Katy Perry kissing a man without his consent is unacceptable
That it is a sexual violation should be evident to all.
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When it comes to violation of sexual consent, women almost always find themselves at the receiving end. But occasionally it is women themselves who fail to understand what consent is. US pop star Katy Perry recently proved she is one such woman.
In October 2017, during the latest run of popular musical reality show American Idol, 19-year-old Benjamin Glaze was kissed “smack on the lips” by Perry moments before his audition. Glaze felt nothing but discomfort.
Speaking to the New York Times, he said, “I wanted to save it for my first relationship. I wanted it to be special.” If things seem hazy at this point, Glaze's next words make clear, once and for all, why Perry is in the wrong: “Would I have done it if she said, ‘Would you kiss me?’ No, I would have said no. I know a lot of guys would be like, ‘Heck yeah!’ But for me, I was raised in a conservative family and I was uncomfortable immediately. I wanted my first kiss to be special.”
A no means no. But what happens when the "yes" was never sought?
How it played out
Glaze stepped onto the stage and introduced himself to the judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan. Perry asked him what he did for a living. “I’m a cashier at an electronics store. I love it, because sometimes there are cute girls. And they’re not going anywhere without saying hi,” the contestant answered.
Bryan, making a reference to a Katy Perry song, asked Glaze: “Have you kissed a girl and liked it?” to which Glaze replied, “No, I have never been in a relationship. I can’t kiss a girl without being in a relationship.”
At this point, Perry got up and shouted “come here” at the contestant multiple times. He walked up to her table with visible trepidation. Perry then turned her cheek towards him — an invitation for him to kiss her. Somewhat nervously, Glaze planted a peck. Perry then made a fuss about how it almost did not register. So the contestant offered to kiss her cheek again, this time properly. He got closer, and at the last moment, Perry turned her face and kissed him right on the lips.
Glaze, shocked at what had played out, fell onto the floor.
The obvious problem
Glaze does not feel he was sexually violated. Katy Perry does not feel what she did was wrong. In fact, she even tweeted about it. American Idol does not feel there was anything explicitly wrong about what went down. But does that make this situation right? Absolutely not.
That boundaries were crossed should be evident to all. Glaze clearly consented to a kiss on the cheeks. Perry used the “classic” switches-from-cheeks-to-lips-at-the-last-moment move — an act that can easily be termed assault, or at least stemming from a culture that has normalised sexual assault.
Whenever there is a conversation around women’s rights, a common “men’s rights” rebuttal is prefixed with “what if men...” More often than not, this line of thought never achieves anything, often ignores ground realities of systemic oppression and works only to derail the conversation.
In cases like Glaze's however, it is whataboutery that needs to be pursued. Imagine for a moment if a male judge did the same to a female contestant: the internet would be baying for blood and bashing the man, and rightfully so. These very same arguments of consent and boundaries and sexual assault would be made.
Why, then, is Glaze not being given the same treatment? Is it because the male gaze, years of conditioning and antiquated gender roles have led us to believe that women are incapable of sexually assault? Or is t is that the image of sexual assault in our heads is not similar to what Glaze went through.
If there is one fact that the recent Aziz Ansari controversy made evident, it is there is no "black and white" when it comes to sexual assault.
What is perhaps most disturbing in cases like Glaze's assault is that women, who often spend their lives looking over their shoulder, teaching themselves to behave in a manner that would help them avoid harassment, assault or even an uncomfortable gaze, may be unable to comprehend when their actions violate consent.
In July 2017, an drunk woman from Kolkata allegedly kissed a policeman after she was pulled over for getting into an accident. The incident was widely reported in the media, not because it was an apparent issue of sexual assault, but because it was perceived as amusing. There too, the same mistakes were made. There too, the violation of consent was overlooked either because society believes women are incapable of the crime, or because the society believes men can’t be sexually assaulted.
Both cases point towards a deeply flawed patriarchal outlook.
In the age of Harvey Weinsteins, Aziz Ansaris and campaigns like #MeToo, the importance of understanding consent and the importance of understanding what assault means and feels like is paramount. By any definition, Katy Perry is guilty of assault.