Bitches Book Club Review :: What Is Obscenity?

The Book Club:

“At the end of May [2015] I was feeling sort of “meh” about the Goodreads book clubs I’m part of. No offence meant to them at all! I like them. But they’re just so BIG that the books I’m particularly interested in don’t often (read: ever?) get picked and there doesn’t feel like there’s enough incentive to take part sometimes. I wanted something that was smaller so, even if I’m not super jazzed about every single book, I feel motivated to read each one because I knew the other member(s) of the book club are reading too and because of the discussion that will ensue.

SO, of course, I voice messaged Claire about it and we decided on a book within the hour!

How it works is that one of us will pick the book one month and the other will pick the book for the next month.”

This summer’s book was: What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and Her Pussy by Rokudenashiko

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Book: What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and her Pussy by Rokudenashiko
Publisher: Koyama Press 2016
Genre: Graphic Novel/manga/comic, non-fiction, humour, memoir, feminist, politics

Summary: A graphic memoir of a good-for-nothing Japanese artist who has been jailed twice for so-called acts of obscenity and the distribution of pornographic materials yet continues to champion the art of pussy. In a society where one can be censored, pixelated, and punished, Rokudenashiko asks what makes pussy so problematic? Rokudenashiko (“good-for-nothing girl”) is a Japanese artist. She is known for her series of decorated vulva moulds, or “Decoman,” a portmanteau of decorated and manko, slang for vagina. Distributing a 3D scan of her genitalia to crowdfunding supporters led to her arrest for alleged violation of Japanese obscenity laws.
More Information: GoodReads

Nikki’s Thoughts & Rating:

I am so glad we went with this one for the summer! It was a super fast but also really informative and entertaining read. It was actually Claire who introduced me to manga all those years ago in high school! (We were but wee babes of about 12 years old…) But once I started reading I was like “this woman is so like Claire sometimes!” It’s the way she handles the situations she gets into and the first things that run through her mind when faced with dilemmas. Genuine and (sometimes unintentionally) funny and very likeable…and often a little oblivious until the last moment ;P haha

The main focus was more what she went through than her art itself though later in the book she does explain how she got to be making “manko art” (and comics in general!) and we do get to see Manko-chan’s comic adventures too which is fun (see excerpt below). There are photos and screenshots and so on to help build up a fuller visual context too. (Usually photo inserts in books like this would annoy me, but it actually worked really well here.)

I thought there would be a little bit more in-depth discussion about her feminist rational, but instead, she speaks very simply about her intentions. There are no over-complicated theses. It is what it is. And, as it turns out, that was just as fulfilling to see. It could probably all be boiled down to “vaginas are just body parts like an arm or a foot so let’s normalise and accept them and not just sexualise/fetishise them”. Simple! And very much inoffensive. But that landed her in jail.

I hadn’t realised there would be so much information on the Japanese justice system or the complications of a trial of this nature in Japanese society. It made me think about how foreigners in Japan often say how kind and helpful the police are, but I think every Japanese novel I’ve ever read has only ever referenced the police in a negative way; either negligent or abrasive (and that hasn’t just been in crime novels!). It makes me wonder if the system is two-faced, smiling at foreigners while keeping Japanese citizens (or, I guess, those who look asian) “in check”. It certainly seems that way, but I don’t know enough to say for certain.

We get a lot of cultural insight into Japan despite the book tackling a very niche issue which is also really interesting, but it’s all still really engaging. Rokudenashiko is a great example of someone taking their work seriously, but not taking themselves too seriously, and advocating body positivity and feminism through her art in a society where concepts like that are strongly resisted.

The book is not at all academic or explicit or preachy. It’s just a fun story about how the exploration of an idea (body positivity and the de-sexualisation of a body part) led one small time artist to big trouble (and some silver lining stuff too). I would recommend this book to: anyone wanting a fun manga that gives some insight on Japanese culture; anyone interested in body positivity or feminism; and anyone in possession of or who, in some way, appreciates the humble vagina.

I also feel this idea of body policing is particularly pertinent in the current France Burkini Ban climate…

Rating: ★★★★★

Nikki’s favourite line(s):

So many great quotes/parts, but this is Manko(/Pussy)’s realisation just after she gets a PhD and is trying to spread the world of social reform, equality, feminism, etc.
(NB: manga is read from RIGHT panel to LEFT…(but this panel kind of works either way so don’t worry if you didn’t read it the right way the first time)):

manko

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Claire’s Thoughts & Rating:

I knew I was going to like this from the moment Nikki suggested it for our summer read. We opted to do one book over summer, partly because I think we were a bit fatigued, and partly because it’s summer, if there is a time to take a break- it’s then! We quickly decided on a feminist summer pick and we both pitched around 5 books that we liked, but of course in my eternal casualness I basically defined all my picks as good. Nikki however, oh man I wish I still had that darn text, wrote essays for each of her picks. True passionate essays! So of course we were going to choose one of hers 🙂 This attracted my eye because it was manga, relatively cheap to buy online and wouldn’t be too long to read.

I’ve always been a fan of manga and when Nikki explained that this was about manko art, vagina art, I was pretty set.

So what was the good, the bad & the ugly?

It’s Really Smart: I think what I like about this manga is its sheer bluntness and honesty. It’s completely refreshing! It’s also wicked smart as she points out cultural biases in a frank way, it makes the whole aspect of genitals less scientific but also less moral. That’s what I like, it’s her opinion but it’s not meant to make anyone uncomfortable in anyway. I think anyone with an interest in feminism should give this book a try. And if you’re not interested in feminism, I still think it’s worth a read. I like what I call “bad ass women” things, which I know is complicated in itself, but to me badass is essentially that it is unapologetic and honest, and our dear Rokudenashiko and her manko art, is so badass.

It’s Funny as Heck: She’s also really funny! I laughed so much reading this manga. Which also makes it smart, she’s making you laugh at her reactions, her situations but then you remember that this stuff actually happened to her. That’s really scary! She found herself in some seriously scary legal situations and to approach it with such humor and self-reflection, I think it’s quite admirable? She’s terribly over the top and I suspect, just suspect, that is why Nikki thinks I’m so much like her (to give some context, when I was reading this all Nikki kept telling me is how much I’m like Rokudenashiko. I take that as a compliment and wear it as a badge of honor!).

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Ultimately, I like that she approaches a serious topic in such an irreverent way. I do remember, however, reflecting on her actual manko art (see little cure creature above) that it reflected a wide variety of vaginas, as all of hers have the same shape and are of similar pinkish hues (unless you get the gold one, I really want the gold one!) ;)). So I guess I wish there was more manko art, with manko friends and so on but that’s a note on her art and not the actual manga. I digress.

Claire’s Favorite Line:

I really like this page because everything that she did or said, is basically, all I’d ever do if I was in that situation- I’d just lose my head and go full into panic mode.

Rokudenashiko-01

Rating: ★★★★★

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Have you read this book yet?

If you have, what did you think? If you haven’t, do you want to?

September’s Book Club pick is…

23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism

Feel free to read along with us! 🙂

NameNikkixClaire

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3 Responses to Bitches Book Club Review :: What Is Obscenity?

  1. Pingback: 2016 Quarterly Check-In #3 | Bitches With Books

  2. Mahima says:

    This book sounds absolutely hilarious and I love the aim of it! I have never read a book so obscene (apart from Embroideries) but I love how in-your-face this book is as well!

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