It seems that every week there is a new case of sexual misconduct in the music industry, and the week of March 11th was no exception. What’s new, however, is the gender of the perpetrator. After Datsik’s sexual assault controversy, Katy Perry decided to become enmeshed in one of her own, planting a kiss on a 19-year old contestant during American Idol’s new season premiere. Sounds like every teenage boy’s dream right? Not for the contestant, Benjamin Glaze. Let’s break this down:
- After Glaze joked that he liked his job because it allowed him to talk to cute girls, Judge Luke Bryan asked him if he’d ever “kissed a girl and liked it,” an obvious nod to Perry’s famous single. Glaze responded that he is not in a relationship, and that he “can’t kiss a girl without being in a relationship.”
- Perry wasn’t having it, and quickly gestured for Glaze to come up to the judges stand, telling him to “come here.” He was obviously startled, and protested saying “wait, no, hold on,” but the male judges were laughing, taking pictures and encouraging him, and Perry continued to direct him to approach.
- He relented, walking slowly up to the stand while looking back nervously and continuing to say “no” “no, wait,” “ are you serious?” and “What? On the cheek?” while Perry leaned in and turned her cheek towards him.
- Obviously uncomfortable, he slowly leaned in to give her a light kiss on the cheek, which was not good enough for Perry and so she made him do it again. He obliged, but as he leaned in for the kiss #2, Perry quickly turned her head and kissed him on the mouth.
- Glaze fell to the floor shocked while Perry cheered and celebrated with her male co-hosts with high-fives, fist bumps, and jokes.
The discomfort doesn’t end after the kiss:
- Either oblivious to how Glaze felt or indifferent, Perry continued to behave problematically throughout his audition. Immediately after the kiss, she high-fived Bryan, saying she “got him,” patted her lips dry, and sarcastically said “Sorry!”
- After Perry instructed Glaze to begin playing, she turned to Bryan and said that the kiss “may have been a kiss of death” and laughed, while Glaze looked on rattled. When he asked for water, Perry used it as an opportunity to point out that he’s nervous from the kiss. Lionelle defended him, saying that he’s just trying to recover from it, and Glaze agreed, saying that he really wasn’t expecting it.
- Bryan continued to tease him, while Lionelle hugged him, asked if he’s alright, and told him that Glaze’s first kiss “was a major deal” because it was with Katy Perry. Glaze kept his response light, saying that he’ll have to put it up on the fridge.
- When he finally sang, his performance is cut short by Perry, who said that he made “her heart flutter” (while her co-hosts fanned her with folders) but that people were outsinging him. She did point out however, that he may have sounded rushed because she sped up “the BPM of the heartbeat,” to which he responded, “well yeah…”
- They ended his audition by telling him that he should continue to practice music, go “kiss a couple girls,” and remember that he “won major” that day. From the look of disappointment that was on his face, I wouldn’t agree.
So what was wrong with this picture? By focusing on Glaze’s response to the kiss, it quickly becomes clear. From the beginning of the audition, Glaze states that he hasn’t had a first kiss yet because he is waiting for someone special to be in a relationship with. This alone should have stopped Perry, as Glaze is obviously committed to wait until he’s in a relationship if he’s waited 19 years. In fact, immediately after the kiss in an interview with The New York Times, Glaze says, “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.”
As if having his first kiss stolen from him wasn’t bad enough, it was made worse by his repeated, clear verbal protests showing no consent to the matter. After being promised just a kiss on the cheek and receiving one on the mouth, he is stunned and visibly rattled. Some may argue that he consented based on the fact that he approached the judge’s stand, but how could he disobey directions when in the presence of three very rich and powerful individuals, while being judged by them in a nationally televised competition? This power differential alone makes consent near impossible, as explained below. Furthermore, despite not wanting the kiss but relenting due to pressure, he was forced not once, but twice to kiss Perry, which is unfair at best and cruel at worse.
