Katy Perry and the Limitations of #MeToo

Consent is always necessary – including when it comes to asking consent from men and boys.

The story of an American Idol judge kissing a teenager without asking for consent might be unsurprising in the era of #Metoo. Another powerful figure taking advantage of their position, but, finally being called out. If, however, the judge is Katy Perry, and the teenager is male, it seems that the public response is very different.

When Benjamin Glaze auditioned for American Idol he told the judges he had never kissed anyone. Perry apparently thought it was acceptable to insist he kiss her on the cheek, completely ignoring the power imbalance as someone older, and one of the judges – again, if you think this was okay, reverse the genders. She then took this display of power, and with a complete lack of awareness of boundaries kissed Glaze on the mouth, without permission, without his consent.

The media is reporting this as a “trick” with headlines that are supposedly witty puns and plays on the titles of Perry’s most famous song, her queerbaiting “I kissed a girl and I liked it”. Disregarding any potential boundaries seems amusing when it is a famous female singer, and a teenage boy. Make no mistake, kissing someone against their will, or without first asking consent, is crossing a boundary. No, it is not funny, or something we should dismiss because of the gender of the people involved.

No, it is not funny, or something we should dismiss because of the gender of the people involved”

All too often society acts as if men and boys cannot be sexually harassed or have their boundaries crossed, whether it is teenagers abused by teachers being described by a judge as “fully consenting”  or adult men assaulted on the tube home after a night out. Men, and boys, are assumed to be always horny, and always welcoming of any sexual advances, regardless of their own desires, even regardless of their sexual orientation. I live near Newcastle, and it is not uncommon to see groups of hen parties in the gay quarter behaving without much respect of boundaries. Many gay men have told me of being sexually harassed and assaulted by these groups who even in a gay bar, assume that touching a man’s genitals without consent is acceptable behaviour. Even worse perhaps should they complain they are mocked, or treated with incredulity, as if no one can believe they have anything to object to.

We can see this in the description of Perry kissing a teenager without first asking his consent as a “trick”. The word suggests something frivolous, and not at all to be taken seriously. Is this not exactly the attitude of rich powerful abusive people in the workplace that campaigns like #timesup were meant to call out? Historically, women have struggled to have assaults on them taken seriously, part of the change in narrative has to be take all consent violations seriously, whoever commits them. The very idea that someone’s identity, whatever it is defends them from having to consider consent has to be challenged if we are to move the conversation about consent forward.

“Part of the change in narrative has to be take all consent violations seriously, whoever commits them”

So why is it  in the middle of an intense worldwide discussion of the need to stop predatory sexual behaviour, that Perry thought this was okay? She is clearly not alone in considering that women cannot break sexual boundaries with men. There seems to be a deeply held belief that to be male is to be perpetually horny and looking for sex, with anyone, and that this means no sexual advance is ever unwelcome. This even extends to young children, who, when assaulted by women are described as “lucky”.

This idea of men as always horny, and so always welcoming any kind of sexual attention, consensual or not, is the other side of the belief that men have uncontrollable sexual urges which lead them to rape and sexually assault others.The trope of masculinity meaning one is always accepting of any sexual advance, and is unable to control one’s own sexual desires, thus excusing sexual assault harms all survivors, of all genders. I work with survivors of sexual assault, their reactions, feelings, fears, and deep sense of shame are not based on their gender, even whilst we hold them up to these gendered norms, and judge survivors against them .

For many male survivors there is an additional sense of shame in that even considering a consent violation as unwanted is used to question their masculinity. “A real man would enjoy any sexual contact” or “ a real man would never allow himself to be assaulted”. These thoughts can whirl around someone’s head, sending them spiralling into questioning whether they even have the right to claim they were sexually assaulted.

Let us be clear, kissing someone without first gaining their consent is a violation. It is not okay, whether is is a teenage boy or a middle aged man. However, given the huge power imbalance between Perry and Glaze and the wider discussions about sexual and intimate acts, it is even more important that we demand awareness and respect for the boundaries of men and boys. Every survivor who has wondered if they can say #Metoo needs to hear that yes, your consent also matters.

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