Why Tonari No Kaibutsu-Kun Is Not An Example Of Rape Culture

OMG he is a monster because he reads shoujo manga
Screenshots via Random Curiosity, because I am way too lazy to take my own screens at this point in time.

First of all, I realize rape culture is a thing that really exists, and constitutes a major problem. I also realize there’s no objective test to identify what is and isn’t rape culture, so it doesn’t shock or appall me that some women will disagree with me about where to draw the line. The following post just explains why I didn’t find the show Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun to be advocating rape, or a culture where the importance of a woman’s consent is downplayed, in any way.

Why point this out? Why go out of my way to defend a show I’m only minimally invested in, and risk being called some sort of sick rape-apologist? Because painting the show as awful in that way is ignoring something that has long been true in women’s fiction, and will probably remain true; women are attracted to things in fiction that they would not authorize in real life. To me, ignoring that, and the very explicit role that fact plays in Monster-kun, is hypocritical.

The Deep Dark Secret of (Lots of) Women’s Fiction

You know how there’s that whole genre of books, written by and for women, called bodice rippers, featuring powerful, hunky men who tear at the clothes of the breathless female? They are insanely popular, even if the type of clothing ripped hasn’t technically been a bodice in some time. I don’t read many romance novels so my knowledge here is limited, but just from the ones I have read, it’s clear that a lot of today’s romances are either slightly modernized bodice-rippers, or at least incorporate some of those elements: a powerful male, and a female who is head over heels for him despite, or sometimes because of, his domineering, chauvinistic behavior.

A lot of shoujo manga are pretty much bodice rippers too; I remember reading a review of Hot Gimmick that explicitly called it that. Needless to say, this is a wide-reaching phenomenon, not just Japanese or Western in nature. The thing is, as popular as these kinds of stories are, how many women do you actually think want their bodice ripped by a domineering man at any given time? The answer is pretty close to zero, and therein lies our problem.

A sizable chunk of women’s fiction is about things that few if any women ever want to experience in their real lives: excessively dominant and possessive men, forceful love sessions that border on rape (if they aren’t outright rape), and all sorts of things that make feminists break out in hives. Yet, otherwise independent women read them and enjoy them.

One of two explanations for the popularity of this material are possible: either a)women are too stupid to know what’s good for them and have been brainwashed into enjoying this stuff by “rape culture,” or b)these devices, including rape, serve some kind of function specifically in women’s fantasy lives that generally do not cross over to the real world.

Obviously, I’m a proponent of explanation B. If you believe explanation A; that every (best-selling) bodice ripper is a product of a cultural construct called misogyny and women aren’t empowered to make their own choices, even in fantasy- then I have nothing to say to you. Our view of the world is so radically different I wouldn’t even know where to start.

This is why the issue bothers me so much, because when would-be feminists start talking about how a romance novel with a shirtless guy and a panting female on the cover is an example of women being force-fed misogyny, what they are doing is casting judgments upon people’s fantasy lives. Not their real lives, because as we’ve already gone over, no one really wants their bodice ripped and everyone knows it. When you play the rape culture card without sufficient reason, particularly with material created by women for women’s consumption, you are telling women “This is a bad fantasy for you to have, and you should feel bad for having it.” That, to me, is more insulting to women- to anybody, really- than any attempt at shock-humor with a rape joke.

I think there is sometimes a disconnect because not all women enjoy bodice-rippers, even as pure fantasy; for someone who doesn’t find that kind of behavior appealing in any context, it might be natural to look at your typical romance novel and exclaim “This is offensive, how can you like this?” I can understand that reaction, but the thing is, some women find romantic appeal in fiction for behavior they would never condone in real life, and that’s just the way it is. It would be easier to separate the harmless from the offensive, certainly, if that weren’t the case, but women’s sexuality isn’t simple.

Back To The Episode In Question

The kiss AAAAAH!!!!!
Shoujo manga approved!

So, now that I’ve revealed the seedy underbelly of women’s fiction and alienated pretty much all feminists at the same time, back to Monster-kun. To me, even if the anime was much more, ahem, extreme than it actually is, it would be okay under the Bodice Ripper Principle: women are entitled to their own fantasy lives, even if they feature unsavory things at times. However, the fact of the matter is that Monster-kun isn’t only aware of BRP, it acknowledges BRP in the very first episode.

