Is it just me, or does the claim that "this popular photograph depicts sexual assault" seem silly to you. We all know that the two love birds in the picture, Greta Friedman and George Mendonsa, weren't actually lovers at all, but rather perfect strangers who just happened to be in the right place at the right time (for the shot, I mean). According to a feminist blogger, however, the lucky girl whose kiss became a symbol of hope and happiness after a dark era wasn't quite as "lucky" as one might think. But before getting to the heart of the matter, the author of Crates and Ribbons states the obvious: "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."
This we can all agree on. But then the blogger goes on to say that Mendonsa's sudden lip-lock action was something much more serious than the simple idea of celebratory spontaneity. In fact, she argues that the kiss was nothing less than an act of sexual assault.
Okay, don't get me wrong... I definitely see where she is coming from. Even Friedman has been quoted admitting that she had no idea what was happening when the sailor unexpectedly grabbed her. So yeah, the London blogger's point isn't entirely lost on me: Friedman was kissed without her permission. And I agree that the nurse's (less frequently shared) side of the story wasn't without some cause for concern. But I also think that we have to understand the context of the situation before we jump to conclusions. If I had to guess, I would say that the man never meant to demean or harm the pretty lady in any way. He was thrilled about the American victory, the crowds were going wild with excitement, and there may have been alcohol involved. Can we possibly blame him for his impulsively affectionate behavior? Maybe, maybe not. But let's be honest, girls... If you were in the same position as Greta, and an ecstatic soldier having returned home from war suddenly planted one on you while everyone you knew was rejoicing in the streets, would you run away screaming and call the cops?* Even more, if a photographer nearby snapped a photo of the embrace and turned the image of you and your (somewhat obnoxious) new friend into a poster for American pride, would you be scarred for life? Maybe this is just me, but given the circumstances, I think I could probably just laugh the whole thing off—after getting over the initial shock of the situation, of course—and be glad that there was something worth celebrating in the first place.
Personally, if you couldn't already tell, I adore this photograph. Call me a hopeless romantic or an anti-feminist** or maybe just a typical girl, but I seriously can't help but smile when I see it. For me, it represents a number of good things: joy, patriotism, courage, new beginnings, etc. And I know I'm not the only one; for years, this image has meant a lot to a lot of people. I would hate to think that our society is becoming so cynical as to readily distort such an innocuous photograph in order to make the claim that it represents something as awful and degrading as "rape culture."
But I'm curious. What do you make of the claim?
*I hope that I'm not being insensitive here, but something tells me that I'm not: Greta Friedman didn't run away screaming either. From what I've read, it sounds like she's pretty proud of the moment herself. And that's sort of the point, isn't it?
**By the way, I do consider myself a feminist, by this definition.
|| photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt ||