Some of you might be aware of the current Kickstarter campaign for a documentary called The Trouble with the F-Word. I was interviewed for this production three years ago now, and I’m writing this blog to share my experience and opinions about the project. I’m going to try to be entirely honest and I’m really sorry if that upsets anyone from either side of the argument but I think it’s the best policy.
Here is the film’s official trailer:
And here is their Kickstarter page, with another video explaining more about the format of the documentary and the problems they have faced.
In this video the director – Vanessa Pellegrin – talks about some of the problems with getting the film funded, and also states that she has spent most of her personal income on this project. Vanessa first contacted me in 2013 asking me to speak in the documentary. At the time I asked how soon they were expecting it to air, and she didn’t know exactly but gave me an estimate of around 6-8 months. I was under the impression that it might be airing on BBC3 (more about that below). Vanessa has since explained that the BBC had said they might have been interested but then dropped the project. I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth but the impression I get is that both the BBC and other channels stopped being interested when they realised that Vanessa’s approach was to try to be as neutral as possible. This does not surprise me at all –there is very little doubt in my mind that Vanessa’s experience has been similar to what happened to Cassie Jaye in terms of how she has been viewed by both sides. I sometimes wondered why so much time went by without the documentary airing, but never really looked into it until the Kiskstarter campaign came along, but now it does make sense. At the time I don’t think those involved in the program had any idea the process would go on this long, or any concept of the wall of resistance they would encounter.
To be perfectly honest, I can understand why people on both sides of the debate are worried about this project. We know how feminists react the minute anyone dares to even suggest there might be a counterargument to any of their positions, so I won’t spend too long talking about it. This is how they treated the woman who set up the first ever women’s refuge when she refused to frame domestic violence as a male on female problem:
In terms of some of the reservations that people in the non-feminist community will undoubtedly be feeling, all I can say is that I feel them too. When I was contacted in 2013 Nick Lancaster was not yet part of the project, so the format was going to be Lucy Holmes’ journey of meeting people from both sides of the debate. I thought (and still think) that the odds of her doing a 180 on feminism are nil. She has too much invested in her activism, and after three years working on this documentary I cannot see any discernable difference in the ideological bent of her Twitter or the No More Page 3 campaign – she has changed her opinion about things like sex work, but I can’t see her leaving her ideological framework behind at any point soon. Secondly, I was also concerned by the fact that it was likely to air on BBC3 – this was before Reggie Yates, but the BBC has been a feminist propaganda machine since long before that, so I didn’t think there was any way people like me would be presented in a favourable light. Also, to those of you not from the UK, BBC3 is not a channel dedicated to intellectual pursuits – it’s pitched at young people and usually provides entertainment – their documentaries are purely designed to shape the opinions of impressionable people.
Despite all this, back then I decided that it was my duty to get involved. If only the more controversial members of my community are willing to speak, or only male ones for that matter, what right do I have to complain if they misrepresent us? If non-feminist women like me refuse to speak then we are playing into the hands of those who wish to paint us as down-trodden slaves to the men who supposedly boss us around, liars, or even sock-puppets. Vanessa was kind enough to spend a lot of time on the phone with me – I had a lot of questions about privacy and I was also trying to understand where she was coming from. Of course I can only vouch for my personal impressions, but she truly did strike me as someone who was trying to be as neutral and unbiased as she possibly could, and that did inspire confidence – no wonder the BBC ended up deciding they weren’t interested in the program she would have made. I had a lot of requests about my privacy etc. that she went out of her way to meet, particularly allowing me to see the final clip of my interview (I don’t know much documentary production but I assume this is pretty unusual). I met with Vanessa, Lucy and the executive producer at a bar before they decided to film me and everyone was friendly – I was offered drinks but stuck to the sparkling water as I needed to keep my wits about me! Of course Lucy and I strongly debated some issues, but I did observe that Vanessa was happy to make points for either side as they occurred to her.
It seems to me that if this project was intended to be yet another load of one sided rubbish it would have been funded and aired a long time ago. I did get a sense at the time that the approach to the material was a bit ‘light’, which is perhaps reflected in the tone of the Kickstarter video. I can understand why this attitude may have caused them problems – this issue is not ‘light’ or funny for a lot of the people involved, on both sides. But that doesn’t mean that the producers of this documentary don’t have a right to take that tone – one which is perhaps necessary when trying to be neutral in the face of so many fraught battles and debates.
The fact that they have since brought a male presenter on board does add weight to the idea that they are trying to be unbiased, and it’s also true that Vanessa has put so much emphasis on this objective that it would be super hard for her not to deliver a finished product that makes a decent attempt at impartiality. For example, she and I have talked on Twitter about how Roosh V is not representative of the MRA community – she’s done enough research to understand that Roosh and the MRAs are not friends, which is a lot more than many people who have ‘investigated’ the non-feminist community have done. I can still understand why non-feminists are a bit suspicious, and can see why the choice of Nick Lancaster might cause concern – he’s not as deeply invested in the non / anti-feminist side of the argument as Lucy is in hers. That said, I have to take my hat off to the man who is willing to even go near this issue – it is certainly putting his career and reputation on the line. Don’t get me wrong, when I hear Lucy’s arguments in the Kickstarter video about the wage gap or making feminism compulsory on the politics A-Level, I feel royally annoyed and want to shout out all the reasons why I find these points disingenuous. But I have to remember that when feminists watch Nick’s sections they are feeling the same way. Many of them will feel emotional and angry – triggered even. But like Cassie Jaye stated in the video I linked above, that’s the result of the attempt to give both sides the opportunity to be heard.
One thing that Vanessa said to me was ‘I’m disappointed to have been asked to become an activist when I am just a filmmaker’. This mirrors my own disappointment in the way that many within the media have handled this issue. My personal hope is that the project will reach its Kickstarter goal. Partly because I don’t want to see a person who has worked really hard and tried her best ruined financially, but also because I’d like to see support for material that doesn’t promise to feed only the agenda of one side. Of course, everyone needs to judge for themselves, but I have made a donation to the Kickstarter and hope that more people will do the same.