Out in the Open

'I did have the blinders on': Former feminist on what changed her mind

Cassie Jaye used to call herself a feminist. She also used to consider so-called "men's rights activists" her enemy. But when she set out to make a documentary exposé about them, her perspective on gender and equality changed.

Cassie Jaye used to call herself a feminist, until she made a documentary about men's rights activists

Cassie Jaye talks to the founder of A Voice for Men, Paul Elam. (Courtesy of Cassie Jaye)

Cassie Jaye used to call herself a feminist.

She adopted the label when she was a teenager starting an acting career in Los Angeles and feeling upset by the way some men treated her in Hollywood.

​When Jaye complained about their behaviour, people told her she sounded like a feminist.

"I looked it up and the definition said 'You're an advocate for women's rights and gender equality' and I thought, sign me up, I'm all for that!" she says.

But Jaye's perspective has since changed, thanks to conversations she had while making her documentary The Red Pill.

In the film, Jaye initially set out to expose men's rights activists, who have been criticised for providing a rhetorical basis for, and participating in, harassment campaigns against women. Researchers have also called the movement a backlash against feminism.

"I definitely thought that they were woman haters, and I was fearful to go and interview them in person," she says, "I had heard from other feminists that men's rights activists would send them death threats and rape threats ... that's what I was expecting."

But while meeting and interviewing members of men's rights organizations, Jaye​ says she began to reassess her own assumptions.

"I thought I was a sound-minded, empathetic, compassionate person but I did have the blinders on."

Having conversations

Jaye had already produced documentaries on sex education, gender issues and LGBTQ rights, and wished to follow those up with a film on rape culture.

That was how she began her search for men's rights activists, who she believed to be the ones normalizing sexual assault against women, often through victim blaming.

In the film The Red Pill, Cassie Jaye reflects in video diaries about conversations she's had. (Courtesy of Cassie Jaye)

Jaye spent a year interviewing men's rights activists and feminists for her documentary, and by the end, she says she was surprised by how much hostility she had brought to the subject matter.

"I began to realize that they do have legitimate issues that are under-addressed, not discussed by the mainstream," she says.

Jaye points to stories and statistics she heard about male victims of domestic violence, male suicide rates and father's rights as key factors in changing her opinion.

"When I looked at their words ... they weren't woman bashing, they were not promoting violence against women, they were simply wanting to talk about men's issues," she says.

Jaye acknowledges misogynist rhetoric is expressed by people who identify as men's rights activists, but says it's often by anonymous posters in online forums and not by the people she spoke with while making her documentary.

Ditching labels

While Jaye may no longer call herself a feminist, she also doesn't label herself anti-feminist or a men's rights activist.

"I don't want to take on a label and have that group speak for me, or me speak for that group," she says.

Jaye still believes in fighting for women's rights, but thinks that need not stand in opposition to fighting for men's rights.

"You need to hold space in both your brain and your heart for caring about women's issues as well as men's issues. I think there is a compromise where we can fight for justice where no one is losing or becoming more discriminated against if we focus on one area ... It's just about justice and fairness," she says.

"We all have people we love of the opposite gender, or race, or sexual orientation, or age ... and I think we need to treat each other the way we want to be treated, and be understood, and have our intentions known and understood, and really be heard and not prejudged before really getting to know someone."

This story originally aired on March 4, 2018. It appears in the Out in the Open episode "Crossing Divides".