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
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.