The blog posts at issue make me angry. Usually it is silly to be angry about mere opinions, I know. However, the opinion registered by “Lori” on the blog Feministing, taking her cue from another feminist blogger, is a symptom, a symptom of the scourge of pernicious, political-correctness zealots, who refuse to recognize the important distinctions between malice and human beings being human, and seek to wipe out that distinction by distortion, sophistry, historical revisionism and bullying.
The bloggers’ target is an iconic photograph from the heart of American history: LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s shot of an American sailor kissing a nurse on August 14, 1945, in a moment of jubilation on Victory over Japan Day in the heart of New York City. Ah, but all is not as innocent and blissful as it would appear. Some historians think they have finally confirmed the identities of the mysterious couple (the photographer never identified his subjects) as Greta Zimmer Friedman, a dental nurse at the time, and George Mendonsa, a sailor. [Despite the assertions of the bloggers and the historians, we can never know for sure. There were apparently many similar pairings that day, and several couples have credibly claimed to be those kissing through the decades.] Greta was recently interviewed, and noted that that she was just grabbed by a sailor she didn’t know and kissed. “That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me,” Greta told interviewers.
Ah HA! declare the feminist bloggers. Don’t you see, you addled, male-culture dominated, female-subjugating fools? This wasn’t a pure expression of joy in the long-awaited end of a world conflict that had killed millions and laid waste to much of the planet! Oh, no! The famous photo was something dark and sinister:
- “…a depiction of sexual assault.” (“Crates and Ribbons”)
- “stomach-turning…” (“Feministing”)
- an embodiment of “rape culture” (“Crates and Ribbons”)
- “…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” (“Feministing”)
These willful distortions to make cheap claims of ongoing cultural persecution are beneath contempt, a product of ideology gone mad combined with ignorance of history and human nature. To state the obvious, the end of the worst armed conflict the world had ever known and the defeat of the racist, genocidal monstrosity known as the Axis was not a typical day. I have written before here about ethics incompleteness, how even the most valid of rules sometimes fail to apply because of unusual, unique or unanticipated circumstances. This was, of course, one of them.
“Lori” (astoundingly) writes, “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.” Uh, yes, Lori, in fact kissing a woman on the street without her consent on any other day in 1945 would have earned an arrest, or possibly a thrashing from the many gentlemen on hand. You will note, if you watch 1946’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” that when George Bailey grabs his alternate present wife in the street in a mere hug, the police not only try to arrest him, but shoot at him. Grabbing a woman and kissing her without her consent was criminal battery (not necessarily assault) many years before VJ Day, and is civil and criminal battery today.
I guess neither Lori nor her British counterpart, who apparently goes under the online monicker of “Leopard,” have had the experience of being in a large group of people when something wonderful that touches all of them occurs. I have, a few times. I experienced this in Boston, outside Fenway Park, when Carlton Fisk sent us all home with his famous 12th inning home run off the foul pole, to keep the Red Sox alive in the 1975 World Series. Everybody was spontaneously hugging and kissing and dancing with everybody. A young woman I had never seen before and never would again ran up to me and kissed me on the lips, yelled “PUDGE!!!” (Fisk’s nickname), and ran into the chaos. Sexual assault? Rape culture?
I was also with my Dad when they dedicated the World War Two Memorial on the National Mall, and invited living veterans of the war, like him, to be the honored guests. I saw old men spontaneously spin strangers around and give them bear hugs, pats and kisses—technically battery, every one. I saw one honoree kiss a survivor of the Bataan Death March spontaneously on the cheek, as he wept. Sexual assault?
There are times in our lives, if we are fortunate, when our hearts are so filled with joy, and we so want to share it, that inhibitions and social customs break down, and all that matters is two human beings, feeling the same thing. There was nothing sexual in that sailor’s kiss, or aggressive, or malign, or anything but an expression of pure joy that comes only once in a lifetime, if that. And while the moment may have been involuntary for Greta, it was not unpleasant, because she understood…she felt the same way. She wouldn’t have traded that moment for anything, and, obviously, she remembered it for the rest of her life, a moment that didn’t stand for the imposition of a “rape culture” on her life, but instead was the climax of a joyful day, the day the world was finally at peace.
