Empathy for sexual harassment is a luxury still unavailable to men: A different outrage for Katy Perry and Papon

By Dushyant Shekhawat

Until the last few months of 2018, consent and sexual propriety have never occupied popular imagination the way they do now. First came the #MeToo movement, followed by the #TimesUp movement, both of which were powerful social media campaigns that translated into offline action and provided women around the world, and the entertainment industry specifically, a platform to confront their male abusers and harassers. Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, and so many other powerful men took advantage of their power and influence to coerce and abuse women over years. And their downfall became the wind beneath #MeToo’s wings.

Yet, in the last few months, the focus has only been on female victims, and not vice versa. Perhaps Katy Perry’s actions on the reboot of American Idol will give us a #HimToo movement.

The popstar, who is in her 30s, planted a kiss on Brian Glaze, a 19-year-old male contestant who had arrived to audition for the talent show she was supposed to be judging. In the now-viral clip, Perry beckons Glaze to the judges’ table while her fellow judges Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie cheer on her actions. She then kisses him on the mouth. Glaze, an unwilling participant to the kiss, was visibly flustered, and proceeded to flub his way through the audition, leading to Perry herself rejecting him as a candidate.

The other judges choose to ignore how inappropriate it would have seemed if one of them had tried the same stunt with a female contestant. We don’t need to look abroad or too far back into the past for a reference either; remember the hue and cry that erupted over Assamese singer Papon kissing a minor contestant on his show without her consent?

In Papon’s case, he was crucified in the media, and an FIR was filed against him, despite the victim’s and her father’s insistence that there was nothing untoward about Papon kissing an 11-year-old girl. The singer went hoarse protesting his innocence, but the damage had been done and he had been found guilty in the court of public opinion. The backlash for Papon’s actions was swift, savage, and decisive.

This begs the question, why is Katy Perry getting off so lightly?

Empathy for sexual harassment is a luxury still unavailable to men, as the reaction to Glaze’s ordeal proved.

Apart from the glaring difference of Papon’s victim being a minor, and the recipient of Perry’s kiss being of age at 19 years old, nothing changes when it comes to consent and power dynamics. Just like Papon, Perry was in a position of authority over the people she is judging. In both cases, the recipient of the unwanted advances had to grin and bear it out of fear for the consequences of upsetting their abuser, who held sway over their dreams and ambitions.

The only other difference is that Papon’s victim is a girl, while Brian Glaze is a man. This has opened a can of worms on how we view male and female victims of assault and abuse. Glaze has become the automatic victim of a commonly held misconception that men cannot suffer sexual assault or molestation. His protestations draw laughter and derision, even from supposedly woke people.

Ever since the incident went viral, Glaze has been the target of jealous dudes who can only dream about kissing a woman half as lovely as Katy Perry saying that he should be grateful his consent was ignored. Empathy for sexual harassment is a luxury still unavailable to men, as the reaction to Glaze’s ordeal proved. Because Perry is an attractive woman, and Glaze is a straight man, it’s expected that he had to have enjoyed the experience. And he should man up, and cease complaining about it.

This toxic, patriarchal, and sexually aggressive notion of masculinity is not an isolated case. Globally, far more male victims of sexual violence suffer this stigma in silence rather than report it. At home, the case of entertainment entrepreneur and OML founder Vijay Nair comes to mind, who faced a harrowing ordeal when he was the target of a cyberstalking campaign by a malicious woman. Despite the prevalence of real-life examples, we continue to labour under a patriarchal complex that views men only as aggressors, and women as their passive victims. Reverse the roles, and the whole situation is viewed as ridiculous.

Campaigns like #MeToo have gone a long way toward liberating women from that construct and reaffirming their power of consent. But consent is a unisex product. And no, the case of Katy Perry and Brian Glaze cannot be solved by him “being a man about it.”

This article was originally published on Arrè.