The Kissing Sailor and Other Forced Kisses

The Kissing Sailor, or “The Selective Blindness of Rape Culture” | Crates and Ribbons.


It’s amazing. I had never actually looked at this picture carefully enough to realise that the nurse was being kissed by force. When it was pointed out, it was obvious that this was not an embrace of two lovers: the way the woman’s hand is clenched into a fist and the way the man is holding her around the neck “in a vice grip,” as the woman herself described it, show that this woman had not given her consent. She hadn’t even see the man coming until he suddenly grabbed her and kissed her. In the interviews she doesn’t seem to feel particularly violated but she doesn’t mention having enjoyed it, either. The point is, she didn’t get to choose whether she wanted to kiss that man or not.

The willingness to ignore her lack of consent and to focus on the exultant feelings of the sailor at the end of WWII is, as Crates and Ribbons says, a symptom of rape culture, i.e. a culture where a woman’s consent is not important. When Crates and Ribbons pointed this out, dozens of people rushed to defend the sailor: those were special circumstances and the woman in the picture doesn’t explicitly say it was a traumatic experience for her. Maybe it was traumatic for her. Maybe she enjoyed it. Both options are slightly beside the point, which is that she didn’t get to choose whether she wanted to kiss that man or not. Strictly speaking, that icon of the end of the war portrays what would now be termed a sexual assault.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m far from crying “Rape!” A forced kiss is nothing compared to rape, and the sailor in the picture probably meant no harm. But now that I’ve seen the woman’s clenched fist and the sailor’s forceful grip, I cannot unsee it. It’s a different picture now. It’s not two people celebrating. Well, the sailor is celebrating but the nurse is shocked rigid.

To those of you who still don’t believe this kiss was non-consensual, therefore a sexual assault, one more picture. Look at her fist. It doesn’t look like she’s about to wrap her arm around this guy. It looks like she’s a wee bit uncomfortable, maybe thinking of punching him. Of course, no one can know for sure what’s going through her head in this moment but I’ve never made a fist while I’ve been kissed. But I have often clenched my hand into a fist when I’ve been groped in the street or on the dance floor. I haven’t actually punched anyone but when you’re assaulted, you form a fist without thinking about it.

These images evoke mixed feelings in me because I’ve been kissed like that by a stranger. It happened at a nightclub. I was coming down some stairs and there was a group of guys at the bottom of the staircase.  I reached the lowest step and the next thing I knew, I was being held in an iron tight grip, and kissed firmly on the mouth. I was shocked and I tried to struggle, to no avail. Then I noticed that the guy was actually really attractive, and because I had had that one drink too many, I went along with it. He was a good kisser, what can I say!

So that turned out to be a not-entirely-negative experience, even though it was forced on me. I still would have liked to have a choice, though! It was only a coincidence that I happened to like that guy. I might have found him repulsive, in which case I would have struggled harder, no matter how many drinks I had in me. And if I had been completely sober, I wouldn’t have stopped struggling, no matter how attractive the guy was.

It’s really not a good idea to just grab a stranger and kiss them without a warning. There’s no guarantee that the surprised person is going to like it.

This is isn’t the firm stand I was hoping to make against forcibly kissing someone! I feel like having enjoyed a forced kiss seriously undermines the credibility of my condemnation of such sexual assaults. All I can say is, it was just a lucky coincidence that I found the guy attractive, and even then I was a shocked that someone would just grab me like that, and that there was not a thing I could do about it. My struggling had exactly zero impact. If I hadn’t found him attractive, or if I had been sober, I would have been seriously shocked about the incident.

The point is, even if there is the off chance that someone might enjoy a forced kiss from a random stranger, it’s best not to count on that. And then again, even if the kissing sailor isn’t the romantic picture I always thought it was, it’s still a powerful image and it’s okay to appreciate the joyful feelings and the probable good intentions of the sailor, even if the actual gesture was somewhat misdirected.

About inmyinternest

A thirty-something woman, watching the world turn
This entry was posted in Culture, Equality, Feminism, Men, Uncategorized, Women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Kissing Sailor and Other Forced Kisses

  1. You know, I’m as bothered by the laughing sailor in the left of pictures 2 and 3 as I am by that poor girl’s body language.

