Currently streaming on Amazon Prime is The Red Pill, a documentary about Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs).
The director, Cassie Jaye, establishes her politically correct bona fides by talking about her previous documentaries, which celebrated “reproductive rights,” “single motherhood,” “LGBT rights.” She characterizes same-sex marriage as marriage equality (why not divorce litigation equality? See “I Got Gay Married. I Got Gay Divorced. I Regret Both.” (nytimes), for example: “Am I sorry that [my girlfriend and I] got legally married? Yes, I am. Not only did marriage fail to keep us together; it sentenced us to an agonizingly drawn-out, devastatingly expensive divorce.”; see also the litigator quoted in History of Divorce: “Marriage today is a way for a smart person with a low income to make money from a stupid person with a high income. What difference does it make whether the gold digger and mark are of the same sex?”).
She shows inflammatory articles by Paul Elam, founder of A Voice for Men. Then she goes to meet the guy, who turns out to be remarkably mild-mannered.
A small low-energy gathering of MRAs in Toronto is met by an angry mob shouting “MRAs, go away, racist, sexist, anti-gay.” The MRAs are accused of being fascists, Nazis, and “pathetic” by the mob, which is prevented from attacking them by some lightly armed Canadian police.
Ms. Jaye opens by giving the MRAs, who mostly seem to be in their 50s, space to talk about the ways that women are now advantaged in the U.S. and Canada:
- women are the majority of college students (see “Why Men Are the New College Minority” (Atlantic))
- “pro-choice” is really “pro-choice for women only because they’re denying men any kind of choice once the child is conceived”; the woman can choose have the baby and either stay with the father or harvest child support profits, abort the baby in exchange for a payment related to the net present value of the expected child support cashflow, or, if there is nothing to be gotten out of the father, have an abortion without a cash payment
- young men are failing to launch, staying with their parents long past the expected age
- that men earn more should be interpreted as men having less power than women, not more; the man who gets up at 4:00 every weekday to work on a garbage truck or works 70 hours/week driving a taxi is not getting “power over his wife,” but “losing power over his life” (see “Feminist focus on W-2 wages instead of spending power“)
- women may be seen as “sex objects,” but men are often seen as “success objects”
- women may be pressured by social norms into rearing children, but men are pressured by social norms into working as providers
- “every society that survived survived based on its ability to train its sons to be disposable. Disposable in war, dangerous work, and indirectly therefore disposable as dads” (Warren Farrell); 4584 Americans were killed on the job in 2013; 93 percent were men; 98 percent of deaths in our most recent wars have been suffered by men
The action segues to Warren Farrell trying to speak indoors in Toronto. There is a huge group of shouting feminists outside heaping abuse on anyone who is choosing to go in and listen. Ms. Jaye gives the backstory on Warren Ferrell, a soft-spoken guy who was a participant in the 1960s and 1970s Equality Feminism movement. Ferrell says that he parted company with feminists when he couldn’t accept that men were oppressors and women the oppressed.
After 37 minutes in, the documentary shifts to interviews with feminists.
