Iconic VJ Day Photograph "Sailor Kiss" Decried As Depiction of Sexual Assault


A feminist blogger known as “Leopard” who blogs on the website Crates and Ribbons is taking a lot of heat for a post about the backstory of the iconic 1945 VJ Day soldier-nurse kiss photograph snapped by Albert Eisenstaedt in Times Square. Entitled “The Kissing Sailor, or ‘The Selective Blindness of Rape Culture,'” the post emphasizes that the photo’s subjects, George Mendonsa and Greta Zimmer, were two strangers, and a drunk Mendonsa-on a date with his future wife Rita at the time-noticed Zimmer in her nurse’s uniform, grabbed her and kissed her forcefully without her consent.

“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,” writes the blogger. In a subsequent post, she includes three more images snapped by Eisenstaedt, one of which seems to feature Zimmer pushing Mendonsa away with her fist.

It’s not the first time that the photo has inspired an askance look back. Earlier this year, writer Jesse Lawson also drew attention to the unsavory implications behind the photograph.

While Zimmer herself looked back fondly on the image produced by the drunk soldier’s sudden impulse, her description of the moment itself was less than favorable (“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 vise 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 argues that history has glossed over the more sinister elements at work here (“the uncomfortable truth,” she writes) by painting it as nothing more than whimsical and romantic moment in American history. “[Mendonsa] is perfectly entitled to be ecstatic. He is perfectly entitled to celebrate. However, this entitlement does not extend to his impinging on someone else’s bodily autonomy.”

The post has exploded Tumblr, with many agreeing with its sentiment, but comments on Crates and Ribbons are mostly negative, citing a disrespectful attitude towards a classic piece of Americana as well as Mendonsa and Zimmer themselves.

Lawrence Verria, co-author of The Kissing Sailor, which revolved around the then-mysterious identities of the two kissers, voices another primary sentiment that the blog post has provoked from critics: times have changed. “Obviously, to do that today – it’s not such a good idea. But in Times Square, 1945, they hear the war’s over – it’s not such a bad idea.”

‘Kissing Sailor’ Photo Depicts ‘Sexual Assault, Not Romance,’ Says Feminist Website, Blogger’ [HuffPo]
The Kissing Sailor, or “The Selective Blindness of Rape Culture” [Crates and Ribbons]
The Kissing Sailor, Part 2 – Debunking Misconceptions [Crates and Ribbons]
‘The true story behind the iconic V-J Day sailor and ‘nurse’ smooch’

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