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Steve Collins covers urban affairs and other issues facing the nation's capital.

The Red Pill: Banned movie night at City Hall

If it hadn't been cancelled, I probably wouldn't have bothered seeing The Red Pill. But it was, so I did.

Columnist Steve Collins on The Red Pill, Cassie Jaye's allegedly anti-feminist, misogynist movie.

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Columnist Steve Collins on The Red Pill, Cassie Jaye's allegedly anti-feminist, misogynist movie.

If it hadn't been cancelled last week, I probably wouldn't have bothered seeing The Red Pill, Cassie Jaye's allegedly anti-feminist, misogynist movie. But it was, so I did.

Activists for men's issues don't get much respect. The Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) doesn't even have the words in their name. They get shouted down with megaphones on university campuses, characterized as whiners and woman-haters, conflated with racists and homophobes.

The last time they came to my attention was about two years ago in the context of the (rather dumb) debate over 'manspreading,' men allegedly taking up too much space on public transit by sitting with their legs apart.

The discourse had already gotten noticeably toxic and petty on all sides by the time CAFE weighed in with a comically defensive petition that read, in part, “It sometimes can be physically painful for [us] to close our legs and we can't be expected to do so.”

I had a good chuckle, filed a column and moved on.  

Last week, the Mayfair cancelled the Ottawa chapter of CAFE's private screening of The Red Pill after the theatre got complaints from customers and sponsors.

The owners, doubtless just hoping to sell popcorn and avoid trouble, scratched the screening. Then they got angry calls for cancelling it.

CAFE rented a room at city hall to show the film, and this is what truly public space is for. Theatres are businesses, sensitive to consumer pressure. Universities can ironically prove quite hostile to the wrong sorts of ideas.

I encountered peaceful protesters outside city hall (a polite young couple shyly handed me a leaflet) and police outside the screening room. The first showing was sold out (there might be a lesson in here somewhere about the perverse effects of attempted censorship) so I caught the second one. There's a third scheduled at the Ottawa Public Library's main branch on Sunday.

So what's in it? Your mileage may vary, but I saw a documentary, and a fairly balanced one, in which Jaye conducts substantive interviews with men's rights activists and feminists. She found her research challenging some of her preconceptions about men's rights and issues like domestic abuse. (Statistics Canada notes that the same percentage of men and women, about 4 per cent, report physical or sexual abuse by a partner. Women still disproportionately report the most severe forms of violence.)

Jaye checked in via Skype after the show, and expressed surprise at characterizations of her doc as anti-woman propaganda.

“I'd really like to see this throwing-around-labels tactic to be called out and stopped because it diminishes when people are actually racist or misogynistic or promoting violence against women,” she said.

The screening crowd wasn't angry, nor was it all male, all white, or all anything. The main order of business was raising money for a men-and-families resource centre in Ottawa similar to the one CAFE established in Toronto. In an after-film discussion, one man identified himself as a survivor of traumatic sexual abuse.

You don't have to see The Red Pill. Though CAFE has very right to talk, you don't have to listen. All I'm saying is you might be surprised if you did.