Sunday 22 September 2019

Katie Byrne: 'Me Too movement has sparked a long overdue conversation but men are victims too'


Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom (Chris Pizzello/AP)
Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom (Chris Pizzello/AP)
'As we call out the culture of toxic masculinity we ought to remember that toxic femininity is a problem too'
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

It's nearly three years since the Me Too campaign catalysed a global movement, and change continues apace. Men in power are rethinking their behaviour, masculinity is gradually being redefined and male sexual entitlement is now discussed in classrooms, boardrooms and bedrooms.

The Me Too movement has sent a clear message to men that sexual harassment will no longer be tolerated. But what happens when the victim is a man, and the alleged perpetrator is a woman?

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Singer Katy Perry was recently accused of sexual misconduct by her Teenage Dreams co-star Josh Kloss. The male model alleges that he was "treated like a prostitute" when Perry exposed his genitals to a group of people.

Taking to Instagram, Kloss described what happened when he met Perry at the birthday party of her friend, stylist Johnny Wujek.

"She pulled my Adidas sweats and underwear out as far as she could to show a couple of her guy friends and the crowd around us, my penis," he wrote. "Can you imagine how pathetic and embarrassed I felt?"

The singer [at the time of writing] has yet to make a comment on this accusation - or a second one that emerged three days later when TV presenter Tina Kandelaki alleged that Perry approached her at a private party and tried to kiss and inappropriately touch her without her consent.

Perry's fans, however, have played down the claims with classic victim-blaming rhetoric. Some have described Kloss as a money-grabbing, attention-seeker. Some have brought up the x-rated content that he posts on subscription site OnlyFans (because apparently people who work in adult entertainment can't get sexually harassed).

Others, seemingly oblivious to the case of Christine Blasey Ford and the conversation around extending the statute of limitation for sex crimes, have asked why it took him nine years to come forward.

Perry's friends have also taken to social media to say that they don't #believe Kloss. They argue that he was "obsessed" and "in love" with the pop star, which again smacks of the narrative that has been historically used against women in high-profile sexual harassment cases.

It's important to note that these are uninvestigated allegations. Yet consider how these allegations would play out if Perry were a man. Would brands rush to distance themselves from an alleged sexual predator? Would her lucrative American Idol contract hang in the balance?

Take the case of Asia Argento, who was a figurehead of the Me Too movement until her former co-star, actor Jimmy Bennett accused her of sexually assaulting him in a hotel room when he was 17 and she was 37. Argento was fired from X Factor Italy but is still in demand as a creative collaborator: she walked the runway at Paris Fashion Week earlier this year and added vocals to a track by musician David J.

More recently, Love Island's Maura Higgins was heralded as a feminist icon, despite being at the centre of nearly 500 complaints to Ofcom regarding the unwanted advances she made towards Tommy Fury.

At the heart of the matter is our difficulty seeing women as sexual predators - beautiful women especially. This is largely due to the egregiously simplistic idea that all men want sex wherever and with whomever - and should therefore be grateful for any encounter that comes their way.

Compounding this is the conflation of male physical arousal with consent - even by people who should be smart enough to know better.

When Bennett appeared on Italian TV programme Non è l'Arena to detail the alleged assault, host Massimo Giletti told him that the idea of a man being sexually assaulted by a woman was "technically difficult to understand".

Female victims of sexual assault have long been subjected to the same line of questioning when they try to explain the "freeze response". Many will argue that you can't compare sexual assault by women with sexual assault by men. Women are more likely to be victimised by men than men are by women; and men, being bigger and stronger than women, present a greater threat.

They're right, but we should be careful not to minimise and trivialise the experiences of men as we highlight the widespread harassment of women. We should be careful not to silence men altogether.

Most of the men I know have experienced unwanted sexual advances - and I don't think I'm unique in this regard. I know men who have received sexually suggestive comments from female bosses. I know men who have been inappropriately touched in the back of taxis. I know men who have fallen asleep at house parties and woken up to find women on top of them. More disturbingly, I know men who have experienced underage sexual encounters with housekeepers, teachers and parents' friends.

As we call out the culture of toxic masculinity we ought to remember that toxic femininity is a problem too. There are women among us who confuse sexual aggression with empowerment. There are women who use their feminine wiles as a form of erotic capital. And there are women who are - whisper it - straight-up sexual predators.

The Me Too movement has sparked a long overdue conversation, but it's time we realised that men have stories too. And they need to be given the space to share them.

Roddy Doyle is away.

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