When Marin filmmaker Cassie Jaye began working on her new documentary, “The Red Pill,” believed to be the first ever film on the men’s rights movement, she considered herself a feminist. By the time she finished the documentary, which screens Sunday at the Rafael Film Center, she could no longer in good conscience call herself that. And many of her former sisters in the women’s movement may never forgive her for it.
They’re livid that the 30-year-old San Anselmo resident would have the audacity to present evidence that challenges their condemnation of men’s rights organizations as misogynist hate-groups infested with “rape apologists.”
“Feminist academicians are threatened by that kind of dialogue,” she says.
In Melbourne, Australia, for example, a feminist petition decrying “The Red Pill” as “a misogynistic propaganda film” succeeded in getting a screening canceled there. A vicious review in the Village Voice insinuated that “The Red Pill” was financed by men’s rights activists. The supposedly progressive weekly went so far as to refuse to accept a paid advertisement for the film, a requirement to qualify for an Academy Award nomination.
“It’s infuriating,” Jaye says, seething. “That’s one of the lies that’s being perpetuated to discredit me and the film. It’s so frustrating to keep debunking that lie over and over again.”
‘Red Pill’ origin
She says she got “The Red Pill” off the ground with her own money as well as money from her mother, Nena Jaye, a co-producer, and her boyfriend. When that ran out, she launched a campaign on Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site the New York Times called “the people’s NEA.”
“I found Kickstarter to be the only way I could maintain creative control over the film and to get the funding I needed to complete it,” she says. “That the film was funded by MRAs (men’s rights activists) is a common lie that keeps spreading.”
The title of the documentary was inspired by popular culture symbols of red and blue pills introduced in the science fiction movie “The Matrix,” in which taking a blue pill results in blissful ignorance and taking the red pill means facing the sometimes painful truth.
A former Hollywood actress (“I got tired of playing the blonde who always got killed”), Jaye turned to documentary filmmaking as a way to make films that meant something to her. It took her more than three years to finish “The Red Pill,” her third documentary after “Daddy I Do,” a look at the world of purity balls and abstinence pledges, and “The Right to Love: An American Family,” about same-sex marriage rights.
Jaye is no stranger to controversy. In 2010, the nonprofit Lark Theater canceled a screening of “Daddy, I Do” after two board members objected to showing it. Theater officials quickly apologized for “the terrible mistakes” that led to the ban and rescheduled it.
Down a rabbit hole
Until a couple of high-profile rape cases piqued her interest, the mysterious men’s rights movement was a rabbit hole she’d never thought of jumping down. Surprisingly, no one else had, either.
“This is the first and only film about men’s rights ever made,” she says. “And it was the first time in my life I started to look at men’s issues. I thought I was going to make a film about women haters. I was going to go in there with one or two camera people and hope that I don’t get hurt. I thought I was making a sensational film about this underground movement of misogynists. It turned out to be very different.”
She spent a great deal of time interviewing the big bad wolf of MRAs, Paul Elam, founder of the website “A Voice for Men.” The Australian petition to block the screening of “The Red Pill” branded him “a pro-rape racist.” And feminists continue to call his organization a hate group, citing the Southern Poverty Law Center, which denies ever making such a denouncement.
‘Male Power’ author
In Warren Farrell, author of the “The Myth of Male Power: Why Men are the Disposable Sex,” a bible of the men’s movement, she found its intellectual godfather practically in her own backyard. Farrell, who will appear with her at Sunday’s screening, lives in Mill Valley.
In his bombshell 1993 book, Farrell defines power as having control over your life. Rather than having power, he argues, both sexes historically have been cast into gender roles: women as child bearers and men as providers, the ones who go out into the world to earn money to support the family.
As an illustration of male powerlessness, Farrell and Elam point out that men are the only sex drafted to fight wars. Men traditionally take on high-risk jobs in mining, agriculture, forestry and fishing and are 11 times more likely to die on the job than women. They have much higher suicide rates and are three times more likely to be murder victims. Women live five years longer on average than men. Father’s rights are legally secondary to women’s in family court and child custody cases. Although death rates for breast cancer and prostate cancer are about the same, six times more money is spent on breast cancer research in the U.S.
“What Farrell is saying challenges feminist ideals, and I think that’s why he’s a threat to the gender discussion,” Jaye says. “He’s posing the idea that maybe we don’t live in a patriarchy where men oppress women, but what looks like a patriarchy is a result of gender roles.”
The feminists Jaye spoke to are hearing none of it. In one scene in “The Red Pill,” a group of feminist protesters are shown harassing men as they enter a lecture by Farrell in Toronto, Canada, screaming that he’s a “rape apologist.” A feminist activist known as “Big Red,” in particular, comes off as a shrieking, obscenity-spewing harridan.
To get the feminist side of the issue, Jaye interviewed several authorities on the subject, including Katherine Spillar, executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation and executive editor of Ms. Magazine; and Michael Kimmel, author of the book “Angry White Men” and professor of gender studies at Stony Brook University. They both seem dismissive and mildly annoyed at being asked to give men’s rights any credibility at all.
“The essence of what they said is that men’s rights activists are trying to turn back the clock on women’s rights and promoting violence against women,” Jaye says. “ What I found was that a lot of the feminists I was talking to had never even spoken to men’s rights activists themselves. So I was really conflicted with what I was hearing from the men, and then finding the sources to support what they were saying, and then talking to feminists and realizing this disconnect among feminists in general in not really knowing what men’s rights activists have to say because no one was willing to talk to them before.”
In “The Red Pill,” Jaye includes a video diary that shows her confusion and frustration as her own preconceived beliefs are challenged and eventually changed. At the end of the film, she announces that she’s no longer a feminist.
“I want to make the strong point that I’m very much for women’s rights and have been in my 10-year career in filmmaking,” she says. “By not labeling myself a feminist anymore in no way shape or form says I’m anti-women’s rights. Why I chose to drop the label is because, after making this film, I don’t view feminism as the road to gender equality. That’s largely because of the way that men’s issues are addressed within feminism. I don’t think it’s conducive to an environment to discuss gender issues and ultimately solutions if men are being demonized.”
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