Meeting The Enemy: A Feminist Comes to Terms with the Men’s Rights Movement by Cassie Jaye (Transcript)

Cassie Jay

Here is the full transcript of Cassie Jaye’s Talk on The Enemy: A Feminist Comes to Terms with the Men’s Rights Movement at TEDxMarin conference. 

Cassie Jaye – American film director

In 2013, I decided to meet my enemies. I was a 27-year-old, award-winning documentary filmmaker and a proud feminist.

And I was determined to expose the dark underbelly of the men’s rights movement. At that point, all I knew of the men’s rights movement was from what I’d read online, that it’s a misogynistic hate group actively working against women’s equality.

Well, the vast majority of my previous work was about women’s issues. I directed documentaries about reproductive rights, single motherhood, and the need for more girls to get into STEM education. So when I learned that no one had ever documented the men’s rights movement in a film before, I saw it as an opportunity to continue fighting for women’s equality by exposing those preventing it.

So for one year, I traveled North America meeting the leaders and followers of the men’s rights movement. I spent anywhere from two hours up to eight hours, interviewing each individual men’s rights activist, also known as MRA, and I filmed 44 people total. And there is an important rule in documentary filmmaking. As an interviewer, you do not interrupt. So I’m asking questions, and I’m getting their full life story.

And in the moment, I didn’t realize it, but now looking back I can see, that while I was conducting my interviews, I wasn’t actually listening. I was hearing them speak, and I knew the cameras were recording, but in those moments of sitting across from my enemy, I wasn’t listening. What was I doing? I was anticipating. I was waiting to hear a sentence, or even just a couple of words in succession that proved what I wanted to believe: that I had found the misogynist. The ground zero of the war on women.

A couple of times, I thought I had it. There was one men’s rights activist that said to me, “Just walk outside and look around, everything you see was built by a man.” Oh! That statement felt anti-women. I felt my jaw clench, but I sat quietly, as a documentarian should, while removing all the space between my upper and lower molars.

After my year of filming, I was reviewing the 100 hours of footage I had gathered, replaying and transcribing it, which believe me when I say no one will ever listen to you more than someone who transcribes your words. You should write that down.

So, I was typing out every word meticulously, and through that process, I began to realize that my initial knee-jerk reactions to certain statements weren’t really warranted, and my feeling offended did not hold up to intense scrutiny. Was that statement about men having built the skyscrapers and the bridges anti-women? I thought, well, what would be the gender-reverse scenario? Maybe a feminist saying: Just look around, everyone you see was birthed by a woman. Wow! That’s a powerful statement. And it’s true.

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Is it anti-male? I don’t think so. I think it’s acknowledging our unique and valued contributions to our society. Well, luckily, while I was making The Red Pill movie, I kept a video diary which ended up tracking my evolving views, and in looking back on the 37 diaries I recorded that year, there was a common theme. I would often hear an innocent, valid point that a men’s rights activist would make, but in my head, I would add on to their statements, a sexist or anti-woman spin, assuming that’s what they wanted to say but didn’t.

So here are two examples of how that would go. A men’s rights activist, an MRA, would say to me, “There are over 2,000 domestic violence shelters for women in the United States. But only one for men. Yet, multiple reputable studies show that men are just as likely to be abused.” I would hear them say, “We don’t need 2,000 shelters for women. They’re all lying about being abused. It’s all a scam.”

But in looking back on all the footages I’ve gathered of men’s rights activists talking about shelters and all the blogs they’ve written and the video live-streams they have posted on YouTube, they are not trying to defund women’s shelters. Not at all. All they’re saying is that men can be abused too, and they deserve care and compassion.

Second example. A men’s rights activist would say to me, “Where is justice for the man who was falsely accused of raping a woman, and because of this accusation, he loses his college scholarship and is branded with the inescapable title of a rapist.” I would hear them say, “A woman being raped isn’t a big deal.” It’s as if I didn’t hear the word “falsely” accused of rape. All I heard was, “He was accused of rape.” Of course, rape is a big deal, and all the men’s rights activists I met agreed it is a horrible thing to have happened to anyone.

I eventually realized what they are saying is they are trying to add to the gender equality discussion, who is standing up for the good-hearted, honorable man that loses his scholarship, his job, or worse yet, his children, because he is accused of something he absolutely did not do? Well, I couldn’t keep denying the points they were making.

