A couple weeks ago Katy Perry made news headlines after kissing an American Idol participant without his consent.
The result was a social media storm of contradicting opinions.
“If a male celebrity did this to a 19-year-old girl without their consent he would be accused of sexual assault,” mentioned an Instagram user. “19 and hasn’t had a first kiss. It’s just a kiss bro, get over it,” someone responded.
In other words, some raised questions about biased definitions of sexual assault based on the perpetrator’s gender identity, while others normalized Perry’s behaviour.
Yet, there is still much to talk about. The conversation must not only include that a non-consensual kiss aired on television, but also the incident’s relationship with #MeToo, Rape Culture, and the toxic expectations the West puts on men.
Gender and masculinities academic Luis Bonino argues heterosexual men have to be constantly proving they are “not women, children or homosexual” in order to assert their masculinity.
Bonino bases his statement on the concept of Hegemonic Masculinity, a concept coined by R.W. Cornell which refers to any given values and traits a man must display in order to look like a “real” man. This effort is performative and must therefore be exercised on daily basis.
This model does not only apply to men subjectively, but it determines society’s expectations on them. Consequently, those who do not adhere to the core values of Hegemonic Masculinity are constantly at risk of being bullied, ostracized and laughed at. Which is exactly what happened on American Idol.
The incident began with contestant Benjamin Glaze confessing to never having kissed a girl.
“I’ve never been in a relationship,” he said. “I can’t kiss a girl without being in a relationship.”
The instant reaction by Perry was to call him up implying his first kiss was about to happen.
“No, wait, hold on, you can’t, no way,” Glaze’s responded.
And we know the rest: Perry, fellow judges Lionel Ritchie and Luke Bryan and the cameras put peer pressure on him. After hesitation Glaze agrees on giving Perry a kiss on the cheek, but when asked for a second one she turns her head to kiss him non-consensually on his mouth. Ritchie and Bryan then celebrate by high-fiving Perry and being as noisy as they possibly can.
But, what are they celebrating with such excitement? And what was Perry’s motivation for kissing a young man who had made clear to be waiting for his first relationship to have a first kiss?
Glaze disclosed not having as much sexual experience as a man of his age is believed he should, and the judges were eager to redeem him from the stigma of his condition.
After the kiss they celebrate that he is no longer that beta male without sexual experience at the age of 19. They celebrate that he is now acting like a “real” man, who puts sexuality over emotions and rational thought.
The idea of consent is out of the question because Western ideals of masculinity suggest a man is driven by his sexual drive, which is understood as an uncontrollable biological urge with default agreement to any heterosexual experience.
Based on this, Glaze should be thankful if anything.
But when are we going to talk about how expectations and insecurities are driving and disciplining men into toxic mindsets in which their value is measured by their sexual activity?
Not only men, but society also has to be held accountable for the unacceptable acts that triggered the #MeToo movement and what we have coined as Rape Culture.
Part of this process must revise how men are being socialized and then acknowledge that they are put in great states of internal conflict throughout their lives.
This requires accepting that being a man is not simple, and that men sell their individuality, emotions, and rational thought in exchange for the privileges stored for “real” men.
What will happen if we don’t soon acknowledge this?
The answer has become evident since the beginning of the administration of President Donald Trump.
It is time to facilitate the conversations that will allow us to not only to eradicate toxic masculine behaviour, but also listen to men’s experiences and issues as part of an agenda for gender equality.