What is the matter with people like “Leopard” and Lori, that they feel compelled to re-cast in ugliness a beautiful image that perfectly symbolizes that elusive slice out of time when we were all brothers, sisters, citizens and lovers, when all the other petty differences that divide us meant nothing at all? Perhaps what is the matter with them is that their own existence is centered in warfare, in their cases, a gender battle that depends on framing men as villains and women as victims at every opportunity. If turning a photograph that has given millions of people a thrill and exhileration, and helped them understand a cultural touchpoint that is fast fading from memory into a mere “symbol for how messed up our ideas about sex and romance are” [ “Feministing”], well, so be it. Never mind that such an interpretation is cynical, warped, historically ignorant nonsense.
“Look! That elderly woman in the background is “smirking” too! You see, children, back in those evil, perverted, woman-abusing days, women were brainwashed into liking rape!”
“Leopard,” in a subsequent post, attempted to counter some other objections to her theory, and did so badly, but revealingly. Some excerpts:
“Misconception #1: ‘That kiss happened in a different time! How can you judge him using modern values?’
The purpose of my original post was not to demonize George or to recommend that he be packed off to prison. A user on Reddit …gave a succinct response to someone who had Misconception #1. I’ll post it here: “You’re…completely missing the point. The point isn’t that it happened. The point is that there’s three modern articles discussing the picture, all of which basically quote the woman in the picture as stating that it was sexual assault, and in none of the articles does the editorial voice acknowledge that that’s fucked up.”
Except that it wasn’t and isn’t sexual assault, because 1) it wasn’t sexual, 2) Greta knew it at the time, and 3) while she didn’t give prior consent, she didn’t object or feel she had been harmed. Under those circumstances today George wouldn’t have been charged with sexual assault. And the “different time” isn’t “the Forties” but rather “the day World War II ended, and people knew the United States and civilization was safe, and they weren’t going to die”—and nothing else compares to it. At that time, on that day, context is everything. Greta knew it then, and knows it now, and neither she, nor George, nor the kiss were “fucked up.”
Those who criticize it now, however, are.
“Misconception #2: ‘Greta herself doesn’t call it a violation and actually seems alright with it. So your argument is invalid.’
“Indeed, in an interview given to Patricia Redmond, Greta does not seem traumatised by the kiss, and describes the fame that resulted from the photo in a positive manner. However, I do think it’s worth taking into account that, even in today’s society, there is a lot of pressure on women to smile and get along, to ‘let boys be boys,’ to accept unwanted sexual contact like groping or kissing, and not to make a big deal out of it. Many of the comments have confirmed this, with gems like, “It’s just a kiss, get over it,” and how women should “stop whining” about such matters. In Greta’s case, the pressure would undoubtedly be much higher. But one thing Greta consistently asserts is that the kiss was sudden, that she was grabbed before she even became aware of his presence. Her remarks about his strength and “vice grip [sic]” don’t sound like the words of someone who had enjoyed the kiss. The fact is, consent was not given, and her feelings about it afterwards don’t change the nature of what George did. To give an extreme example, if you were to kidnap and torture someone, only to find out later that you’d just fulfilled their deepest fantasy, does that make you less culpable?“
What an insult to Greta for this clueless fanatic to presume that she didn’t understand exactly and completely what “Leopard’s” tunnel-vision and feminist anger causes the blogger to miss! Greta was there, she had lived through the war; she knew what the sailor was feeling, because she knew that she and everyone around her, indeed everyone in the world were feeling the same way….and it was joyful, and human, and good. This wasn’t date rape, or President Clinton pressuring a lowly intern for a hummer, and everyone whose brain hasn’t been addled by militant feminist orthodoxy instinctively knows it. For “Leopard” to compare the Times Square kiss to kidnap and torture demonstrates how completely unhinged from reality her perception is.
You can read the rest if you have the stomach for it. I’ve had enough.
The internet meme that properly responds to destructive posts like those on “Feministing” and “Crates and Ribbons” is “This is why we can’t have nice things.” There are people among us whose mission in life is to suck all the joy out of it for everyone else, by casting all that is inspiring and good as something that is really ugly, ominous, and wrong. I remember a beautiful spring day when I was in college. My room mates commented on it, which was unusual: they were hardly sentimentalists. Even though exams loomed, we felt happy to be alive. Then a member of some environmentalist group on campus knocked on the door, and tried to get us to sign a petition to make the university divest itself of oil stock.I was about to sign it, too.
“Do you realize,” he said, “that the sky today is only 78% as blue as it would have been two hundred years ago, because of auto pollution?” One of my room mates, David Niemiec, 6’5″, grabbed the petition and thrust it into the student’s hand, saying, “Get the hell out. We were enjoying that sky until you came along.” And he pushed the petitioner out the door.
I appreciate that more than ever now.
Pointer: Daily Mail