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Katy Perry and the penis

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Katy Perry and Penis Shaming

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Model Josh Kloss' complaint of sexual harassment by Katy Perry opens up serious questions about general abuses of power and the particularities of penile humiliation.

The male model Josh Kloss has accused Katy Perry of exposing his penis to a group of people at a party. The pair had met when Kloss was cast as Perry’s love interest in the ‘Teenage Dream’ music video, but later at a mutual friend’s birthday party she pulled down his trousers and underwear to show the gathering of people his penis. On an instagram post in which he detailed the incident, Kloss commented, “Can you imagine how pathetic and embarrassed I felt?”  and said, “…our culture is set on proving men of power are perverse. But females with power are just as disgusting.”

Interesting story this, obviously drawing attention to the fact that yes, men can be sexually assaulted or harassed too. Certainly it valuably adds new angles at an important time when drunken hijinks are being reframed in terms of the victim of the behaviour rather than the ‘wildness’ of the perpetrator. It’s important because it creates a general sense of self-examination we all have to do with regards to the past, and education in how to move forward with more empathy and responsibility. What’s particularly interesting about it is how deeply this hits the thing that really get to men: humiliation. And not just any humiliation, but penis humiliation.

As we learned at one of our events, when you talk to a lot of prisoners, you find their lives can often have been dictated by one moment of humiliation which they never get over. A life of violence, addiction, and rage can have been instigated by being laughed at in a shower, or having someone mock you sexually. Men can have their entire lives dictated by perceptions of their penises. Photographer Laura Dodsworth told us that men who felt they were small down there, often felt like less of a man, and those with larger penises feel burdened in other ways, like the man she photographed who “used his penis as a shield” and developed serious self-esteem issues.

Penis shaming can really have a detrimental effect, and when you understand that, you understand why Perry’s action was so out of order. “Look at his dick, everyone.” It’s a man’s worst nightmare – to have your most vulnerable thing laid out for everyone to giggle at, is primal degradation. It will no doubt have haunted Kloss all this time, and you believe him when he says he’s not speaking out for monetary gain, just so that people will know how abuses of power can be meted out by all genders, and understand how much this can affect a person.

This is not to say Katy Perry wilfully set out to psychologically damage the guy for the rest of his life, but it’s uncomfortable because of the fact she felt she could go there, with this underling, this model who’d been paid a few hundred dollars for her video shoot. It demonstrates that hierarchal thinking, where you can believe you are ‘untouchable’ and can get away with everything, particularly with the ‘lessers’ among us.

Some quarters are questioning the seriousness of Kloss’ complaints, like how bad was it really? And while you can say he was not in a position of physical threat like many of the high profile media cases of powerful men assaulting women, his experience would still have cut to the heart of who is.

In closing, what we would add is that as well as wanting people to understand that men can be sexually harassed, it’s valuable for us men to also think harder about the kind of harassment towards women that goes on everywhere. Think how awful you would have felt in Kloss’ situation, and then think how awful women must feel as they are catcalled, slut shamed, and objectified on a daily basis. Talk to women – this shit is so prevalent it’s been normalised. In this respect, while we can gather in sympathy behind Kloss it’s also worth looking at the bigger picture, at the casual harassments that happen in bars, workplaces, parks, and homes, everywhere that people are, and ask: how can we show more respect and assume less ownership? Because sure as shit, this master-slave dynamic exists at all levels of our society.

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