- MRA is a backlash from men threatened by opportunities opened up to women, angry because they can’t get the good jobs and school positions because women have taken them
- no person looking at the data can possibly say that women have an advantage
- men are not discriminated against under the law and, in fact, are advantaged over women
The MRAs come back to talk about men being consistent losers in family court:
- the woman who loses a job because she is a woman can apply for a job elsewhere; the man who loses custody of a child cannot go looking for another child over whom to obtain custody
- the heroic New York City police detective on whom the movie Serpico is based, lost over 90 percent of his police pension to a child support plaintiff based on an out-of-wedlock pregnancy and despite testimony from friends of the plaintiff that she had planned to “trick” Serpico (presumably by making false statements about her birth control status?). “Everything that he goes through in this movie, including getting shot, to earn his pension she won by sleeping with him one night.” (see nytimes, 1983: “The state’s highest court ruled today that a former New York City police officer, Frank Serpico, must make full support payments for his child born out of wedlock, even though he said the child’s mother had told him she was using contraception. The tribunal, the Court of Appeals, determined unanimously that the ‘mother’s alleged deceit has no bearing upon” Mr. Serpico’s ”obligation to support his child.'” (it is unclear how the $11,340 could be 90 percent of the guy’s pension; that’s only about $30,000 in today’s money, 15X the profits obtainable from having a child in Sweden, 5X the profitability in Germany, and 2.5X the profits obtainable in Nevada, but still nowhere near a retired cop’s pension); more details may be availabe in an old Playboy Magazine article (not searchable))
- (presumably in the case of a low- or medium-income father) unmarried women are able to give children up for adoption without the father’s consent
Men talk about spending 5 years of income on custody litigation defense, ultimately losing, and finally being permanently separated from their former children. (About one third of children of American divorces in winner-take-all jurisdictions are able to maintain long-term contact with their fathers, i.e., there are tens of millions of American citizens who have been permanently separated from one parent by a state-run family court.)
[The film does not recognize that it is not meaningful to talk about “family court” or “family law” on a U.S.-wide basis. In my home state of Massachusetts, for example, 97 percent of residents collecting child support are women, which should track the percentage of custody lawsuit winners; see also our statistical study of a month of divorce lawsuits in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. And the woman who has sex with an already-married radiologist in Boston can get paid more than if she’d gone to medical school and worked as a primary care doctor. But Massachusetts is not the U.S. The same sex act in nearby Pennsylvania would yield a 50/50 shared parenting outcome and comparatively modest child support profits. Much of the suffering endured by men interviewed by the director wouldn’t have occurred if they’d simply chosen to live in a state where it is more lucrative to go to college and work than to have a brief sexual encounter. They don’t need a Men’s Rights Movement. They needed to read Real World Divorce and then get a U-Haul to a state where they couldn’t be targeted.]
The hostility of mainstream film reviewers to this movie becomes understandable at 53:20 where the filmmaker says “I’ve always thought of feminism as the fight for gender equality… but I’d never heard about the injustices going on in family court.”
[She is wrong on this turn of phrase, of course. Given the same facts, family court decisions are completely different from state to state, but as these decisions are handed out by judges in courts the disparate results are all justice by definition.]
She interviews Michael Messner, Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at USC, to hear him give the explanation that it is unreasonable for men to ask for an equal parenting role after separation when in an intact couple it may be the woman doing most of the parenting (e.g., if she is a stay-at-home mother and he works as the breadwinner). Implicitly he is saying that the correct approach to resolving custody disputes is the approach taken by his home state of California, i.e., try to use court orders to continue involuntarily whatever the division of labor was during the voluntary relationship. (See the “Summary” chapter of Real World Divorce for the three types of systems used in the various U.S. states.) This “preserve and extend the status quo” system tends to be the best for lawyers because it results in the most intensive litigation. For example, witnesses can testify about who took the children to their pediatricians four years prior to the trial. Professor Messner laughs at the ideas that fathers, after divorce, “suddenly” want to step in and be parents rather than simply paying their plaintiffs to be parents and visiting the children occasionally. It would be absurd for a man to consider rearranging his daily schedule merely because his wife had decided to start having sex with neighbors and then filed a divorce lawsuit against him.
The filmmaker improperly develops sympathy for biological fathers in “surprise pregnancies” at around 56:00, noting that they are “at the mercy” of the mothers (e.g., who can choose abortions or to become sole custodian child support profiteers, both undesirable outcomes from the point of view of fathers, in the filmmaker’s view). Katherine Spillar, director of the Feminist Majority Foundation and an editor at Ms., says that all of this could be resolved if men talked to women before having sex. She suggests condoms, for example, but does not note that quite a few lucrative children and/or abortion sales have been produced after used condoms were retrieved from trash cans and/or following oral sex. (See “Hamptons bachelors are getting vasectomies so gold diggers can’t trap them” (New York Post) for where the arms race ends.)