The aftermath of the kiss doesn’t help Perry and the judges’ case. Perry and the co-hosts continued to tease Glaze after the kiss despite his obvious signs of discomfort, and many of the comments were bordering if not crossing the line of sexual harassment when thought of in terms of the competitive nature of the show and the lack of consent present. Glaze may have made light of the situation, attempting to joke about the quality of the kiss and the meaning it had for him, but this doesn’t reduce the comment-making.
What’s worse, is that Perry acts as if she had just won a conquest when she high-fives and fist-bumps her co-hosts. This celebratory response to duping him into being touched non-consensually is objectifying to say the least. This sense of objectification is supported by the hosts coldly stopping him after a minute of his performance to reject him.
I can only imagine how violated he must have felt coming into a singing competition to be tricked into giving something up that he has saved for someone special, cut short during his performance, and then have all critiques be based on the kiss, rather than his talent and potential. Neither the co-hosts nor Perry took responsibility for the impact they may have had on his performance, and Perry goes as far as to make a joke about his performance being due to his pounding heart, as if he were pleased with the kiss rather than unnerved.
Rape Culture and Sexual Assault Myths Debunked
Why go to the effort of breaking down a case that seems minuscule in comparison to the hundreds of stories of sexual violence in the media? Because this case can teach us about sexual assault, sexual harassment, and the general rape culture in the music industry. Analysing this case can help us bust common myths around consent and sexual violence, and is a prime example that men, too, can experience sexual abuse.
Myth #1 A Kiss is Just a Kiss and Can’t be Considered Sexual Assault
Although to some it may have only seemed like an innocent kiss, Perry kissing Glaze was an example of abuse of power and non-consensual sexual behavior that could be, and by definition should be, considered sexual assault.
Although laws vary by state, according to the United States Department of Justice, “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient” is sexual assault. In some states, this definition goes one step further to specify not just the need for consent for a sexual behavior to be considered acceptable, but affirmative consent. And although the law may not require affirmative consent in all states, it is and should be mandatory regardless of whether the law requires it for a conviction or not. Here we can begin to see the issue of this Idol kiss. Not only was there an absence of affirmative consent such as a “yes!” by Glaze, there was a clear no, supported by non-verbal facial and body cues showing his wariness and nervousness regarding the encounter.
Despite Glaze saying that he doesn’t believe the kiss was sexual assault in subsequent interviews, his discomfort and lack of consent in the moment, and his continued unease, regret and disappointment over the encounter all point in the direction of it being a less severe, but unjustifiable, case of sexual assault. His denial could be due to a variety of factors, including his understanding of what constitutes sexual violence, fear of his portrayal in the media, and possible legal issues with American Idol and the judges themselves, such as allegations of defamation.
Myth #2 Women Aren’t Perpetrators of Sexual Assault and Harassment
Despite the sexual misconduct evident in this audition, many people are jumping to Perry’s defense, saying that this couldn’t be assault because it is Katy Perry, a widely desired woman. Unfortunately, the media is supporting this notion, painting the event as the “good luck kiss” from an attractive woman that every boy dreams of. Not only does this support traditional gender roles, it also pushes Perry’s history of inappropriate sexual advances on the show, and on the red carpet, out of the limelight.
This was not her first case of somewhat controversial sexual behavior. It seems that this season her shtick is over-the-top flirtation with male contestants, relying on innuendo, propositioning, and physical touch. For example, this season Perry aggressively flirted with a male contestant as his mother and girlfriend watched backstage. When he told her that he works in construction to support his mother with lupus, she replied “that’s hot,” and continued to bat her eyes at him, hit on him, and at one point even propositioned him by saying “even if you’re not going to Vegas you can come hang with me tonight,” and telling him it’s good that he isn’t engaged. It is no surprise that this made the contestant uncomfortable (despite his crush on her) with his dreams on the line and important women in his life watching. The media may portray this as cute and flirtatious, but what if this was coming out of the mouth of a male judge?
