03/07/2017 08:54 EST | Updated 03/08/2017 10:35 EST

Maxime Bernier Criticized For Using 'Red Pill' Meme Popular Among Anti-Feminists

Fellow leadership rivals called on him to clarify.

A Conservative leadership contender has sparked a strange controversy on social media by using a meme that has been adopted by anti-feminists.

Quebec MP Maxime Bernier posted an image to Twitter Monday that's inspired by popular 1999 science fiction film, “The Matrix.” He is shown offering the “red pill” to Alberta Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt, who recently endorsed Bernier.

In the movie, taking the red pill means embracing reality. Taking a blue pill means blissful ignorance.

Yet the “red pill theory” has been adopted by men who argue that what women really want is dominance instead of equality, as this piece from The Telegraph explains. It is also the name of a misogynistic subreddit offering "discussion of sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men."

A controversial documentary called “The Red Pill,” set for release Tuesday, also explores the efforts of so-called men’s rights activists (MRA).

A number of people, including journalists, asked if Bernier was courting men’s rights activists with the meme, or if he was otherwise unaware about the connotations of the photo.

Fellow leadership contenders Lisa Raitt and Erin O’Toole also called on Bernier to clarify.

But Tory MP Michelle Rempel tweeted that she did not believe Bernier was trying to give a “wink wink” to those who oppose gender equality.

Bernier responded to Rempel that she had it right.

He did not delete his tweet, but later posted that it “obviously refers only to the Matrix movie and to nothing else.”

Bernier also re-tweeted those who called the criticism silly or accused the “left” of targeting him unfairly.

This was not the first time Bernier used a meme from “The Matrix.” In February, he released a similar image on Facebook touching on his plans to freeze equalization payments.

Tories will pick their next leader in May.

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