Yesterday, a dear friend who also happens to be a child sexual abuse victim advocate (because she is a child sex abuse survivor) shared this on her public Facebook page:
“I watched the video of this kiss and found it really upsetting. This was not okay on so many levels!”
If you read the article, you’ll find details like (emphases mine), “The singer beckoned him over for a kiss on the cheek, but then kissed his lips. . . . Glaze [the contestant] . . . looked visibly shocked by the incident and fell to the ground, while 33-year-old Perry high-fived Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan saying: ‘Yeah, I got him.'”
And, “Glaze later told The New York Times he had wanted to save his first kiss for his first relationship. ‘I was raised in a conservative family and I was uncomfortable immediately,’ he said. ‘I wanted my first kiss to be special.'”
And, “But writing on Facebook on Wednesday, Glaze said he was ‘not complaining about the kiss from Katy Perry at all’. . . . I should have been able to perform under pressure. . . . I do not think I was sexually harassed by Katy Perry.”
And, “Glaze added that he did not think his views had been ‘appropriately communicated through the media’.”
Now, let me tell you what I see in all this:
- A double standard. Plenty of people will spot it right away, and plenty of others have sounded off on it before me, but it bears endless repeating: THIS IS A DOUBLE STANDARD. If K.P. had been a man kissing a contestant on nationwide television, there would have been MASSIVE public outcry. And let me point out that would not change if the contestant in question was male or female!
2. A sexually harassed young man. Benjamin Glaze says he wasn’t, and people, you need to realize that. means. nothing. Victims cover for perpetrators all the time, refusing to see, report, or acknowledge the harm done to them. (The reasons for this are numerous and deeply complicated, and if you want more details, I highly recommend reading Natalie’s blog account of three years of sexual abuse in her own home.) Granted, this is not a severe example. But it does in fact illustrate the textbook definition of sexual harassment. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded or in denial–including poor Benjamin.
3. A shamed young man. Why would Benjamin readily report his strongly negative reaction, then hasten to cover for K.P. AND assume all the blame for his botched music performance?? I can tell you why SO MANY survivors of sex abuse would do such a thing: they’re ashamed of looking like a victim. They’re ashamed of being called a whiner, a complainer, a wuss. They’re ashamed of people mocking them for having such a strong reaction to “such a little thing! No big deal!” They’re sick of being told they’re “just looking for attention.” And, in the case of men, they are shamed by this response: “It’s not harassment–you’re a man!”
As an isolated incident, it’s arguably not worth crying over this glass of spilled milk. But, ladies and gentlemen, this isn’t an isolated incident. It is one of many, many symptoms of a diseased culture in which a person’s body is worth less than the entertainment or pleasure or gain that others derive from assaulting its sovereignty. And in particular, this incident stands for countless other far worse abuses that take place in the shadows–abuses that target boys just as well as girls and women.
Another friend shared this story on Facebook many weeks ago, and I’ve been waiting to post it until the right moment presented itself: Attempted molestation of a 10-year-old boy at a Tulsa, OK public library. This is a photograph of the note passed to the boy right under his mother’s nose:
My friend lives in Tulsa and actually knows a friend of the aunt of the boy who received this piece of paper. It really happened. It really happens.
I need to take a moment to point out here that IN MOST DOCUMENTED CASES, harassment and molestation is not committed by strangers. Most typically, a perpetrator is a known and trusted friend or family member who grooms a victim for months before abuse begins and is enabled, wittingly or unwittingly, by family members and/or establishments. The most well-known example of this right now is Larry Nassar, which I trust you’ve heard of.
But I’ve chosen these two examples–Benjamin Graze and the boy in Tulsa–to put a spotlight on a particular part of this problem: the part that abuses boys and men.
This part doesn’t receive enough press. It doesn’t receive enough understanding. It *certainly* doesn’t receive enough support, respect, and defense.
As someone who personally knows two men whose lives were affected by sexual harassment or abuse, and who knows the wife of a third, and ESPECIALLY as a mother of two darling boys, I’m telling you: this has to change.
How can you help?
Look for opportunities to ask the men and boys around you if they’ve ever endured situations that made them physically uncomfortable. Let them know you’re a safe, believing, supportive ear. If they share something, and you learn they are in immediate danger, contact the authorities and do not leave them alone until help arrives (this is most important for children).
Let men know there is absolutely no shame in telling their stories of abuse–in fact, let them know you’re be incredibly proud of them for speaking up. Tell them doing so is a show of incredible strength, integrity, and fortitude. Affirm their agency and ability to push back against harmful treatment and unwanted interactions. Remind them that EVERYONE’S body is equal: equally human, equally worthy of respect, and equally sovereign.
And remember to keep just as close an eye on your boys as you do your daughters. Build a relationship with them where they can trust you enough to tell you about EVERY awkward or unnerving incident. Teach them bodily autonomy at the same time you teach them to respect others’ boundaries. Give them every reason to believe you love them first and will hear them first, before any respected coach, beloved family member, or trusted friend.
And every time you hear one of these stories, spread the word. Reach out to the survivors. Let them know you respect and affirm the skin-crawling reaction and gut-twisting shame they are suffering. Let them know they are heard and that you stand between them and the world that would tear them down or shove them back into the dark.
Cast a light–spread the warmth of hearth fire–leave no one out in the cold.