The portrayal of the event by American Idol and publicly supportive responses further the harmful sexual worldview that men have uncontrollable sexual desire and women are the desired temptresses leading them on. By framing Perry’s sexual advances as innocent play, the media perpetuates the idea that women can think boys are cute, but that they can’t be credible sexual aggressors.
This messaging supports the heteronormative rhetoric that a girl is weak in the knees when she’s around a masculine construction worker, that women are responsible for providing sexual awakening, and that every boy is primed and ready to go for a come-on. In doing so, it is maintaining the sexual double standard that blames female victims of assault, excuses male perpetrators who “couldn’t control themselves,” silences male victims of assault and pushes female perpetrators under the rug. If he wasn’t a victim and she wasn’t a perpetrator, then gender roles are maintained.
Another aspect of concern, in this case, is the age difference between Perry and Glaze. Perry is 14 years older than Glaze, who was only one year above the age of legal adulthood. The combination of her stature and the age differential should have made it clear that Glaze was in a coercive environment where he wouldn’t be able to provide consent without the influence of power. Just ask yourself: if the roles were reversed and Bryan forced a kiss on a female contestant 14 years his junior, would you feel that the kiss was innocent?
Myth #3 Men Are Not Victims, and Are Not Objectified
In general, people have a much different feeling about what happened during this audition when they think of the victim as female and the perpetrator as male. Why is there such a double standard when it comes to male victims of assault? Unfortunately, this can be explained in terms of gender norms and rape culture.
A myth persists that men cannot be victims of sexual assault because they are the more sexual gender, are stronger than women, and do the act of penetration. This belief is at odds with the 2010 CDC report of 5 million men and boys being “forced to penetrate” and that 80% of the perpetrators were women. Oftentimes, age differentials, the power of the perpetrator, level of inebriation, and fear of repercussions outweigh the strength of a male-identifying individual (if he is even stronger than the woman to begin with), and fear of stigmatization may keep him from reporting the assault.
Unfortunately, in a society that emphases male sexual prowess, toxic masculinity runs rampant. Men who refuse sex or are victims of violence at the hands of women are seen as weak and sensitive, and therefore less masculine. The less masculine you are, the more feminine you are seen to be. This is dangerous for a male, as being feminine in our patriarchal society is to be inferior, and therefore this image is avoided at all costs. For this reason, unlike women who are painted as having no sexual agency, Glaze was painted with too much agency, making it seem as though he had a choice in this encounter, and could not admit to being a victim without taking a knock to his man-card.
Some of the dangers associated with male victimhood can be seen in responses by the public to Glaze coming out about his discomfort with the experience. According to Slate Magazine, “he is stuck with half the country treating him like the harassment victim he insists he’s not, and the other half calling him a wimp and wondering why he isn’t thanking his guardian angel for placing Perry’s lips in the path of his.” Online comments have called him a ‘beta-male’, calling his masculinity into question, and others go so far as to imply that this will be material for masturbation for the teen, a particularly insulting comment to make about a sexually conservative individual who had just experienced sexual violation.
Fear of the repercussions of being a known male victim may have kept Glaze from acknowledging the kiss as being assault, or alternatively, his existence as a male in a culture of toxic masculinity may have kept him from realizing what this kiss really was. Despite not viewing this as sexual assault, which he has every right to do, Glaze must be commended for speaking up about his discomfort and lack of consent at all. It takes courage to publically stand up for yourself and your beliefs in a rape culture that blames victims or minimizes their experiences.
This incident not only serves as an example that men can be victims of sexual violence; it also goes to show that the male-presenting individuals can also experience sexual objectification.
Sexual objectification is when an individual is viewed as an object of desire rather than a complex person with their own desires, thoughts, and feelings. This is usually achieved through thinking and speaking of individuals, usually women, as only their body or fetishizing parts of their body. In Glaze’s case, his first kiss, which was very meaningful to him and meant to be connected to the love, trust, and respect that come with a relationship, was fetishized by Perry and her co-hosts. His worth on the show was contingent on his willingness to give up a part of his body–his lips–and his desires, feelings, and thoughts regarding the matter were completely ignored. The judges celebrating while Glaze looked on shocked, and their cold response to his audition support the notion that all that was wanted from him was the kiss, and once it was received, he was of little use and discardable, just like an object that has served its purpose.
