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Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley recalls being “molested” by obsessive fans

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Kayleigh Dray
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Penn Badgley

“I think as an actor you can become an object of desire,” says Penn Badgley, “which is something women are already accustomed to more or less around the world.”

Penn Badgley skyrocketed to fame as Dan Humphries – aka Gossip Girl – in the eponymous series. And, in his new Lifetime series, You, the actor is set to play yet another internet-obsessed character in Joe.

Much like Dan, Joe is initially presented as a ‘nice guy’, and a typical romantic lead. Indeed, that is how he describes himself in his internal monologues, too. However, it quickly transpires that his behaviour is dangerous: when he falls head-over-heels for a stranger, he tracks her down on social media, finds her address, and proceeds to stalk her.

Now, in a new interview with the Daily Beast, Badgley has addressed the downsides of fame – and recalled how it feels to be on the receiving end of one’s obsession.

“I think as an actor you can become an object of desire, which is something women are already accustomed to more or less around the world,” he said.

“I’ve definitely been – and I don’t want to sound sensationalist – but I’ve literally been molested, just in the literal sense of the word, by many people in the moment. Because that’s what they do.” 

According to the interviewer, Badgley was “thoughtful and cautious” when discussing this topic, and was “quick to acknowledge the privilege that being a man, not to mention a white man, affords him”.

The actor went on to explain how the #MeToo movement – particularly Terry Crews’ story of sexual assault – prompted him to revisit these experiences and reconsider them.

“These things very much happen, you know,” said Badgley.

“And it’s interesting to even hear you have that reaction, like ‘I’m sorry,’ because I didn’t even think of it that way then,’ he continued.

“You’re led as a man, particularly, that when it happens you should feel great about it. Particularly when it comes from someone who’s feasibly an object of your desire as well. And I think that’s the interesting thing about this show, is that Joe looks like me, he acts and talks like me to a degree, so I think the audience is supposed to be like, ‘Aw that might be nice if someone was that infatuated with me.’”

It is worth remembering that more than 70,000 men are sexually assaulted or abused in the UK every year, while an estimated 12,000 men are raped. 

However, toxic male rape myths – based on traditional masculine ideals of strength, heterosexuality and sexual dominance – mean that men often find themselves blamed or undermined when they allege assault. Research suggests that police have historically taken men less seriously than women when they report sexual assault, and that male victims are generally judged to be more able to fight off the attacker or escape from the scene than females. 

Men who are sexually assaulted are also more likely than women to try to minimise the importance or severity of what happened; to tell themselves that it couldn’t be as big a deal as it feels; that they must be overreacting. This much is clear in Badgley’s own language: the actor says that he doesn’t want to “sound sensationalist”, and is keen to use factually-correct language to describe what has happened to him. He 

None of this information minimises the experiences of female survivors, who are often blamed, shamed, mocked and disbelieved in other heavily gendered ways. What it does is highlight the importance of standing with all victims of assault, whatever their gender.

Image: Getty

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

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