The forced kiss that Haru plants on Shizuku has gotten almost as much criticism as his rape threat; perhaps because while no one watching this show honestly thinks Haru will ever rape Shizuku in a million years, the kiss actually happened. However, why did Haru kiss her in that manner? Because he was reading shoujo manga. He was reading a bodice ripper, something by-women-for-women, given to him by a woman, to explain romance to him. He was acting the way women often want men to act in their fantasy lives, not their real lives.

Also, notice Shizuku’s reaction: half absolute mortification, half pulse-pounding excitement. Because, while she wants Haru to respect her personal space and grow some freakin’ common sense already, on some level, she does find what Haru did romantic. Only, she finds it appealing on the abstract level, and he just moved it to the real level; is it still appealing, or has it now become abhorrent? She doesn’t know, so instead of either slapping him or giving him a big smile, she just stands there, increasingly confused and embarrassed. Welcome to the joys of being female! We have to pee sitting down too.

“But it TEACHES women that it’s okay to like men with consent issues!”

Why are we talking about teaching? Are we in school? Oh, that’s right; for women, everything has to be a teachable moment because we’re constantly entrenched in some kind of uphill battle to learn how to be ourselves that men don’t have to worry about for some reason. Glad we cleared that up, it’s good to know that I’m a sponge who just absorbs tropes in entertainment and has no ability to make my own decisions.

Why do we always assume that women are being taught something by fiction? To change the subject a little bit, this is what has always bothered me about the people who demonize Twilight as hurtful to women; we give men (and even boys) a lot more credit for being able to experience a story without consuming it and then manifesting its least-desirable traits like some kind of ravenous amoeba. We’re afraid every teen girl will try to act like Bella, yet no one has ever said that Ender’s Game teaches young men that the correct solution to every problem is the swift application of overpowering violence, even though that’s what Ender spends the whole book learning how to do. For some reason, people unconsciously give men credit for being able to contextualize things; that they will understand Ender’s story in context, whereas every girl who reads Twilight must be “learning” to become Bella.

This “learning bias” does have some basis in reality; after all, there’s a reason you show your three-year-old daughter Dora The Explorer rather than Showgirls. People certainly learn from pop culture to a certain extent. However, the assumption that a person will automatically manifest whatever traits they see in fiction seems disproportionally directed at women, and frankly I’m really tired of it. It’s great to have some characters that are role models; when every character has to be a role model, or else girls might “dangerously” copy their example, what you have is a stifling effect on storytelling and creative expression in general.

I realize I’ve gone pretty far afield of Monster-kun here, and I’m sorry for that. But this is an issue that really bugs me, because I think knee-jerk accusations of rape culture every time the word rape is used, or because a male character does something forceful (even if he’s been led to do it by shoujo manga!) is really hurtful to gender relations in general.

When a group of women, using a narrow lens, point to something as an example of rape culture yet most of the men watching don’t see it- or more importantly, don’t see it as anything more egregious than the stuff they know happens in romance novels, even if they will never admit to reading them (“C’mon, I didn’t really read it, I was just really bored at Barnes and Noble this one time so I picked up this random book and it was a Kristin Ashley- WHAT?”)– after enough instances of this, they start to come to the conclusion that rape culture is something only women can see, and that it has no basis in reality. I don’t think I need to explain why that’s just bad for everyone.

 

 

8 thoughts on “Why Tonari No Kaibutsu-Kun Is Not An Example Of Rape Culture”

  1. Your point is well taken, but I think you’re falling into a bit of a false dichotomy.

    Why is it impossible for these works to both be somewhat problematic depictions of women and serve a vital role as an outlet for fantasy? I’ve argued from the start that men (full disclusure: I am a man) have focused unduly on works created by and for women in their criticism, without caring to equip themselves with any cultural context to evaluate them properly, and without being willing to shine a comparable light on the problematic works they themselves enjoy.

    That only changes the critical dialogue so much, though. I’m willing to agree that the problematic-ness of these works is mitigated or even outweighed altogether by their function as expressions of women’s voice and women’s fantasy – again, that was the opinion I held coming into this particular debacle. But that doesn’t make them not problematic.

    I actually did try to avoid talking too much about Kaibutsu-kun for this very reason: a nominally-feminist conversation was becoming an excuse to rail on women’s creators, not a thoughtful consideration of the social institutions that shape us all. But the fact that we’re having the wrong conversation doesn’t mean that there isn’t a conversation to be had.

