The entire HU crowd has been debating Kyoko Okazaki’s fashion and feminism classic manga Helter Skelter in the comments to this post. If you have any interest, you should scroll down through the whole comments section; Miriam, Bill, and Tom all make really interesting points.
Anyway, where we ended up was with this comment from Tom, suggesting that I don’t like sexist stories:
As we discussed upthread, it doesn’t matter to you what the rights and wrongs of the matter are within the terms of the story; you just dislike stories that are arranged to put men in the driver’s seat at the expense of women.
There’s some truth to this. But for me I don’t think it’s only, or solely, about stories that are arranged to put men in the driver’s seat. Such stories do tend to be sexist, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t like them.
D.H. Lawrence’s stories are an example; he’s ideologically committed to male supremacy. But he’s also intensely interested in gender politics and sexuality. As a result, he tends to have interesting things to say about those topics, even in the context of male supremacy. There’s generally a recognition in his stories of women’s perspectives or women’s voices.
As an example, if Lawrence were writing this story, Asada’s sexual investment in Ririko would almost certainly be a lot clearer, and she’d get at least a moment or two where she explicitly resisted the logic of male supremacy. Ultimately, the final story would be even more explicitly male supremacist — but there’s be a much firmer grasp on the dynamics of how that works and what that means for people’s lives.
My objection here isn’t (or isn’t solely) that Okazaki gives the man control of the narrative, but that he’s given unquestioned moral carte blanche. There’s not even a recognition that his actions could be morally questioned or contested, really. That’s what’s so infuriating about it. Someone like Lawrence is interesting because, while he’s a male supremacist, he recognizes that that doctrine can be questioned — therefore he defends it, and in so doing brings up interesting issues and even allows the other side a voice, if only to quash it. Okazaki just blandly accedes in male supremacy; she seems not even to realize that she might need to make a case for it.
That’s why it’s very hard to see this as a feminist book. Not just because no feminist argument is made, but because Okazaki doesn’t even seem aware of what the sides in the debate would look like. Again, that could well be for cultural reasons…but for a Western reader (or for me) it’s still really irritating to see the male detective treated as the long, courageous crusader for justice at the same time as he’s acting like a stalker, and not see any suggestion on the part of anybody in the manga that this might be creepy or wrong or, you know, kind of stupid.