Katy Perry needs a lesson in consent

How the controversial moment on American Idol shows we have a lot to learn about consent

Glaze and Perry right before the kiss.
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Photo illustration by Josh Granovsky

For anyone who was doubtful of a successful return of American Idol, their predictions might have come through last week when Katy Perry kissed a contestant on the lips without their consent.

The process of American Idol involves people from all over the country coming to audition their singing talents in front of judges, formerly Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul. Since the show was rebooted this year, it has the same format with new judges Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan and Katy Perry.

In one particular audition this year, Perry seemed to cross a line with one of the contestants.

19 year old Benjamin Glaze came into the audition room on a clip that aired on Mar. 18 and ended up telling the judges he was yet to have a first kiss since he’d never been in a relationship. Perry responded to this revelation by motioning for Glaze to come closer and had him kiss her on the cheek. She signaled for him to do it again, but this time, turned her head and kissed him on the lips.

American Idol and Perry’s reps and co-judges were all quick to defend Perry and play it off as if it wasn’t a big deal. But let’s imagine, for a minute that this incident had occurred with a reversal in gender. Had an older man kissed a young woman on live TV without their consent, there would have likely been an immediate outpouring of hate from viewers against the male.

If we were to look at how sexual harassment and abuse have played out in the past with a male perpetrator, it’s likely Perry would’ve been fired from the show and publicly disgraced. Instead, the pop-star has defended her actions, and the team behind Idol has stood by her by using the footage as promotional material for weeks. Adding to these gendered standards, Glaze has spoken out in interviews since the release of the footage echoing this indifference. Although it did make him uncomfortable, he said he wouldn’t classify it as an instance of sexual harassment.

This exact incident points perfectly to the fact that sexual harassment by women against men isn’t taken as seriously as it should be. In this case, the facts are pretty clear. Perry, in a position of power and authority, didn’t consider the fact that Glaze hadn’t consented to the sexual act.

According to a presentation put out by justice.gov — a website explaining different laws for people in Northwest Territories — “sexual assault is a crime. It includes unwanted touching, kissing, grabbing and rape.”

In Perry and Glaze’s situation, Glaze didn’t feel as if he was sexual harassed. So while that could be classified as a positive outcome of what could’ve been a very traumatic experience, Perry couldn’t have known whether or not Glaze had given consent when the kiss happened.

This incident highlights the fact that sexual harassment and assault aren’t taken with as much seriousness when it is towards men but it also can be problematic in future instances of sexual assault and harassment in the public and private sphere.

If people, especially young children, see unwanted kissing or touching on a public television show, it could inform the way they look at sexual assault in the future. The media has a direct influence on how people see the world and if they use Perry as an example of how to deal with interactions in a position of authority, there could be a lot more instances of sexual harassment in the world.

While Idol and Perry seemingly haven’t learned their lesson from this incident, hopefully the outrage and discussion it’s caused will lead to better behaviour from people in positions of power and a better understanding of the intricacies of sexual assault and harassment.

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