In the The Matrix, the protagonist Neo is offered a choice of taking the red pill which will wake him up to painful reality or the blue pill which will allow him to remain in blissful ignorance. The movie ‘The Red Pill: a feminist’s journey into the Men’s Rights Movement’ uses this analogy to illustrate the filmmaker’s journey from ignorance about men’s rights issues to her waking up to the painful reality that men’s issues are not given much attention. Recently, a group of feminists has successfully lobbied for Melbourne’s Palace Cinemas to withdraw a screening of the film using a change.org petition. They managed to get 2,370 signatures and called for Palace Cinemas to “…not associate your cinema with the kind of people who teach men how to violate women physically and emotionally. Please stand with the women everywhere, and do not promote misogynistic hate.” They also focused on the unsavoury words of one of the men’s rights activists featured in the documentary, Paul Elam. He sounds like a not-so-likeable guy, and at first glance it might seem reasonable that Palace Cinemas have cancelled the screening.
But let’s have a look at the whole story. Cassie Jaye, the director and producer is a feminist who has made a number of documentaries about sexuality and gender issues including “The Right to Love: An American Family” a documentary about a married gay couple that fights back against discrimination. She set out to document the Men’s Rights Movement and along the way many of her personal beliefs and assumptions were challenged and she ended up sympathizing with many of their concerns. Kudos to her for having an open mind and being willing to change her stance, it’s not every person that is willing to do that.
The problems started for Cassie Jaye when she announced that her MRA documentary was going to take a ‘balanced approach’. This ‘balanced approach’ resulted in her funding being pulled and so she turned to Kickstarter to fund the project. Since then she has been the target of hateful invective, slurs and hit pieces from people who are against MRAs in principle and don’t think that a documentary about MRA’s should take a balanced point of view. Feminists lined up for interviews in the film cancelled, and former supporters who were after an MRA ‘hit piece’ withdrew their support. And now we see that in Australia a screening of the film has been shut-down by feminist activists.
Attempting to block people from seeing a movie that you disapprove of is a violation of what free speech means in its purest essence. I recently read a great article that spoke of there being two camps of free speech advocates: those in the ‘principle’ of free speech camp and those that focus only on our ‘legal’ rights to free speech. If you are in the principle camp, you agree that the government should not censor speech in any way. You also recognise that somebody has the right to produce their art, make movie or write a book about any topic, and interested people have a right to see it without these works being banned, blocked or censored in anyway by non-government groups. Those in the legal camp, don’t think the government should censor speech but they also think it’s OK to no-platform and use whatever coercive means possible to shut down expression of views they hate.
Feminists who paint this movie in the worse possible light in order to pressure the cinema to withdraw it, do not respect the principle of free speech in any way. I doubt they are in any ‘free speech camp’ at all, but it’s clear to me, being as I am in the ‘principle camp’ that this action is anti-free speech. It’s tantamount to saying that ‘they’ know better about what is right and wrong, and that the rest of us can’t make our own minds up. They are purposefully standing in between the free expression of a number of people, and the people who want to see this free expression.
This sort of censorious silencing of other opinions is exactly the kind of attitude that has given rise to the more extreme MRAs. The culture of attacking, blocking and censoring opinions you don’t like is not only wrong but also counterproductive. People don’t want to be told that their concerns don’t matter. When a discussion about the rates of suicide being higher for men that for women, is answered with ‘but women attempt suicide more’, then it’s no wonder some of these people are feeling frustrated. There are plenty of issues that are unique to men, and saying ‘yes but’ each time they are brought up fosters an environment of frustrated extremism.
Since the petition to withdraw the screening of ‘The Red Pill’ by Palace Cinemas had its victory, a counter petition has claimed over 7000 signatures from people who don’t like being told what movies they can see and who agree that the film should be screened. The Streisand effect in full colour.
I haven’t seen the movie and I’m not an MRA, and before the censorious actions of the feminists behind the Palace Cinema’s cancelling of the screening, I wasn’t all that interested. Now though I want to find out what all the fuss is about, so I’ll be watching it at soon as I get the chance and in doing so exercise the freedom to form my own opinions.
Nicola Wright is a writer for LibertyWorks. This article was also published by The Spectator Australia magazine 27 October 2016.