A guest whose husband does not want more children shows up in front of a talk show audience of women. The audience claps in favor of the option to “trick” the husband by discarding birth control pills.
We learn that a group of women who are Men’s Rights Activists call themselves the “Honey Badger Brigade”. Unfortunately, their motivation is not explained or explored. “We have a huge blind spot when women do bad things,” says one.
The question of domestic violence by women is explored. A friend of an abused man seeks assistance for the friend and learns that none of the taxpayer-funded organizations for aiding domestic violence would serve a man in any way. The filmmaker notes that out of 2,000 domestic violence shelters nationwide, only one is for men. She notes that CDC statistics on “intimate partner violence” show that men are nearly as likely to be hit (1 in 4 lifetime chance versus 1 in 3).
[Feminists say that it is not fair to look at raw numbers. In the Domestic Violence chapter of Real World Divorce, see the explanation from Professor Goodmark, former Co-Director of the Center on Applied Feminism at the University of Baltimore School of Law. She wrote that women are engaging in “violent resistance” (fighting back rather than initiating violence) or simply “to express anger or frustration” or “to obtain physical domination in the moment” but these are insignificant compared to what men do (“the generalized control over all facets of a partner’s life that characterizes intimate terrorism”).]
Erin Pizzey is next up. She founded a women’s shelter in 1971 and has now crossed over into the Men’s Rights Movement. She says that women who had violence in their childhood become perpetrators of domestic violence as adults: “They want to live on the knife edge of crisis and danger.” Pizzey committed heresy by saying that “women could be equally violent as men” (especially against their own children) and consequently has been excommunicated from all domestic violence conferences. Pizzey notes that capitalism was the big enemy in the 1960s and 1970s, but then feminists figured out that they could be a lot more successful by blaming “patriarchy.” (Pizzey does seem to be correct. There is a lot more press coverage of the activities of women’s advocacy groups today compared to during the original heyday of the equality feminism movement.)
Katherine Spillar comes back to say that what the U.S. needs is more taxpayer-funded domestic violence shelters where women can show up with their children and “get a new start”. She doesn’t explain why there have to be shelters since taxpayer-funded advocacy groups will help women obtain restraining orders against men that function as an instant divorce with custody plus child support (see the Maryland chapter for a legislator’s explanation of how this works especially well against low-income men because they can’t afford lawyers and aren’t entitled to a court-appointed lawyer). If it is illegal for the man to return to the former joint home, why does the woman need to live in a shelter? The CDC statistics were dead to Spillar. “Domestic violence” was just a fancy word for “wife-beating.” Cut to TED talks where speakers blame men for the existence of domestic violence.
[Anecdote: A friend in California was being pursued by a woman following the end of a brief romantic relationship. She would show up at his office, scream, strip off her clothes, etc. He eventually filed for a restraining order to keep her away from his house and office. When his turn came up in court he was told that he was standing in the wrong place and directed to where the defendant should stand. I.e., the court officials all assumed that because he was a man he was the defendant on the restraining order motion.]
Karen Straughan is interviewed pointing out that Boko Haram in Nigeria would burn schoolboys alive, after letting the girls go home, (example?) and nobody cared, but when girls were kidnapped the world media erupted in sympathy. Straughan notes that when an all-male group of boys and men is killed it is “people,” “students,” or “villagers” who were killed. When women or girls are kidnapped, however, they are described in the headline as “girls” or “women”.
Footage from sparsely-attended MRA conferences in North America is next. For each attendee there seemed to be roughly 5 protesters shouting through bullhorns, pulling the fire alarms to force evacuation of the lecture hall, or blowing vuvuzelas at the back of lecture halls.
