Famous “Kissing Sailor” Photo Shows Sexual Assault

by Erika W. Smith

We all know the famous 1945 photo of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square, celebrating the end of WWII. But though we’ve seen it on countless posters and T-shirts and purses and mousepads, it is not what it appears to be.



Feminist blog Crates & Ribbons posted a piece titled “The Kissing Sailor, or, ‘The Selective Blindness of Rape Culture,'” in which the author observes that what the photo really shows is not romance but sexual assault. The woman in the photo, Greta Zimmer Friedman, has been interviewed about the photo by publications such as the Huffington Post, the Daily Mail, and CBS News. She has repeatedly described how she was grabbed and kissed without her consent:

“It wasn’t my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and grabbed!”

“I did not see him approaching, and before I knew it, I was in this vice grip.”

“You don’t forget this guy grabbing you.”

“That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me.”

The blogger, known as “Leopard,” writes, “It seems pretty clear, then, that what George [Mendonsa, the sailor in the photo] had committed was sexual assault.”




Leopard is right: the photo shows sexual assault, and the media continues to depict it as romantic, despite Friedman’s (strong) words.

Now, websites including Feministing, The Huffington Post, and New York Magazine are reporting on the Crates & Ribbons post. Will this change the photo’s status as one of the most romantic photos of all time?  I’d like to think so, but probably not. And as Leopard writes, it’s important to recognize why:

“The unwillingness to recognize a problem here is not surprising, considering the rape culture in which we live. It is not easy to assert that a woman’s body is always her own, not to be used at the whim of any man without her consent. It is far easier to turn a blind eye to the feelings of women, to claim that they should empathise with the man, that they should be good sports and just go along with it. And the stronger the power structures behind the man, the more difficult it becomes to act otherwise. But if we are serious about bringing down rape culture and reducing the widespread violence against women, then we need to make it clear that engaging with someone sexually without consent is not ok, even when it is an uncomfortable position to take. Especially when it is an uncomfortable position to take.”

Read the original post for yourself here.


Images from life.time.com

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