Cassie Jaye (right) is interviewed on Channel 7's Weekend Sunrise.
Cassie Jaye (right) is interviewed on Channel 7’s Weekend Sunrise

“Personally, it horrifies me to think that my girl would be ever be attacked or belittled by a man she loved, or by anyone,” wrote former White Ribbon Foundation chairman and current co-host of Weekend Sunrise Andrew O’Keefe in 2014.

“Do I show my kids that a man doesn’t have to be the tough-guy in control of every situation?” he asked rhetorically.

Well, evidently yes, if O’Keefe’s interview last weekend with Cassie Jaye, director of the documentary The Red Pill, is any indication. The film, which has resulted in protests and cancelled screenings across Australia, focuses on cases where males are disproportionately and adversely affected. Jaye interviewed a range of people for the film, including men’s rights activists, for which she is still being castigated.

“It just seems to me you don’t really question their views in the film,” O’Keefe said to Jaye, whose prompt rebuttal — “Did you see the film?”, she questioned — saw the agitated and defensive host reluctantly admit he had not seen the film in its entirety.

It was an embarrassing moment for the former lawyer, who had committed the equivalent of appearing in court without being across his brief. Worse still, O’Keefe and his co-host Monique Wright attempted to blame Jaye and her producer for this abrogation, claiming the film had only been provided to them the evening before. In reality, they had been given the film a month prior to the interview, and on two other occasions.

At this point a prudent interviewer might have considered a more conciliatory approach towards his subject. But not O’Keefe, who instead patronised her. “My concern, Cassie,” he said with over-the-top enunciation, “is that… we promote an opposition between men and feminism that’s counter-productive to the genders working together to solve everyone’s problems.” In other words, don’t question the narrative that feminism is everyone’s friend. After all, it wouldn’t be like third-wave feminists to promote opposition between the sexes, would it?

But more on that later. What stood out in particular was O’Keefe’s manner towards Jaye. She presented as intelligent, articulate and persuasive, yet he talked to her as if he were admonishing a child. The excessive hand gesturing, and the resorting to the royal ‘we’ pronoun only compounded this pomposity, as did O’Keefe’s repeatedly addressing Jaye by her first name (presumably just in case she needed reminding). His smirking, smugness and his over-talking were an unedifying display of rudeness in contrast to Jaye’s dignified demeanour. If only there were a term for a man lecturing a woman in such a condescending fashion.

O’Keefe, as have other critics of The Red Pill, has accused Jaye of tacitly condoning misogyny. Certainly, the men’s rights movement has its share of such offenders. However, feminism too has its fundamentalist elements, irrespective of the fallacious argument that misandry does not exist. One only has to look as far as Fairfax’s Daily Life for examples of this fashionable chauvinism. Fatuous and self-indulgent soliloquies such as ‘Why I won’t let any male babysit my children’ and ‘Misandry Island: This is what a feminist utopia would look like’ sadly are the norm and not the exception.

I felt sick at the thought of something male growing inside me,” wrote teacher and feminist Polly Dunning in December 2016 as she reflected on her pregnancy. “How will I raise a son who respects me the way a daughter would?” she wailed without an iota of self-awareness. It demonstrates that both the men’s and women’s rights movements have an entitlement mentality. However, the media’s tendency to laud and promote feminism on the one hand, while referring disparagingly to men’s rights activists on the other, is revealing.

Ironically, O’Keefe’s pooh-poohing of The Red Pill is contributing to its success and raising awareness about biases against men, which do exist, although their acknowledgment is wanting. More than 90 per cent of Australian prisoners are male, but you will never hear a gender studies lecturer point to this as evidence of ‘structural sexism’.

In 2013 a retiring Family Court judge warned that mothers were increasingly inventing allegations of child sexual abuse against their husbands to prevent them from seeing their children. But unlike women, men enjoy no gender-specific government-funded legal centre to assist them in such cases. Paternity fraud? No such thing. It’s not illegal, and in any event the High Court ruled in 2006 that a mother’s lying to a putative father about the paternity of the child was not a valid action for the tort of deceit. Feminist and bioethicist Leslie Cannold has gone one step further by arguing that the euphemistic term “paternal discrepancies” should replace “paternity fraud”.

Watch an extended trailer of the Cassie Jaye documentary

These are just a few examples. Raising their awareness about these and other aspects of men’s rights, as the The Red Pill seeks to do, does not diminish the campaigns against the sexism that women suffer, particularly the appalling statistic of females murdered by their spouses. It also challenges one of the most obtuse tenets of militant feminism — the insistence that men’s rights must be analysed according to the principles of a zero sum game.

Amid all the histrionics, Jaye’s suggestion to O’Keefe that people watch her film and “make up their own mind” is the most sensible comment about this affair. Decide for yourself, and don’t defer to the tough guy who wants to be in control of the situation, one might quip.

“Changing my attitude,” wrote O’Keefe in 2008 in his capacity as chairman of the White Ribbon Foundation, “means I need to think about what I say and do and question whether I contribute subtly to the power problem; whether I’m engaging in good-hearted banter, or whether my words are denigrating or subjugating women.” Physician, heal thyself.