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Review: The Red Pill and chill

Can the fractured debate around the controversial film be redeemed?

Police outside The Red Pill screening. Police outside The Red Pill screening.

Unsurprisingly, it’s intimidating to stand before a room full of Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) and proclaim you’re a feminist. On Tuesday, May 11, in Carslaw Lecture Theatre 175, I found myself in this position.

I attended the screening of controversial documentary The Red Pill intending to analyse the film and attempt to understand a different perspective from my own. In the end, the debate, discussion and discourse that emerged from the three-hour medicinal ordeal of swallowing The Red Pill was more interesting than the film itself.

From first observation, there seems to be a real issue with accessing ‘free speech’ rights at The University of Sydney if you piss off the Socialist Alternative. As with any film premiere, prior to the screening, there was electrifying entertainment to satisfy the crowds with MRAs, ‘social justice warriors’ (SJWs) and every other polarised member of the plebeian political spectrum alike chastising one another with chants and choreographed brawls. Through the looking glass of an iPhone, my political voyeuristic heart beat ferociously.

Despite agreeing that it may problematic to screen the film and incite the wrong kind of reaction, it struck me as odd to hear protesters label conveners as “fascists” and “racists”, while attempting to circumvent their access to free action. It also struck me as repulsive that a “feminism is cancer” shirt could see the light of day.

“The Red Pill is about looking at these issues even if they’re uncomfortable … and they are uncomfortable”.

Twenty minutes into ‘Red Pill and Chill’, it was clear that it was only the marketing and propaganda surrounding this film that has made it worth seeing. I’m no Roger Ebert, but the film’s director, Cassie Jaye, is certainly no Tarantino either. The film depicts a poorly constructed interplay between the confused, ‘ex-feminist’ filmmaker battling her internal demons and a series of (mostly white) men expressing their feelings, ranging from the rational to irrational. The most entertaining and informative aspect of the film was the audience’s response.

In my subjective opinion, it is an objective fact that women have been traditionally disadvantaged and degraded across all paradigms throughout history, and feminism exists to address these inequalities. Similarly to those who speak in the film, however, select members of the audience appeared unaware of the basic definition of feminism: to achieve the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.

When the f-word (feminist, that is) was mentioned, hooting and hissing permeated across the room. I dried out like the Sahara Desert hearing the utterance of “daddy” from the mouths of several young men when Donald Trump appeared on the screen — not to mention when Barack Obama was referred to as a “creature”, and laughter filled the room at the mere suggestion of men needing feminism. These kind of immature attitudes, coupled with the aggressive, forever-screaming protestors, stifled any chance for either side to form constructive, effective arguments on the topic.

“I no longer call myself a feminist” – Cassie Jaye

These attitudes aside, as Jaye announces she’s learned to “no longer call myself a feminist,” and the credits rolled, despite the fact the film enlightened me on very little, the discussion that ensued taught me one interesting lesson.

Shaking, and nervous, I stood before a room of MRAs and argued that I could rationalise the confusing journey the narrator followed, yet found the film’s exploration of gender equality concepts were not enough to rule feminism invalid. Apart from one audible gasp after I called myself a feminist, the crowd stared back; not piercingly, nor scathingly, but interested. There was a pause, and as I found the right words to articulate the benefits of feminism and how it addresses many of the men’s rights issues brought up by the film, the silence of the crowd was as jarring as it was receptive.

It brought me back to this point on understanding the basic principles of feminism; to achieve equality between the sexes. While this film is not well-made, it opened, at least to its audience at USyd, what seems a necessary dialogue to have. A pressing need for gender discourse to stray away from descending into a battle of the sexes.

If you’re willing to dry swallow a red pill and open your mind to a perspective that questions your own, your adversaries and opponents may do the same for you.

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