Whilst looking at the genuine problems that men face in terms of parental rights, suicide rates and social dispensability, she ignores the horrid elements of the movement.

A lot of people are talking about the polarising effect of politics at the moment, and I think that this documentary subtly suffers from that. Cassie’s shift, while in all honesty is entirely innocent, is also tribal.  She begins as a feminist, encounters the MRA tribe with their own, specific issues and claims that feminism is the cause, then justifies joining MRAs through finding isolated examples of criticisms of feminism.

Towards the end of the film there is a sense that she’ll break through and leave us with the question of how we make feminist and male activist ideas come together. How do we find solutions rather than someone to blame? But all of this is left unanswered.  For me, men’s issues I hadn’t considered previously now feel a little more important, but that’s in addition to, not instead of women’s issues. Frustratingly she comes so close to finding a shared or root cause to men and women’s problems (psst, it’s capitalism) but ultimately fails because of all or nothing, tribal philosophies based on crappy metaphors.


All images are frames from Cassie Jaye’s documentary THE RED PILL.
Photos courtesy of Jaye Bird Productions.

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  1. You could hardly be surprised Jaye hasn’t become anti-capitalist by the conclusion of the film when apparently none of the people she interviewed were. I think the oppressiveness of the gender system, sometimes described as gynocentrism, long predates class society as a whole (for one theory of its origins, see “Summa Genderratica” by YetAnotherCommenter) and has simply varied in form from one era to the next. Overthrowing capitalism won’t by itself get rid of it, although it may help clear away some obstacles to doing so, insofar as capital has some interest in perpetuating it — for example, cultural gynocentrism has made male-only conscription, often deployed for capitalist-imperialist purposes, socially acceptable in a way gender-inclusive conscription probably wouldn’t be.


  2. “Cassie’s shift, while in all honesty is entirely innocent, is also tribal”
    that’s very unfair. she didn’t end up describing herself as an MRA, she just dropped the label “feminist”. this is the complete opposite of tribalism!

    “bizarrely and unfairly, showing poor criticism from feminists”
    i’ve been interested in the debate for about 3 years now and i haven’t seen ANY good criticism from feminists! critics of feminism are constantly and consistently mischaracterized and and demonized in the media.

    where are the “good feminists”, who have a balanced stance on the issue? which feminist publication regularly talks about men’s issues? scroll through some of the biggest feminist news sites, like jezebel, daily feminism, everyday feminism or huffington-post/feminism.

    what cassie did was absolutely revolutionary and brave. consider all the backlash she got! she took a great risk that may have destroyed her career by criticizing feminism in the mainstream media. this review is a scandal because it implies that issue wasn’t taboo and feminism already had a balanced stance on these things.

    ps: if you really think that the root cause to “men and women’s problems” is “capitalism”, let me just tell you that you sound to me like a christian fundamentalist talking about the devil.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You seem to miss the point that actually, just like you, Cassie thinks it’s possible to be for men’s and women’s rights at the same time. Also, why do you describe her portrayal of feminist reactions as unfair? She went to feminists for their opinions and this is what they gave her. You sound rather like a Trumpist saying the media are being unfair to Trump by quoting him verbatim.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well put, feminism after all is the elimination of patriarchy, a task for both men and women, this challenge against patriarchy involves all. The Enemy is not men or women the enemy is a concept of how we choose to conduct ourselves in daily life and the way the world is run. This documentary is a perfect reflection of the flexibility and experience of relfective conflict we will all experience once we truly come to terms with the personal journey we take before making pur own transformation. Sometimes roots grow too strong in comfort of traditions. There are thIngs that we do, and many more that we don’t. In a flash life passes us by with hardly any save between for yourself. But we do t want to grow roots of restrictions. We must believe we can and must change for the better. Flying over mountains of predudice and be free as we always have been.

      Liked by 1 person

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