Our boys deserve to know their bodies belong to them, and that they too have the right to say no.
Singer Katy Perry made the news yesterday for planting a kiss on an American Idol contestant during an episode that aired during the two-part season premiere. It was the first kiss for contestant Benjamin Glaze, then 19 years old, and Perry acted like she was doing him a favor.
In Perry’s mind, I suspect the kiss was a gift: How many boys can say their first kiss was with a celebrity best known for kissing (and liking it)?
But that certainty — even in the face of Glaze’s obvious unease and outright rejection of the kiss — is the problem. Perry had no reason to believe Glaze wanted her to kiss him and every reason to know he didn’t. Her kiss wasn’t a joke: It was sexual assault.
I’ve written many times about sexual assault and the importance of consent. But most of my work has centered around a gender binary. Men are often the aggressors in my narrative.
There are many reasons for that. Men commit rape and sexual assault more frequently than women. I often write reaction pieces to sexual assault cases in the news, which tend to feature male abusers. And in my own life, my abuser has most often been a man. Framing sexual assault as a man problem comes naturally to me.
But the reality is more nuanced. Perry’s kiss is a reminder that sexual assault is perpetrated by women, too. And male victims are often dismissed or ignored, made the fodder of jokes or subjected to claims they must’ve enjoyed it.
Rape culture hurts male victims just as much as it hurts female victims. But unlike female victims, who often have friends or family they can turn to for support, male victims are left unsupported and ignored. How many of Glaze’s 19-year-old male friends will support him when he says he was victimized by Perry’s kiss? How many 19-year-old boys are comfortable characterizing themselves as victims at all?
Perry’s reckless disregard for Glaze’s consent is also a stark reminder of the pitfalls of White Feminism. In her attempt to be bold and powerful, she succumbed to the same abusive behavior as her male peers. Her brand of female empowerment comes at the cost of others; it’s thinly-veiled narcissism that advances nothing but her own power.
Those are harsh words, but a man who forced a kiss on a young woman on national television would be subject to harsh words too. That Perry faces obstacles those men never will isn’t an excuse for her disregard for others. Her success isn’t a “get out of jail free” card.
Women like Perry are supposed to be our role models. They blaze their own trail and refuse to play by the rules — or so we’re told. But the reality is that women like Perry play by the rules of the same old patriarchal game. They embrace toxic structures for their own advancement rather than doing their best to dismantle them for the advancement of others.
Perry took something from Glaze that day. She took his first kiss, which he was saving for someone special. But she also took his power over his own body, and subjected him to her will, even if only for a minute. It wasn’t cute, it wasn’t funny, and it wasn’t a joke. It was an act of sexual violence that can’t go unremarked.
The producers of American Idol could’ve taken a stand against sexual violence by choosing not to air the video, or by harshly condemning Perry’s behavior. But instead, they chose to play it up on social media, using the kiss on their website and tweeting “This journey has just begun, Benjamin. A kiss for good luck from @katyperry and you’re on your way.”
I am not surprised that a show and network that support Ryan Seacrest don’t consider forcing a kiss on a stranger, in direct violation of his outspoken lack of consent, to be problematic. Glaze himself told The New York Times that he didn’t consider the kiss to be sexual harassment. But in a culture that tells him he should be grateful for Perry’s attention, and that his autonomy is nothing compared to a celebrity’s whims, it’s easy to see why.
The show and Perry owe Glaze an apology. But more importantly, so do we. Our boys deserve to know their bodies belong to them, and that they too have the right to say no. And clearly, we’re failing them.