Hard to swallow: The Red Pill

The film, The Red Pill, has recently caught my eye. I haven’t seen it yet (but I’m going to try to). What has caught my attention is this: from what I can tell (from articles , Wikipedia, watching the trailer) the film attempts to show how the gender debate is hurting men. I don’t know that I would rush to see it normally, but feminists have been actively campaigning against it, and getting it banned from various cinemas. Well, if what I read about it is correct then feminists are trying to stifle and oppress fair comment, and nothing gets my goat more than that. I invite you to read this re-blogged article, and if it interests you, maybe go and see the film. Cheers!

The Sydney Tory

I had found it, I had turned off the lights and I was ready. Ready to watch a film that has been labelled ‘misogynistic propaganda’, a film that has been banned and protested, a film that had caught my attention. ‘The Red Pill’ is a documentary by Cassie Jaye that follows her life-altering journey into the world of the men’s rights movement. I had sought it out after reading several articles about screenings of the film being shut down in the socialist republic of Melbourne. The funny thing is, after watching it, I could maybe understand the protests and the women trying to shut it down. That is to say, if they had actually watched the film all the way through.

Because to be honest, it is an uncomfortable film to watch as a woman. It makes you question your role in the world and your perspective on the gender…

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Openness, and why it’s not easy

“Sometimes he was such a construction of his own carefully constructed censorships and restraints he didn’t know whether there was any longer a creature named Bern Cameron (Invader, C.J. Cherryh, Daw Books, 1995, p.330)

When I read this sentence I was so struck by its eloquence that I thought it was worth writing about. The book itself, by the way, is a good read but nothing amazing, so I don’t think I need to provide any background to it. The statement stands on its own two feet.

Fact is, we all construct how we present ourselves to the world. It’s necessary, though some might work harder at it than others. Despite the encouragement by some to “let it all hang out” or “tell it like it is”, the reality is we choose carefully what we reveal and what we don’t. And we need to.

I have noticed that blue collar workers tend to be more upfront than white collar workers. Not quite sure why, but it might have something to do with them not having to climb a corporate ladder. They tend to tell it like it is, sometimes to their detriment. I had a plasterer who did the work for our renovation a few years ago, and although he was a pleasant enough fellow, he had no problem poking fun at some of the work I had done myself. Not a good thing to do to a customer, and I haven’t exactly enthused about him to others as a result. And I have heard similar stories from some of my friends, of tradies belittling them.

Now of course it’s not all bad. As a matter of fact I find it mostly refreshing being around such people, and I have the good fortune of having a number of them as friends. Perhaps in white collar circles we are so used to having to work with different persons or groups that we learn to smooth over our personal opinions, in order to make the deal or complete the task or keep the client. It may also be true that the higher up the corporate ladder you go, the more likely you are to hide your opinions and real self more and more. There are more and more people you have to keep happy and working with you, not against you.

But let’s just think of the cost for a minute. I don’t think white collar workers are the same at home as they are at work, but I do think that ingrained behaviours spill out into other parts of our life. Hence even outside of work, those used to hiding their feelings and opinions on the job may well find that they still do so to some extent at home or with friends.

I’m in a moderately corporate kind of job, and certainly have to keep my clients happy, so I suppose I’m pretty used to masking my feelings and softening my opinions in order to do my job well, keep my clients and build my business. That’s perhaps why, recently, I was quite impacted by a guest speaker at one of our conferences, a guy by the name of Peter Sharp.

Peter’s mission in life is to encourage people to trust enough to connect with one another. He does this by staging a number of provocative events in public, videoing them and then putting them up on YouTube. 

There’s no doubt his antics are popular, as evidenced by how many of his videos have gone viral. His most recent one was staging sit-ins in public places where people were encouraged to simply sit and stare into a complete stranger’s eyes for one minute. The video is quite moving, though the  sceptic in me is a little bugged by it, as it is a highly polished piece of work with that background music that is supposed to make you all touchy feeley. I instinctively react against things that are trying to pull my heart strings, and his videos do feel like a lot of others that I have seen. With one important exception – I get what he’s trying to do, and I like it.

In line with my comments about white collar workers hiding their true selves at work, my favourite video clip from Peter is one where he, dressed in a business suit in a busy business district, wanders into a public fountain and starts to dance to music, ripping off his tie and jacket and just freely dancing though sopping wet. It’s completely staged of course, but that’s okay. Others (most of them actors but not all) jump into the fountain and dance along with him.

What he is doing is stepping outside the confines that we put ourselves in, that most of us get suffocated by. And that’s the way of the world. I don’t think the answer is in throwing those protective measures away, but that doesn’t mean we have to be dictated by them all the time.

There’s a reason why we don’t dance on a train (another of his videos). We’re going somewhere, for a start, and we may tired or preoccupied. There’s a reason why we don’t look everyone in the eye, because we don’t want or need to connect meaningfully with everyone. (And if we did dance in the train every day it would become meaningless after a while anyway).

But to step out from behind our masks and our fear, just often enough to remind ourselves how human everyone is, to allow ourselves to touch others and be touched by them, is surely a wonderful thing. Surely it fills us up, even if we have to go back to some kind of routine and even if we do have to maintain some degree of separateness from others. Just maybe we allow ourselves to feel a little more, to trust a little more, to be a little more vulnerable. Vulnerability can actually be a very beautiful and disarming thing.

Of course, our self censorship doesn’t just apply to our job. Some of us censor ourselves mercilessly because we are terrified that the real self will be repugnant to others – we censor ourselves because we just want to be liked. In the process we make ourselves, sadly, beholden to the opinions of others, and we become again trapped inside a facade.