  2. Sure, let’s say just for the sake of argument that it is a bit of a false dichotomy: what’s the conversation that we should be having?

    1. Well, one in which we avoid that false dichotomy.

      I think it’s necessary to acknowledge the way that greater overarching trends in media (such as but not limited to rape culture) do have a conditioning effect on their audiences, male and female¹. But that obviously doesn’t need to mean writing those works off wholesale, or allowing one feminist reading of one aspect of a work to drown out all other possible readings of it.

      I guess my point is I agree that “some problematic elements of Tonari no Kaibutsu-Kun serve some kind of function specifically in women’s fantasy lives” is an important and oft-overlooked point, but it doesn’t cancel out the idea that those elements are problematic. We can talk about why a thing is problematic without necessarily implying that it oughtn’t exist period.

      ¹in fact, before you pointed it out I was under the impression that the focus was more on male conditioning. Privilege checked and all that

      1. The problem with that I see is that I don’t know if that’s a conversation that really goes anywhere.

        “So, why do people fantasize about these problematic things? Is it conditioning based on antiquated social mores, or is it some innate desire toward the dark side, things that we know are “wrong” on some level?

        “Hmm, probably a lot of both. And it’s probably different for every individual, with some being more effected by conditioning and some less so.”

        “Yeah, it’s probably some combination of both….”

        *awkward silence*
        *crickets*

        I mean, it’s not like it’s a bad conversation by any stretch of the imagination but it ends up being a lot like having discussions on “Why do bad things happen to good people?”, or “What is the meaning of life?” You’re never going to come up with anything proscriptive that isn’t as problematic as the problem you’re trying to solve, because it’s just so broad.

        I appreciate your suggestion that we can discuss these things without having a “this shouldn’t have been made!” or “let’s ban it!” response, but as much as I may disagree with them, proponents of that view at least have an identifiable goal; they want these problematic narratives to go away. If you’re not on the “make it go away!” train, what are you advocating? I suspect that at some point, you’re going to err towards the “make it go away!” group just for the sake of reaching some kind of conclusion whatsoever.

        Finally, I’m not sure if we’ll ever really agree on the word “problematic.” As far as I can tell, in your view, rape fantasies (from either gender) are problematic. Fine, let’s say someone has rape fantasies (either as the aggressor or the victim), but it NEVER affects their real life; it remains safely tucked away behind sequestered mental doors. Is it truly “problematic” if it never hurts anyone, ever? Or do you believe it’s impossible for someone to have a fantasy life without acting on it to some degree?

        It wasn’t really my intention to set up a dichotomy; I’m generally a fan of there being middle ground on general principle. However, in this case, I don’t know how much viable middle ground there is between what I’ve identified as option A and option B. At some point, people who are inclined to use the word “problematic” in regard to fiction are probably going to drift towards camp A. That has been my experience.

        1. Well, in fact, I do tend to lean toward A-“type” explanations, if you were to take out the gendered language. As I’ve hinted at above, I do think humans are pretty dumb creatures who evolved brains and developed culture in very different circumstances from those we’re in now, which makes them very impressionable and prone to doing and believing ugly things when they don’t or don’t know how to think about the consequences of those beliefs and actions.

          My concrete, identifiable goal to fix that? More thinking. More conversations like this one, where we consider not just each side of whatever individual argument we’re having but the shape of the conversation itself. I think we’re accomplishing something perfectly worthwhile right here.

          re: “problematic”, I see its choice as calculated to avoid judgement. It’s not wrong, it’s not disgusting, it’s problematic. It’s something questionable that we should probably talk out instead of sweeping under the rug.

          I am, in fact, disinclined to worry too much about any individual work or fantasy as a potential influence—the worst an individual work can do is give someone ideas they’re already sick enough to act on. But I think it’d be naïve to propose that greater trends in the ways that we depict ourselves in fiction can’t reflect or influence trends in the way that people act at large.

          That’s what rape culture is, isn’t it? The perceived unimportance of consent on a large scale becomes so pervasive that it begins to affect the moral decisions and moral conceptions of individuals. It’s pervasive.

          As my friend Patches put it, the reason we address individual works is because they offer concrete data points that we can point to specific aspects of, so that people can notice those aspects in other works they consume.

          Tonari no Kaibutsu-Kun is not rape culture embodied, no; what it is is a work that garnered a lot of attention and which presents a great opportunity for describing the idea of rape culture to a lot of people who don’t understand or haven’t heard of the concept. The end game here is not “nobody ever watches Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun”, the end game is “more people take an understanding of rape culture home with them and begin considering it in relation to all of the works they choose to consume”.