There are real issues. But in my effort to avoid agreeing with my enemy completely, I changed from putting words in their mouth to acknowledging the issue but insisting they are women’s issues. So here are two examples of how that would go. A men’s rights activist would say to me, “Men are far more likely to lose their child in a custody battle.” And I would counter: “Well, because women are unfairly expected to be the caretaker. It’s discrimination against women that women get custody more often.” Yes. I am not proud of that.

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Second example. An MRA would say to me, “Men are roughly 78% of all suicides throughout the world.” And I would counter with: “But women attempt suicide more often. So ha! Ha? It’s not a contest. But I kept making it into one. Why couldn’t I simply learn about men’s issues and have compassion for male victims without jumping at the opportunity to insist that women are the real victims.

Well, after years of researching and fact-checking, what the men’s rights activists were telling me, there is no denying that there are many human rights issues that disproportionately or uniquely affect men. Paternity fraud uniquely affects men. The United States Selective Service in the case of a draft still uniquely affects men. Workplace deaths: disproportionately men. War deaths: overwhelmingly men.

Suicide: overwhelmingly men. Sentencing disparity, life expectancy, child custody, child support, false rape allegations, criminal court bias, misandry, failure launched, boys falling behind in education, homelessness, veterans issues, infant male genital mutilation, lack of parental choice once a child is conceived, lack of resources for male victims of domestic violence, so many issues that are heartbreaking, if you are the victim or you love someone who is the victim unto any one of these issues. These are men’s issues. And most people can’t name one because they think, “Well, men have all their rights; they have all the power and privilege.” But these issues deserve to be acknowledged.

They deserve care, attention, and motivation for solutions. Before making The Red Pill movie, I was a feminist of about ten years, and I thought I was well-versed on gender equality issues. But it wasn’t until I met men’s rights activists that I finally started to consider the other side of the gender equality equation. It doesn’t mean I agree with all that they’ve said. But I saw the immense value in listening to them and trying to see the world through their eyes.

I thought if I could get my audience to also listen to them, it could serve as a rung on the ladder, bringing us all up to a higher consciousness about gender equality. So in October 2016, the film was released in theaters, and articles and critic reviews started to roll in. And that’s when I experienced how engaged the media is in group think around gender politics. And I learned a difficult lesson. When you start to humanize your enemy, you, in turn, may be dehumanized by your community.

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And that’s what happened to me. Rather than debating the merit of the issues addressed in the film, I became the target of a smear campaign, and people who had never seen the movie protested outside the theater doors, chanting that it was harmful to women. It certainly is not. But I understand their mindset.

If I never made this movie, and I heard that there was a documentary screening about men’s rights activists that didn’t show them as monsters, I too would have protested the screenings or at least sign the petitions to ban the film because I was told that they were my enemy.

I was told that men’s rights activists were against women’s equality. But all the men’s rights activists I met support women’s rights and are simply asking the question: “Why doesn’t our society care about men’s rights?” Well, the greatest challenge I faced through this whole process, it wasn’t the protests against my film, and it wasn’t how I was treated by the mainstream media – even though it got pretty disgusting at times. The greatest challenge I faced was peeling back the layers of my own bias. It turns out I did meet my enemy while filming. It was my ego saying that I was right, and they were subhuman.

It’s no secret now that I no longer call myself a feminist, but I must clarify I am not anti-feminist, and I am not a men’s rights activist; I still support women’s rights, and I now care about men’s rights as well. However, I believe if we want to honestly discuss gender equality, we need to invite all voices to the table. Yet, this is not what is happening. Men’s groups are continually vilified, falsely referred to as hate groups, and their voices are systematically silenced.

Do I think either movement has all the answers? No. Men’s rights activists are not without flaws, neither are feminists. But if one group is being silenced, that’s a problem for all of us. If I could give advice to anyone in our society at large, we have to stop expecting to be offended, and we have to start truly, openly, and sincerely listening. That would lead to a greater understanding of ourselves and others, having compassion for one another, working together towards solutions because we all are in this together.

And once we do that, we can finally heal from the inside out. But it has to start with listening. Thank you for listening.

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