The Delicious Irony of MRAs’ Appropriation of ‘The Matrix’s’ Red Pill


“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill — you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.”

As ridiculous as it may sound, there are grown men whose entire ideological worldview has been shaped by the above quote from the 1999 film The Matrix. These men are known by many names (“men’s rights activists,” “meninists,” “red-pillers,” “pick-up artists”), and while there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of nominal continuity, their core belief remains constant: men are being oppressed.

Last week, BuzzFeed’s Adam Serwer and Kate J.M. Becker published a lengthy profile of men’s rights leader Paul Elam (yes, his last name is, appropriately enough, “male” backwards). Along with a handful of subreddits, websites like Return of Kings and Elam’s A Voice for Men serve as hubs for men who equate masculinity with misogyny and feminism with oppression. Recent AVFM headlines include, “The Girl Who Cried Rape” and “Female Suicides: A Deadly Fabrication?” Additionally, the site refers to “rape culture” as “male vilification culture.”

The BuzzFeed profile also explains where The Matrix comes in:

Men’s rights activists often cite the first time they realized it’s a woman’s world. They call these “red pill” moments, after the scene in The Matrix when the main character is faced with the decision to swallow a red pill and recognize the true nature of the world or take a blue pill and continue living a lie. For Elam, that revelation came at age 13, when his mother tried to force him to take his diarrhea medicine.

The TMI aspect of Elam’s youthful bout with diarrhea and the ridiculousness of Laurence Fishburne serving as some sort of philosophical sage aside, there’s an absolutely unbelievable amount of irony involved in the fact that it would be this movie and this line that opened MRAs’ eyes to this world where men are oppressed by women — specifically, straight, “alpha” men are oppressed by women.

You see, a large portion of this movement views transgender individuals — especially trans women — as being disgusting freaks of nature. In a Return of Kings blog post titled, “8 Ways to Spot a Transsexual,” author redpiller1985 writes:

There are many people trying to trick us in this day and age. This varies from bullshit health advice to the blue pill nature of most of modern society. There is also another way men have been tricked and it can be from our own XY chromosome brethren. That’s right. I am talking about transsexuals who are “male to female”. It’s not just betas and closet conning alphas trying to hold us back. It’s cross-dressing men who are so mentally ill that they think they’re women. They’re delusional omega men who think acting like a caricature of the women who don’t give them play is how they can finally get some sexual pleasure from unwitting men.

In “5 Ways to Stop Omega Males from Becoming Transsexuals,” redpiller1985 writes, “There is a narcissistic delusional tidal wave sweeping the internet. Many confused men have decided to band together and start advocacy groups about ‘transforming’ into ‘women.’ Omega males, seeing the success stories of the closeted homosexuals who crossdress, are starting to lie about having a ‘dysphoria’ or a feeling of never belonging as a male.”

In fact, redpiller1985 has just generally had enough, writing that in “the five years [he’s] been monitoring it,” “transsexualism has grown tremendously.” He concludes his blog by saying that “omega males” “need a site like [ROK],” and asks his readers to “push back against transsexualism before it infects those who you love and care about.”

It’s with some amount of glee that I inform redpiller1985 and those like him that it’s too late for MRAs to push back against the “infection” of “transsexualism.” You see, The Matrix, holiest of men’s rights literature, was co-created by a transgender woman. In fact, not only was trans woman Lana Wachowski one of its creators, but the film, as a whole, can be viewed as having heavy trans overtones. Allow me to explain.

In 2012, writer Hannah DuVoix sought to outline these themes. While she is careful to avoid claiming that Wachowski intended for these to be trans allusions — as Wachowski hasn’t ever directly addressed any of the, “But what does this mean?” questions — she highlights the big and the small, with revelations ranging from the fact that the word “trans” is the second word to appear on screen after the title to the idea of the Matrix as a stand-in for societal gender expectations.

“As I see it, a transgender reading of The Matrix examines three points: Neo’s so-called ‘Path’ to becoming the One, the artificiality and pervasiveness of the Matrix itself, and the rigidity with which it is enforced by not only its creators, but those trapped within,” she writes. “For those of us who transgress gender as it exists in the world today, we follow a similar path. We must free our minds from an artificial system of control that can’t be seen but is omnipresent, and the system is rigidly, frighteningly self-enforced by those who operate within it.”

DuVoix even touches on what she sees as Neo’s driving force in deciding to take the red pill and follow Morpheus “down the rabbit hole.”

“Neo’s conviction that reality is not all that it seems is what prompts him to follow Morpheus in the first place,” she writes. “He knows that the system in place feels off, that it doesn’t hold the answers he seeks. This dysphoric sense of wrongness is what drives the plot; Neo knows the world isn’t real. Then he knows he isn’t the One. Next, he knows what he must do to rescue Morpheus, and finally he realizes that he is the One.”

But what does any of this prove? What does any of this — the Matrix, MRAs, red pills, blue pills, Wachowski, Elam, male — mean? Am I suggesting that The Matrix is one huge plot to “infect” (as our friend redpiller1985 would say) people with “transness?” Does this discredit the MRA movement? Is this actually all just about ethics in sci-fi action films?

No. None of that.

It’s a movie. The Matrix is a movie. It’s just a movie. That alone should be enough to highlight just how ridiculous the men’s rights movement is; its core ideology is based on a film. That film’s creator is someone (an “omega male”?) a great many of the movement’s adherents would view as outright repulsive, so why follow? Why this particular scene in this particular movie?

It’s because it’s all so exceedingly fake. Think about it. The “red pill” premise is one where it’s not you who is the problem — it’s everyone else. It’s one in which the whole world has been duped, with the exception of the enlightened few. These are the same types of temper tantrums that you’d expect to hear from a guy who complains that every one of his ex-girlfriends is “crazy.” These are the types of complaints you hear from hardcore conspiracy theorists, and it takes a tremendous amount of cognitive dissonance to keep these beliefs — of imagined oppression, aggression, and self-aggrandizement — afloat.

The fact of the matter is that there is no red pill in life. While media, celebrity, and finances place huge burdens on us all, there is no grand conspiracy to put men down. Though these men would like to believe that there’s actually a concerted effort to both oppress and conceal a world in which women are actually in control, and that anything a man earns is in spite of and not because his status as a man, that isn’t reality. It’s far more simple: we live in a world that has been ruled and shaped nearly exclusively by men, and men benefit from this. There is no red pill, and there is no conspiracy; it’s not everyone else, guys; it’s you.