I was a much more outspoken and demonstrative person in my youth. I was also socially extremely clumsy and shudder now as I remember some of the insensitive and totally inappropriate things I occasionally did. ( I’ve forgiven myself for the things I simply did not know how to do, but I do still cringe a little!)

Maybe that’s why over the years I have become more reserved, because “When in doubt, take the safe option”. But inside I am anything but reserved! The challenge is how to stay in touch with who you are in the midst of managing how you relate and work with others. A healthy self image is obviously a huge boon, but those of us who are still working on that have to do their best to still stay true, at least on the inside, with the real us.

And of course all this vulnerability with others can also give others a chance to stab us in the back (or in the front). So…. we need to know when to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and when not to. But let’s at least allow ourselves to ask that question “Can I reach out, can I open myself up, can I make myself vulnerable, even just for a little while?” No doubt we will learn over time when this is a good idea and when it isn’t, but let’s be prepared to learn. I think our lives and the lives of others will be enriched as well.

And maybe every now and then, just like Peter Sharp danced in the fountain, we will let our hair down, experience freedom, and refresh our own souls.

The quest for balance

Are we trying to be reasonable or just dodge the issues?

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I have an almost built in desire to see both sides of an argument. I think that’s a pretty healthy thing, but I wonder sometimes if it’s also my way of copping out.

When you seek to see both sides of an argument, you can be tempted to avoid backing any one view wholeheartedly. You can, in essence, sit on the fence, and have a strong sense of justification in doing so. So I wonder – am I playing safe, or is it because it really is too complex to know?

Do I sit on the fence because I’m scared of confrontation? It’s a lot easier to say “Maybe” about something, and many people, after trying to pin me down, seem to settle with my maybe, because I’m being so reasonable about it all. “You may have a point there” I say, “but I’m not sure if… because……” And I’ve proven to be just a little too slippery to pin down, so they back off.

If I state boldly “This is my view, and this is why” then I set myself up for strong opposition. I’ve never been very good at handling strong opposition. I tend to crumble on the inside, and doubt myself. The other person could be dead wrong, but if they state their belief with passion and force I find myself thinking “Maybe they’re right”. I go into defensive mode (I can feel when it happens) and my sense of objectivity goes out the window. My logic becomes strained and pulled by my fear (yes fear, how dumb is that) and I am longer able to deliver a point of view with any sense of certainty, or perhaps too much certainty because I’m compensating madly.

Case in point. I recently made a comment on Facebook about a survey done by a particular newspaper in Melbourne that is deliberately targeted to lesser educated readers (the newspaper that is). I had questions about the survey results and and in the process described it as “not a thinking person’s newspaper”, an accurate description but understandably a bit offensive to those who read it. Well I copped flak for that from someone I had never met and I was surprised how unnerved I became by their mild but still personal attack. Actually what upset me was that they were upset! And that they responded by taking it personally and getting personal in reply.

Of course, it is also possible that I sit on the fence because it really is complex and I’m intelligent enough to recognise that it’s hard to be sure about some things. There’s an old saying that goes something like “The intelligent are full of doubt, and the ignorant are sure about everything”. There is a lot of truth to that.

I find emotive issues the worst. Discrimination against women is something I detest, but I find that I can’t agree with absolutely everything that is pointed at men. It has something to do with my emotional defensiveness (I am a man after all) and of course not everything said against men is right, but which is right and which isn’t? Whilst there’s plenty of black and white parts, it’s all the grey areas that I can’t be sure of. And my defensive feelings interfere with my own ability to discern what is fair and what is overblown.

The refugee crisis is another example. In Australia we keep asylum seekers (those who try to reach our shores by boat) in detention camps on Manus Island and on Nauru. We turn back boats, and we have sometimes taken refugees straight back to their country of origin, no doubt straight into the arms of their oppressors. The detention centres are currently off limits to journalists and just about anyone who isn’t part of the Government, and unsubstantiated reports of brutality and other offences have leaked out.

Huge issues there, and I feel very strongly about the treatment of the refugees. But anything less (or so they tell us, I’m not convinced) would not deter the boat smugglers, the ones who bring the refugees over. I freely admit that it is extremely complex, and that we don’t want to send a signal that asylum seekers will find it easy to land on our shores. However, the contemptible treatment of refugees is not an acceptable practice despite the dilemma. There has to be a better way, but at the same time accepting all refugees or making it easy for them to come is not a solution either.

It’s tempting to try and simplify things when they’re just not simple – and yet that’s what so many people try to do. I could list many more examples that in my opinion are just “too hard” to boil down to simple statements or slogans.

I have also found that reasonable, balanced discussion is hard to find. Opinions expressed are all too often framed in terms of black and white, and couched in words that make it difficult to disagree with without making them look foolish. The person who got offended by my newspaper comment could have said “why do you think (x) paper is not for thinking people? I read it all the time”. Instead they responded “I resent your comments … You are elitist….”. I considered trying to respond but gave it up, because I knew I would either have to abjectly apologise or go into protracted discussions that would not be appreciated and, let’s face it, just wasn’t worth it.

So I come back to my original comment. I seek balance, and do believe that the truth is often somewhere in the middle, and that it is often hard to find. However, I don’t like to make myself an easy target, and probably don’t take a side as often as I should because I don’t like the battle that ensues.

Maybe if people took sides but also recognised the grey and the ambiguous in their position, it would make for a lot more reasonable discussion and understanding. And just maybe I would suck it up a bit more and be more ready to enter the fray.