The controversial film about mens rights prompts protests at Sydney University and a heated debate about freedom of speech
In both the fictional world of the 1999 film The Matrix and the very real one of the mens rights movement, the red pill represents embracing reality in all its uncomfortable complexity. Proponents tell of their red pill moment, the point at which they rejected blissful ignorance for reality. In the context of mens rights activism, their uncomfortable truth is that mens lives are of lesser value than womens (The Matrix itself doesnt appear to have any particular notions on gender equality).
At Sydney University on Thursday night, a large group of students had either taken their medicine, or were part of groups strenuously resisting it. The Conservative Club and Students For Liberty (for classical liberals and libertarians) had organised a screening of The Red Pill, Cassie Jayes controversial documentary on mens rights activism (MRA). Fascist Free USyd and the Socialist Alternative Club had organised a protest against it.
Outside a small auditorium in which the film was to be shown, and under the observation of a small group of police officers, the two groups taunted and filmed and rallied against each other. Rival chants started up GOODNIGHT ALTRIGHT from those holding banners about the MRAs tears, and FREE-DOM, FREE-DOM from a group that included a man in a shirt that read FEMINISM IS CANCER and another in a Make America Great Again cap.
Eleanor Morley, of Fascist Free USyd and the Socialist Alternative Club, told Guardian Australia the film was deeply misogynistic and gave a platform to mens rights activists with outrageous views about women. She had watched it online the previous night: I thought it was a bit of a joke, really. It made no impact on me.
But its argument that men were systematically oppressed by society, she very strongly disagreed with. The film was worrying for its anti-women stance, which, Morley said, reflected that of the US president: Its not just as an isolated group of weirdos who share these views.
A ban on the film Morley referenced in Melbourne last year was a private screening, organised by a mens rights group, that was cancelled by the cinema after an online petition. Much of the backlash had assumed it was a curatorial decision, a representative of Kino cinema had said, which was potentially damaging to its credibility.
On campus, the battle was ideological, not commercial. For those in favour, the Red Pill was a proxy for freedom of speech but it represented misogyny for those against it.
Morley said the intent of the protest was not to shut the screening down: Were simply here to present a counter, left-wing, pro-women, anti-homophobic message. According to Conservative Club members, the protesters initial plan had been to storm the auditorium halfway through, effectively ending the event.
The odds were seen to be tipped in the protestors favour when, a month out from the screening, the University of Sydney Union announced that it had decided to disallow the use of its funds or resources for the screening after receiving a number of complaints.
In a statement headed with a content warning for sexism and rape, USU said the film was discriminatory against women, and has the capacity to intimidate and physically threaten women on campus.
The Conservative Club reproduced this on posters promoting the event: See the film that USU tried to stop you from seeing.
I put a trigger warning on the tickets because, according to USU, this film is physically threatening to women, organiser Renee Gorman told the crowd of about 100, perhaps 80% men, gathered inside the auditorium before the screening on Thursday night. I dont know about you girls here, but I put on my big girl panties this morning.
This prompted whoops from the crowd; Gorman herself had been applauded as shed arrived, flush from the frontline of combat against those ferals … the crazies outside the auditorium. Inside the atmosphere was jubilant, she observed. I think were in a pretty good mood. I think that was just funny.
When USU defunded the event, Gorman paid $530 for the venue hire and two security guards. It was for two good causes, she said: fighting censorship on campus and prostate cancer. Gorman later told Guardian Australia that the event raised more than $1,000 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia.
I knew that it got banned in Melbourne, but I had hoped Sydney University would be a place that was more accepting of free speech and alternative ideas, she said. All I really wanted to do was have a discussion about legitimate male issues.
One she was particularly passionate about was domestic violence not being a single gender issue.
Thats something I really want to pioneer: it needs to stop being stop violence against women, she said. It needs to be stop violence, full stop.