Next is Michael Kimmel, professor of sociology and gender studies at Stony Brook and author of Angry White Men (Wikipedia identifies him as “spokesperson of the National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) and a longtime feminist”) dismisses MRAs as being motivated purely by irrational anger at women.
Carnell Smith is next, wondering why women have been able to successfully oppose automatic DNA-based paternity testing at birth and why women have been able to get France to outlaw paternity tests, except those ordered by a court on behalf of a cash-seeking plaintiff, altogether.
Footage of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is shown. It turns out that the feminist icon did NOT, at least as of 2016, support requiring women to register for a potential military draft (the Selective Service System currently says “all male U.S. citizens, regardless of where they live, and male immigrants, whether documented or undocumented, residing in the United States, who are 18 through 25, are required to register”).
An MRA authority says we’d be better off without either feminism or MRM because both are divisive, but if we have feminism we need the MRM as a counterbalance.
Viewers with delicate stomachs will want to skip from 1:46 to 1:47. The topic is circumcision, which the filmmaker says most MRAs are against. It is a relief when the documentary turns to prostate cancer versus breast cancer (supposedly similar death rates, but breast cancer dominates the media and funding).
Then “Have You Ever Beat Up A Boyfriend? Cause, Uh, We Have” (Jezebel) is discussed:
According to a study of relationships that engage in nonreciprocal violence, a whopping 70% are perpetrated by women. So basically that means that girls are beating up their BFs and husbands and the dudes aren’t fighting back.
A satirical response to this by Paul Elam was taken literally and used against him.
A professor explains that there are 900 women’s studies programs worldwide and 1 men’s studies program. (He says that renaming “women’s studies” to “gender studies” does not change anything or fool anyone.)
The filmmaker: “(American and Canadian) men have little to no control over their parental destiny.” I think that this shows why the Men’s Rights Movement can never be as successful as feminism. Most of the complaints of the on-screen modern feminists could be addressed by tweaking government transfer payment programs. For example, feminists interviewed note that women don’t get paid as much, on average, as men (Ms. Jaye never asks feminists “Why not become crazy rich exploiting these lower labor costs for purportedly comparable productivity by starting an all-female company?”). This upsetting statistic could be fixed by tweaking existing income tax programs so that men pay an extra tax and women get a check every month from the government. The government already runs a comprehensive taxation and monthly check-writing system. By contrast there is no voter or politician opposition to the lack of male control over parental destiny that is structurally embedded in many states’ family law statutes. See the “Our Polygamous Future” section of History of Divorce for how these structures are returning the U.S. to the apparently ancient human condition of most men dying childless and/or the new misery of losing children to plaintiffs. What politician could ever say any of the following?
- “Maybe it shouldn’t be more profitable to bang the already-married owner of a McDonald’s restaurant than to be in a lifetime marriage to someone who works 60 hours/week in a McDonald’s restaurant”
- “Maybe we shouldn’t have welfare programs that make it economically rational for a woman to choose to be a ‘single mom’ living in public housing rather than in a long-term partnership with a below-median earning man. When tens of millions of women decide to marry the government rather than a man, the next generation of children is going to be impaired.”
- “It is wonderful if a currently married person wants to have sex with a bunch of new friends without the encumbrance of a boring spouse, but we should copy Germany so that this celebration of self-actualization won’t be paid for via alimony”
[Throughout human history only a minority of men ever had children so if we return to that base polygamous case and supplement with the fact that roughly half of North American women will choose to sue their husbands, only about 25 percent of North American men will end up with a “parental destiny” that they arguably might have chosen. Unclear how the MRAs can change this other than to prepare young men for likely disappointment and/or encourage them to move to a state whose family law makes the long-term parenthood outcome more likely.]
Right at the end is where Ms. Jaye ensures negative reviews from all standard media outlets. She concludes the documentary with a voice-over: “I don’t know where I’m heading, but I know what I left behind. I no longer call myself a feminist.”