Iconic Sexual Assault

3 years ago

Many moons ago, Crates and Ribbons posted a blog about the iconic Kissing Sailor photograph. It was a fairly simple message: now that people know the kiss was nonconsensual, shouldn’t that be mentioned in articles about the kiss rather than let it continue to be mythologized as exuberant romance? This simple message caused people to lose their collective shit. They lost their shit so much that Crates and Ribbons had to write another post with a step by step explanation of the fact she wasn’t calling for the Sailor to be lynched or that he realized that what he was doing was sexual assault in the context of his era; she just waned modern media to stop with the rape culture mythology. This was sexual assault, not romance.

A couple of days ago a friend on Facebook posted the picture with the (unknown to her) erroneous article that the sailor was Glenn Edward McDuffie:


A commenter mentioned that it was an image of the sexual assault of a nurse, and people once again lost their collective shit. One dude, upon being corrected about the fact that the nurse was NOT the sailor’s “beloved” , said: “Well, I made my comment because your comment is really disgusting. I am a veteran and how dare you dishonor a noble soldier like that. I am sure there are pictures of you kissing or looking at males or females, whatever your preference is, in public in a sexually assaulting manner.”

That was an almost impressive collection of rhetorical fallacies, including misstating the original comment, non sequiturs, and false conundrums … but other people were able to do as well or better.  It became rape culture cliché time. A women wrote that, “How could that be sexual assault? A kiss? In public? In the middle of a huge celebration? Her hand at her side, not raised to push him away? I think someone needs to lighten up a bit … I have been a peer counselor for many years, and your definition is not correct. Unwanted attention for sure; but not sexual assault. When we call things like an unsolicited kiss, sexual assault, we run the very real danger of trivializing acts that are truly sexual assault.” The same dude as before wrote, “I have two sisters who were raped. I don't take kindly to anyone making a disgusting comment about a noble soldier who is dead who was captured in an iconic picture displaying celebration at the end of a War whereas millions died. If the female in the iconic picture felt sexually assaulted, it is SHE, who had opportunity to stand forward and complain it, and NOT you, because you have issues!”

Other people chimed in that the picture was happy, a celebration of life, wonderful, she was picking on nice boys in uniform, ect … as though the fact it was a sexual assault was so very, very trivial compared to the fact military personnel deserve to be honored (There is no problem with rape in the military then? Good to know.). As bewildered as I am about that attitude, especially from women espousing their feminism, it is the denial that the assault took place and if it did no big deal, plus the idea no one but the victim can be irked by it that I want to deal with, since those are such pernicious pieces of rape culture bullshit.

First, the people in the photo, “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.”

Zimmer, while bearing him no animus, recalls that, "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".

Also, the next two pictures snapped show her trying to get away from Mendonsa:



It is beyond contestation that this was a forced, non-consensual kiss. Now, I am perfectly willing to concede that Mendonsa didn’t realize, in context, that this was sexual assault. I don’t think it was even considered sexual assault at the time. However, modern definitions of sexual assault include forced kisses:

“In most states, sexual assault includes rape; forced kissing; forced penetration, whether it be anal, vaginal, or oral; inappropriate fondling; and sexual torture. By definition, rape is forced and unwanted sexual intercourse onto an individual without his consent. Essentially, sexual assault is an umbrella term that includes all unwanted sexual contact whereas rape refers to a specific crime. Rape is always sexual assault but sexual assault is not always rape.”

That last sentence is important. No one is saying Mendonsa raped Zimmer. No one is trivializing rape. Those of us who don’t find the first (misleading) picture all that awesome are simply trying to NOT trivialize sexual assault.  It is specious to the extreme to suggest that calling out sexual assault means that “real” rape is negated.

Not that this information stopped the “peer counselor” from doubling down on her boys-will-be-boys-and-girls-should-like-it stance. She said, “… sexual assault is one of those in the eye of the beholder things, except of course actual rape. Some women enjoy being kissed, even by a stranger; some women and men love being hugged or touched. And some find even the most innocent touch to be an unacceptable invasion of their privacy. My point here is that this is NOT in and of itself sexual assault. If the woman in question had filed charges, publicly objected, or in any other way indicated that she found it to be a sexual assault then, yes, it would be a sexual assault. But what you have done is assumed that everyone with any sense of personal autonomy would automatically take your definition of sexual assault as hers. And that, my dear, I can assure you is not the case … Also, I would like to add that attitudes like yours have resulted in a significant number of young women doubting their own natural desire to touch, to be touched, wondering if there is something wrong with them because they did not perceive it as a sexual assault … And also, I believe that it is up to the man or woman in question to decide what constitutes intimate touch. Not a group of feminists (and I am a feminist) with an agenda.”

I doubt the feminist peer counselor realizes that she is singing the song of rape culture. Some of the things she’s done in her “defense” of the ‘kiss’ include the active trivializing sexual assault and the passive failure to think critically about the media’s messages about women, men, relationships, and violence, to demand people be respectful of others’ physical space even in casual situations, and the assumption of consent. Not to mention the chanting of “get over it” that is used to silence both assault victims and their advocates.

The bro who got his knickers in a twist from the get go blocked the “witch” so he couldn’t see her “bitch”, rather than deal with any reality either.

Y’all. That pictures is, indisputably, a picture of a forced kiss. That means it fits the modern definition of sexual assault. That should be addressed so guys today don’t think it is “okay” to do it and girls who have it happen to them don’t have to feel like they are “overreacting” to sexual assault. Denial and rape culture parroting does not defend it or make it romantic. Moreover, telling anyone who says otherwise to, in essence, “get over it” is rape culture 101.

As for thinking it is no big deal … If a stranger grabbed you and kissed you while you struggled to get away, would you think of it as romantic? I ask because it happened to a friend of mine and it scared her. When she shoved him away, he scoffed and told her "God, I didn't stick my tongue in your pussy, bitch. Chill."

Wow. Totally romantic and not sexual assault at all.

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