Do you see a kiss, or sexual assault?
A feminist blogger is taking serious heat for suggesting that Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed photograph V-J Day in Times Square depicts anything but a jubilant embrace.
Last week, the London-based blogger known only as “Leopard” wrote the post “The Kissing Sailor, or ‘The Selective Blindness of Rape Culture.’”
A refresher: The image shows a sailor grasping and kissing a nurse as they celebrate America’s victory in New York City at the end of World War II.
The pair’s identity was not clear until historians positively confirmed it earlier this year: The woman is dental nurse Greta Zimmer Friedman and the man is a sailor returning from the Pacific named George Mendonsa. After decades of speculation, it turned out the two were not a couple, and that the sailor was drunk. Both are still alive, and 89 years old.
“It wasn’t my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and grabbed!” the pieces quoted Greta saying during interviews conducted with the Library of Congress.
“I did not see him approaching, and before I knew it, I was in this vice grip,” she told CBS, also noting George’s strength.
Last week, the blogger Leopard chastised these media outlets for a “romanticized and glorified” take on the story, despite Greta’s words.
“It seems pretty clear, then, that what George had committed was sexual assault,” Leopard wrote. “The fact that this much-loved photo is a depiction of sexual assault, rather than passion, is an uncomfortable truth...”
Critics have blasted the blogger for being a revisionist joykill, and the blogger acknowledges this controversial critique comes off to many as the rant of a “priggish wet blanket.” But not to be undone, Leopard argues that our unwillingness to label this a sexual assault stems from the “rape culture in which we live.” A second post hopes to debunk “misconceptions” in the debate, which has gone viral.
Plenty of critics pointed out that you can’t slap modern social and sexual mores onto a completely different era. Indeed, it’s doubtful that George in 1945 was aware that his “entitlement” as an elated American sailor did not extend “to his impinging on someone else’s bodily autonomy,” as Leopard puts it. Bodily what?
Others argue that Greta hardly sounded traumatized in recent interviews. CBS even reunited the two, and George’s wife – who is actually in the photo, beaming over his shoulder – suggests he now “has to kiss everybody” when it becomes clear he’s the guy in the shot.
The blogger counters that plenty of women have been forced to grin and bear it during playful, drunken groping sessions – not least of all when the moment becomes an American legend.
Leopard also points out that the iconic photo was actually one in a series of four snapped over the course of 10 seconds. In another shot, Greta’s left hand is clenched into a fist and it’s pressed up against George’s face – not exactly lovey dovey.
Leopard concludes that the end goal isn't to send old George to the slammer, but that progress can only be made when we are all made to feel "uncomfortable."
What do you see in the photos?