Iconic kissing sailor photo depicts sexual assault, not romance

 We’ve all seen the image. It’s appeared and been reproduced in countless magazine and newspapers since it was taken in 1945. A testament to its lasting ubiquity, Buzzfeed listed it at the absolute top of its “50 most romantic photographs of all time” feature just two weeks ago.

But what does it really depict and represent?

As it turns out, rather than a romantic moment between lovers, the image actually and unambiguously depicts an act of sexual assault.  

A London-based feminist has been causing a huge stir on Facebook and in the blogosphere with this very observation.  The blogger known as “Leopard” writes:

“Most of us are familiar with this picture. Captured in Times Square on V-J Day, 1945, it has become one of the most iconic photographs of American history, symbolizing the jubilation and exuberance felt throughout the country at the end of World War II.”

 “Do you get the feeling that something is not quite right?

…Far from being a kiss between a loving couple, we learn that George and Greta were perfect strangers. We learn that George was drunk, and that Greta had no idea of his presence, until she was in his arms, with his lips on hers… It seems pretty clear, then, what George had committed was sexual assault.” [Emphasise mine.]

A closer look at the image in question shows corroborating details that become stomach-turning when properly viewed: the smirks on the faces of the sailors in the background; the firm grasp around the physically smaller woman in his arms such that she could not escape if she tried; the woman’s clenched fist and limp body.

If there is a better symbol for how messed up our ideas about sex and romance are, I can’t think of one.

On the one hand, it shows we’ve come a long way- after all, I’d like to hope that kissing a stranger on the street without consent in today’s world would raise at least some red flags if not garner the proper prosecution it deserves (my hopes are heightened by the existence of a number of voices and awesome organizations working against a culture of street harassment). On the other hand, we still live in a world where as Leopard points out, “the fact that this much-loved photo is a depiction of sexual assault, rather than passion, is an uncomfortable truth, and to call it out as such might make one seem to be a priggish wet blanket.”

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2 Comments

  1. Posted October 4, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    She even stated in an interview in 2005:

    “This isn’t the first time the claim has been made. The Veterans History Project from the Library of Congress interviewed Friedman about the kiss in 2005. “It wasn’t my choice to be kissed,” she said then. “The guy just came over and grabbed!”

    Source:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/02/kissing-sailor-photograph-eisenstaedt-mendonsa-friedman_n_1471058.html

  2. Posted October 4, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    The blogger makes a good case, but Lori, I’m not sure I’d say that the sailors in the background are necessarily *smirking*. The one sailor on the left appears to be looking directly at the camera and, to my eyes at least, *smiling*. (IT WAS D-DAY AFTER ALL.)

    There really isn’t enough detail to the rest of the faces in the picture to discern between smiles and smirks, I’d say, but for the older woman on the right who clearly seems to be flashing a big, bright smile to me.

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