          1. Interesting link to that Waifus blog, although I can’t help but notice her attitude that everyone who doesn’t agree with her about Monster-kun is desperately in need of a “teachable moment,”; now that’s how you approach debate! Treat everyone who doesn’t agree with you like a child. That’s not part of the problem AT ALL.

            Anyway, I would be in favor of having nuanced, in depth discussions of the kind you’re advocating, but aside from arguably right here, that doesn’t really happen. What you end up with is twin echo chambers: people like the writer of that Waifuz blog who think everyone who disagrees with them needs to be “educated,” who talk primarily to other feminists about how unenlightened everyone who disagrees is, and another group that says “what are those crazy feminists taking out of context and blowing out of proportion NOW.” And never the twain shall meet, except occasionally to call each other names in the comment section of various blogs.

            I think the debate becomes so polarized because the tone of righteous indignation, and/or the “if you don’t agree with me you are an uneducated child” tone the criticism often takes makes everyone immediately defensive, which is not a good way to begin any endeavor. I know you think no one should have to watch their “tone” in these discussions, but isn’t it just simple common sense, irrespective of any and all gender politics? If you want people to take you seriously, it’s important how you frame your argument; I don’t see why any particular topic is exempt from that.

            Also, if we’re going to consider problematic things, should we apply the same scrutiny to issues in anime that don’t involve women specifically? After all, just watched some Initial D and it features a form of child abuse. Virtually any anime with a tsundere features the idea that any physical assault on a male is okay, as long as the aggressor is a cute female. These things generally aren’t called out as problematic, but if we were to start, every show is problematic in some way. Do we really want to look at everything that way?

  3. This is an excellent write up on the issue! I’ve been feeling a need to go on a crusade against the mentality that fiction is somehow some sort of brain washing educational tool for spreading immorality, racism, sexism and the list political things that get people up in a bunch just goes on and on.

    Context is so very important when faced with political issues. Context is something just about everyone can understand, but some people just completely ignore when they detect a supposed social injustice. No one wins when you make a political issue out of a fictional context. Maybe there is a case to be made for satire, but I think we can all clearly agree that satire is something that My Little Monster clearly is not.

    There is a disconnect between what people want in fiction, and what they want in reality. There is also a disconnect between what people believe in fiction, and how that effects their views on reality, and what people learn and believe about real life, and how that effects their view on reality. The two are apples and oranges, there is no room for comparison because they are not even on the same playing field.

    I could sit here and list examples of things I like in fiction that I would never want to see in the real world, or things that I like in the real world that are inane and boring in a fictional setting. Sure they have similarities, but no parallels. To name one Future Diary comes to mind. I love the character Yuno from that anime, and she is a psychopathic murder; however, in the context of an anime, she can’t hurt me so it’s all good fun. If we start trying to compare that to reality it quickly becomes apparent that it’s a completely different thing because there is simply no way the majority of the target audience really do want to a have psychopathic murder for a girlfriend.

    Back to My Little Monster; why is it not treated the same way as Future Diary? The only thing I can think is that the political agenda of the offend people is overwriting their better judgement. Just as this post wonderfully pointed out, it is in fact harmful to a political position to treat fictional issues as if they were real issues. All those people less inclined to listen to the cry of sexism have that little part of their common sense that understands context kick in, and have a negative reaction to the political cause; potentially even believing that the cause is a complete farce. It is the same principle at work in the fable of the boy who cried wolf. If people keep crying “sexism! sexism!” over fictional context eventually there is going to be a real need to lay down that cry of sexism, and no one will answer.

    1. Thanks. I think we’re already past the point of “boy who cried wolf” on this topic. Now whenever there’s an outcry about sexism in the media, the typical response from reasonable people (and I’m not talking about hard-core, actual misogynists; they exist but whatever, they suck), REASONABLE people is, “Is this a real complaint? Or is this one of those taken-out-of-context, blown-way-out-of-proportion things?”

      The fact that we’ve cultivated that kind of automatic skepticism makes it really hard to make any progress, because these are the people who are basically on the side of good, who are in favor of gender equality, who have unfortunately now been conditioned to be mistrustful of even legitimate accusations of sexism. It’s hard to win the battle when you’ve even alienated the people who should be your closest allies.

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