Myth #4 This Wasn’t Sexual Coercion by People in Power
The problem of this case is not just that consent was violated, but that it should have been known by the judges to be impossible to receive. Because the judges held Glaze’s dreams and reputation in their hands on national television, and because their wealth and fame place them in a more powerful and dominant position, they were able to coerce Glaze into doing something he did not desire that he otherwise would have never done.
Just like men in Hollywood asking for sexual favors for making dreams come true, Perry coerces Glaze for a kiss in a situation while the Glaze’s deeply desired dreams were held in her hands. In this way, the judges, particularly Katy Perry, dangled the enticement of celebrity and a singing career in one hand while at the same time making implicit threats of rejection from the show and negative media portrayal in the other.
The sexual harassment that occurred post-kiss, and the kiss itself, showed that the judges were aware of their power and control in a society with reverence for celebrity, and for this reason felt entitled to Glaze’s body. They put their desires for increased ratings before his ability to consent, and when they got what they wanted from him, they rebuffed him.
Perry, and the Entire Music Community, MUST Do Better!
There are many reasons Katy Perry may be behaving in a sexualized manner on American Idol, including to further her image as a sexually progressive feminist (her behavior isn’t holding up to this image), for improved ratings for the show’s season premiere, for personal reasons such as a desire to assert power, or because she isn’t aware of or doesn’t understand the impact of her behaviors on other people. This is not to condone her behavior, but to point out areas of improvement.
Perry, It’s Time to Apologize, and Learn About Consent!
Perry prides herself on her image as a sexually-empowered feminist who is unabashed about her sexual identity and desires. However, her understanding of feminism seems to be lacking, as she uses gender stereotypes to further her image as a strong sex-positive woman through sexual aggression towards men that is brushed off by the media as well-intentioned flirtation.
The first lesson Perry should learn is how her behavior perpetuates victim-blaming, silences male victims of assault, and supports the sexual double standard she rallies so hard against. She needs to learn about how her behavior does nothing to benefit the equality of the sexes; equality isn’t the ability of female-identified individuals to act as problematically as their male-identified counterparts, but rather, it is the equal, fair, and respectful treatment of all individuals.
The most important thing for Perry to do is acknowledge that she has committed sexual harassment and assault and change her behavior before it happens again. However, before this change is possible, Perry has a lot to learn. She needs to learn that despite her stature, all individuals deserve respect, and that she has no right to someone else’s body. She needs to learn how to keep her sexual interests out of competitive environments where coercion is likely. She needs to learn that men aren’t the only ones who perpetrate assault, and that women, just like men, need consent for any sexual contact they make with another person. And lastly, she needs to learn that sexual harassment is unacceptable, regardless of the gender identity of the individual.
Perry needs to apologize to Glaze, making clear that she takes full responsibility for what she has done and how it has impacted him, and make it known that she has a clear plan of action to change her behavior. To prevent this from occurring again, Perry must learn how to practice affirmative consent. This includes learning what affirmative consent is, if a person is capable of consent (in this case, Glaze was not), how to ask for and give consent, what non-verbal cues of non-consent and consent look like, and how to make sure that consent is still present throughout an encounter. She also needs to learn what dialogue is acceptable with those who are younger than her, who have less power than her, and/or who interact with her on a professional level. Her discourse with contestants is unacceptable, and must change.
Consent Training, Bystander Intervention, and Support of Victims is Key!
As the exemplified by music fans’ response to the Perry American Idol kiss scandal, Perry isn’t the only one who has some work to do. Unfortunately, peers of ours, in the music community and beyond, have victim-blamed and attacked Glaze’s identity in clear displays of rape culture and toxic masculinity. This shows how important it is for our community to actively work to dismantle rape culture and to build a consent culture instead. How can we do this?
First, we need to edu