[TW: Rape Culture]
The first episode of My Little Monster had a two line throwaway moment that offers an AMAZING opportunity to talk about why rape jokes are horrible. Here we go:
The setup (simple this time): Delinquent hunk Haru imprints on standoffish bookworm Shizuku after she gives him some handouts from school one day. Later in the show, he stalks her to school, pulls her into an alley and then threatens her with rape if she screams. Then, the show moves on.
While the scene itself isn’t terribly graphic or upsetting on the surface, its casual nature belies a problem with rape jokes in that these kind of jokes aren’t funny. What’s going on here has a lot in common with both the Dickwolves incident and the furor surrounding Daniel Tosh’s ill-considered remarks. But let’s work backwards from some of the more subtle consequences to the clunker of the delivery.
The first episode goes out of its way to show that Haru is awkward and lacking in social grace. He’s sympathetic. The fact that he means well by our intrepid main character and that it’s clear he has a sense of loyalty works to help us forgive his misunderstanding of some social rules. What’s more, he continues throughout the episode to try and be friendly with Shizuku despite her protestations, but given that he doesn’t understand things like friendship and manners, we’re supposed to give him a pass. This idea echoes the “fear” that men have of being perceived as creepy even with good intent. Here’s the thing: ENDS DO NOT JUSTIFY MEANS. Haru’s behavior is not really acceptable. Regardless of his intentions and hotness, he should learn to LISTEN to what people say. Not listening is how consent goes out the window.
This is important to consider, given that he kisses Shizuku without her permission at the end of the episode. having “no boundaries” isn’t cute. It’s, well, it’s scary. However, given the nature of shoujo, this is swept under the rug by the fact that Shizuku is SUPPOSED to fall for him, making his lack of regard for her personal space “alright”. It’s a common idea, but when you stop and think about being in a relationship with someone who thinks like this, the consequences get disturbing rather quickly.
In addition, the joke hinges on one of the important misconceptions about rape: that it’s perpetrated by scary strangers in the dark of the night on unsuspecting women who’ve made the poor choice of going places alone. The joke in MLM is founded partially on this myth and uses the audience’s assumption that Haru and Shizuku are the show’s OTP to make the situation absurd. “You don’t get raped by the person for whom you’re destined! That’s insane!” Here’s the thing: you are more likely to be raped by someone you know (including your significant other) than a rando stalking you from the bushes.
Lastly (and perhaps most controversially), the joke also works to trivialize the threat of rape in the eyes of the viewing audience. This point is the one that gets the most static, but here I think we can make a good example of it. See, the scenario where a high school girl is sexually assaulted by some dude (or woman) she knows or doesn’t know is a very real fear. Haru’s use of that comment as a joke should cast a pall on their relationship. Joking about it dismisses her fears of this happening as ridiculous, since we’re supposed to know that he’ll never do that. But how is she to know that? The “joke” should set off all kinds of warning bells to her that this guy probably doesn’t understand the importance of body autonomy and considers something which is a real fear to be not really of concern.
It means that regardless of the other things he says, he doesn’t really consider her opinion or feelings important. Or at least he hasn’t considered how terrifying a threat from someone like him could be. AND he’s forcing her to make fun of her own legitimate fears of rape. While none of these things explicitly come up in the show, rape jokes on the whole work to make the event and the fear seem less awful/valid than they actually are. Supporting the idea that women’s fears of rape are out-of-proportion with their experience.