    I agree that he was probably just bouyant with victory and meant no harm – probably just picked the first young, pretty girl he saw, but there he is blatently committing what would now be deemed a crime.

    • Yeah, the laughing sailor! And everyone else seems to be laughing, too. But I can’t really feel too ruffled about that. The end of the war would have made them smile at anything! And then, back in the day no one probably thought there was anything wrong with the sailor’s actions. They didn’t know they shouldn’t be laughing and going, “awww!” Still, all the smiling faces make me feel a bit uncomfortable…

  2. Fred says:

    There is a confusion with the order of the pictures:
    The one at the bottom -presented as the last one- is actually the first. You can see it clearly using the people around as chronological markers. Or you can look at the contact sheet: http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2012/08/14/v-j-day-in-contact-sheets/
    So, just looking at the pictures, the sequence reads as such:
    1-the sailor is holding, pressing her against him and kisses her. Her arms are folded against her upper body, her back leg isn’t supporting her body.
    2-She brings down her left arm and gestures towards the bottom of her dress as it is starting to lift. Her back leg still isn’t supporting her body.
    3-She’s gotten hold of the material and pulls her dress down. Back leg still not supporting her body.
    4-She’s lifted her left arm again, folding it against the sailor’s torso. Her back leg is starting to straighten up, she’s pulling away from the sailor and this should mark the end of the kiss which has lasted -again looking at the people around them and how they moved- a good few seconds.

    • I know the pictures weren’t in a chronological order. The picture I present as exhibit D is placed last because I found it much later than the other three pictures. It seems to be the most rare of the bunch, and it’s also a striking piece of evidence because really, I’ve never made a fist when I’ve been kissed (with my implicit or explicit permission, that is). But I have formed a fist every time I’ve been assaulted, even if I haven’t had the guts to actually punch the perpetrator, my hands just automatically clench into fists when something unpleasant happens to me. So that fist speaks volumes to me.

      Also the fact that the kiss lasted at least ten seconds, if not longer, seeing as the photographer managed to get all these shots, and the nurse never put her arm around the sailor, though doing that would have made her more comfortable because she could have used his shoulder to support herself. But she never makes a move to embrace him, which suggests to me that she wanted no part of the kiss. (Which is what she says in the interviews. She stresses that she wasn’t kissing, she was being restrained and kissed by force.)

      As for the leg, I really don’t see that as very important. She was being restrained in an awkward position and maybe she was shocked. She probably had no idea what she was doing. I don’t think we’re going to see eye-to-eye about this. But thanks for commenting and providing a useful link! I’ve been wanting to see that contact sheet.

      • Xeres Aurora says:

        It looks like she’s tried punching him, rather than her arms folded under her. The back leg without support is important because it is further indication of an assault – it means she’s off balance and held up by him. She’s at his mercy.

        • That’s the way I see it, too. Maybe her being off balance doesn’t look that dramatic… it doesn’t look like she’s bent back that much… but I’ve taken some ballroom dance classes back in the day, and those back bends were nasty. Even if you’re not bent over double, you’re off your balance and if your partner lets go off you, you’re more likely to fall on your back than be able to pull yourself up. It takes lots of practise to be able to do a back bend that also looks dramatic, in addition to merely feeling dramatic (and uncomfortable and risky).

          So when you’re bent back and your weight is resting on someone else’s arm, you’re not going to be able to struggle effectively. It feels like you’re more likely to pull a back muscle and fall down than free yourself from the grip. Besides, unless you habitually practise back bends, your back muscles will be under a lot of strain just from the bend, and you might feel like you’re in danger of getting a spasm in back even without any extra struggling!

  3. Fred says:

    Well, you’re right, we don’t have the same outlook on this event.
    But I have to say one thing: you have been most civilised in your disagreement. Comparing the rough treatment I got in other blogs and websites with yours compels me to sincerely thank you for the respect you have shown!

    Take care.

    F

    • Thank you, that really means a lot! And I can say the same about you – I never got the idea you were being disrespectful or trying to provoke me. You were simply stating your views, and I try not to be rude to people just because they disagree with me. But emotions have been running high in this debate, so it’s been easy to confuse disagreement with trolling. And there have been many trolls, so I guess people have lost their patience with anyone who disagrees. Not that that’s an excuse, but still.

      Anyway, you’ve pretty much made my day today!

      Take care!
      Kiki

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