To kick off the first discussion of the year and its debut film on gender equity, VOX, sponsored by Studium Generale (SG), showed a North American film endorsed by the alt-right media group, Breitbart. Breitbart, among other things, was instrumental in Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency in the USA.
The film is called The Red Pill and has been banned internationally in film festivals, on university campuses worldwide, and even on Netflix for incitement to hate, polarisation, the vilifying of pro-women groups, intent to mislead, ‘alt-facts’ and misogyny. It was majority funded by alt-right Men’s Rights Activist groups [MRAs], themselves very active in white supremacy and anti-LGBTQIA groups in the US. Fiercely divided along stereotypical gender lines, there is no representation of any non-heterosexual, intersectional (i.e. non-white/non-dominant culture), nor gender fluid points of view.
What kind of men did VOX mean, I wonder?
Yet this film was misleadingly promoted online and on campus by VOX who framed it as ‘is feminism inclusive enough of men?’ What kind of men did VOX mean, I wonder? And what kind of feminism?
Ordinarily, banned films, like banned books, are favourites of mine, as I think they are for many of us libertarians. I think of the great writer Solzhenitsyn in the Russian gulag, or Indonesian Toer’s masterpiece This Earth of Mankind. So if something is banned, my immediate thoughts are, it must be brilliant and necessary, or at least deliciously scandalous! I wish that had been true in this case. I think this was the first time I personally had to face what Karl Popper coined the ‘Paradox of Tolerance’ where the content and framing of the message is actually so misleading and dangerous, it threatens the freedom of speech and fair representation of other groups in society, and in this case on Campus.
How the alt-right media works
The alt-right targets highly educated people through its local and international media platforms for ‘recruitment’. It plays on our conceit that we are better, more civilised than the rest of society and do not suffer things like implicit and explicit sexism, homophobia and white supremacy. Or if we openly do, we tell ourselves that it’s because we are superior [see western history of gender and sexuality and colonial legacy]. We are often so comfortable with the belief in our own goodness, objectivity and infallibility that we, like other human beings, would rather someone lie to us than that we entertain the truth. This tendency to self-conceit makes us easy targets for alt truths.
They use exaggerated and twisted ‘news’ or propaganda to frame, polarise and essentially controversialise content
Alt-right media and internet trolls prey on movements for social and environmental justice for ‘clicks’. They rarely produce any content themselves; they feed off authoritative content that others produce. They use exaggerated and twisted ‘news’ or propaganda to frame, polarise and essentially controversialise content, often posing unrelated but legitimate concerns as opposites. The content producers are then forced to react to false allegations, which drains energy from their struggle. The alt-right then use the controversy and people’s clicks on fake news or propaganda to redirect them to their platforms.
Bedfellows of far-right billionaires, the alt-right media mix whatever inflammatory message or agenda they may have at the time into their fake news. This agenda is consistently against the public interest. The alt-right’s power lies in being culturally relatable and normative to white audiences while also being extreme, using our fears and weaknesses to divide and conquer. It radicalises some by playing groups against each other as opposites, and alienating and depoliticising others by posing two groups as extremes. It has very successfully derailed any balance there was in the US political environment. The alt-right is now making in-roads in the Netherlands and has set up similar Breitbart like platforms globally:‘This is the Dutch Breitbart.’
The film The Red Pill is classic alt-right propaganda
On the pretext of giving men’s rights activists a voice – in an emotionally charged and poorly documented manner – The Red Pill highlights some true, urgent and valid issues for men and some totally fake or non-issues in the same tone and manner. It takes up destructive gender stereotypes that have been fought by many kinds of feminisms, LGBTQIA activists, and genuinely concerned groups for men’s rights for decades and makes them sound like new and controversial information. Information that has been hidden from ‘us’. It polarises complex standpoints and ideas where taking a ‘side’ does not make any sense at all. It also frames many power relationships as a direct result of the gender binary, when this is clearly not the case. Decontextualised and a-historical, the few facts on screen are so mispresented that by default even the truths tragically become lies.
Neither does the film show men who are working for men’s liberation in other ways, nor show any of the many prominent feminists like Angela Davis who have devoted their lives to protecting vulnerable men. Nor does it show how genders can work together for gender balance, mutual support and equity.
In the film, the film-maker herself, a former horror film B actress, goes through a fairly weak and uncompelling personal transformation in video diaries. At the very end of the film, she abruptly denounces her feminism without explanation – the final line “I am no longer a feminist” then cuts to music. This is directly after graphic images of babies having their penises cut into and off (feminism has nothing to do with non-consensual male circumcision or male castration!). Nothing leading up to that point suggests any reason for her to renounce her feminism. She consistently trivialises feminism on screen and presents feminists and feminisms that are misleading, heteronormative, reactionary, superficial, and/or exclusively ‘white’ and mainstream.
Studium Generale and VOX must be held accountable. We deserve fact-based information and debates
VOX’s choice of film certainly didn’t deal with any of the issues and realities we face on campus. It didn’t do justice to men’s oppression, it didn’t show the kind of feminism people are engaged in here, it didn’t help us understand MRAs, nor illustrate how we can learn to practice intersubjectivity in the interest of fairness and inclusion for all.
We deserve factual and balanced information on campus along with communication that encourages humanisation and respect for complexity, not alienation or division
Painfully, despite professing good intentions, writing a disclaimer disowning the position of the alt-right men’s groups and even claiming to be feminist themselves, SG and VOX did not listen when ethical concerns were raised by students. VOX dismissed the implications of framing the gender debate on campus in this way, derailing the issue of fostering destructive polarisation, reinforcing gender stereotypes and misogyny on campus, to talk about censorship. The request to show another film promoting a fact-based and well researched standpoint was ignored, as was the cry of alarm to be aware of the dangers of alt-right media, its target group, divisive political strategies and agenda.
We deserve factual and balanced information on campus along with communication that encourages humanisation and respect for complexity, not alienation or division. We need to be clear that divisive, predatory or hateful behaviour and projections are unacceptable and unconducive to an academic setting. We need a welcoming and safe learning environment. It is simply wrong and reprehensible that University funds and space were used to promote such harmful propaganda.
Brigitte O’Regan, Master of Science in Architecture, Urbanism and Building Sciences Delft University of Technology