Red pill rhetoric infiltrating political parties, Calgary prof cautions

A "red pill" meme tweeted by one conservative politician to another is further evidence that some of the more fringe areas of men's rights movement are becoming mainstreamed, a University of Calgary professor says.

Rebecca Sullivan explains why some anti-female movements are 'dangerous and really, really scary'

Calgary prof weighs in on red pill meme controversy

5 years ago
Duration 5:16
Rebecca Sullivan says extremist men's rights groups are becoming mainstreamed

A "red pill" meme tweeted by one conservative politician to another is further evidence that some of the more fringe areas of men's rights movement are becoming mainstreamed, a University of Calgary professor says.

On Monday, Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Maxime Bernier tweeted at Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt a meme stating: "Take the red pill. Vote Mad Max."

The term "red pill" was popularized in the 1999 film The Matrix when the character Neo was given the choice of consuming a blue pill, which would let him stay in the comforting but imaginary world of the Matrix, or a red pill, which would let him escape from the Matrix into harsh reality.

However, the term has become associated with anti-women and anti-feminist groups online, Rebecca Sullivan told CBC Calgary News at 6 this week.

Sullivan says the rhetoric has muddled the message of the men's rights movement, which has some legitimate and complex concerns.

"[They] point to a number of very real issues in our society. There are very few resources available to men who experience domestic or gender or sexual violence, to the fact that suicide rates are very high for men, incarceration culture, high drop-out rates, lower participation in post-secondary education," she said. 

"There are very real and pressing and urgent issues, but they go from there immediately to 'it's women's fault' because they are denying men their natural rights as men ... It is pathetic but it is also dangerous and really, really scary."

She says it's time to talk about how this way of thinking has reached a type of mainstream legitimacy.

"I think we have been turning a blind eye, making excuses, calling it underground or a minor extremist movement," the women's studies professor said.

Controversy erupted earlier this week at her campus after a planned screening in Calgary of the 2016 documentary The Red Pill, which — according to the film's website —  chronicles "the mysterious and polarizing world of the men's rights movement."

Sullivan told CBC News she has not seen the film, which gets it name from what some would call the darker movement online — which the filmmaker highlights in the documentary.

Initial Calgary screening cancelled

But the controversy around the Calgary screening of The Red Pill was more about the language on the invitation than the film's content.

It initially was to be jointly hosted by the Wildrose On Campus (WROC) and the U of C Conservatives student groups at the University of Calgary, but both groups pulled out after WROC sent out an email inviting people to the screening by saying everyone knows "feminism is cancer."

The group apologized and claims it fired its communications director, while its vice-president and other members later quit the group.

Politicians from all parties quickly moved to condemn the email, including Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean.

The Wildrose said there had been "informal ties" between the party and campus club, which it cut after a new bylaw relating to third-party associations was drafted on Feb. 22.

Bernier's tweet on Monday evening stirred up an immediate backlash from people who accused him of making a veiled reference to the controversy in Calgary.

Bernier tweeted in response that his meme "obviously refers only to the Matrix movie and to nothing else."

But Sullivan isn't convinced.

"What this culture relies upon is the naiveté of decent Canadians saying, 'There is no way people really believe this, there is no way people are really acting upon this and certainly there could be no way that they are infiltrating our respected political parties in Canada," said Sullivan.

"They are banking on decent Canadians not understanding what they are saying and we need to understand what is being said."

She says red pill rhetoric is coded language for something much deeper.

"The criticism is, the blue pill is women saying they want to be treated with respect and equality. The red pill is a metaphor for what women really want, the real world, is domination and subjugation. That is what women really want," said Sullivan.

"If only we could just have sex with whoever and whatever we want, whenever we want, then maybe we wouldn't have to rape you."

With files from CBC Calgary News at 6