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SSH will not publish any comment that is offensive or hateful and does not add to a thoughtful discussion of street harassment. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, disabalism, classism, and sexism will not be tolerated. Disclaimer: SSH may use any stories submitted to the blog in future scholarly publications on street harassment.

Street Harassment in 1945

In street harassment | on 10.03.12 | by | Comments ( 9 )

What do you think the photo to the right, taken in 1945 in New York’s Times Square, depicts?

An only-in-the-movies romantic gesture? A passionate kiss between two lovers who’ve been kept apart by war?

What about street harassment?

Unfortunately, despite its iconic status and the way it has come to symbolize  World War II ending and and the baby boom beginning, it turns out that’s exactly what it depicts: unwanted sexual conduct between strangers in a public space.

Crates and Ribbons reports:

“For a long time, the identity of the pair remained a mystery. It certainly looks passionate and romantic enough, with many speculating that they were a couple – a sailor and a nurse, celebrating and sharing their joy. This year, however, historians have finally confirmed that the woman is Greta Zimmer Friedman, a dental nurse at the time, and George Mendonsa, a sailor.

Have a look at some articles about it. Do you get the feeling that something is not quite right?

Huffington Post | Daily Mail | CBS News

A few facts have come to light. 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.

The articles even give us Greta’s own words:

“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.”

It seems pretty clear, then, that what George had committed was sexual assault. Yet, in an amazing feat of willful blindness, none of the articles comment on this, even as they reproduce Greta’s words for us. Without a single acknowledgement of the problematic nature of the photo that her comments reveal, they continue to talk about the picture in a whimsical, reverent manner, “still mesmerized by his timeless kiss.” George’s actions are romanticized and glorified; it is almost as if Greta had never spoken.”

I’m not surprised her story is being dismissed. The truth would make this famous story depict something unpleasant rather than the “feel-good” story we think we know when we look at it.

From the nursery rhyme “Georgie Porgie Pudding in Pie/Kissed the Girls and Made them Cry,” to the boys who chased us in elementary school trying to kiss us against our will, to the Looney Tunes cartoon character Pepé Le Pew who spends every episode trying to kiss a female cat against her will (interestingly, Pepé was introduces in 1945), unwanted kissing is seen as cute or funny, not as sexual harassment and certainly not as sexual assault.

But it is. As someone who has been kissed against her will, I can attest: it’s uncomfortable, it’s gross, and it’s unnerving.

The first time my partner kissed me on our first date in college, he asked. That’s how it should be. Every intimate act should have consent, including kissing.

So, I will speak the uncomfortable truth and call out this iconic photo. Strangers have no right and no place to kiss strangers, even if they’re overjoyed at being back from war.

He should have asked her for permission and respected her autonomy, her body, and her feelings.

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9 Responses

10.03.12

I agree with your commentary. It is amazing how what was socially acceptable, even applauded, changes over time. I hope for the day when common, even simple, sexually harassing comments, are viewed with horror by all….especially men!

10.03.12

The fact that this photo is so iconic and lauded as being romantic is terrible. At least Greta’s story is now being heard.

10.03.12

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[...] sees the issue as a global problem that demands more attention, and while street harassment has historically been seen as normal, it is now “less so than before because so many people are speaking out, exposing just how [...]

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