How many of you out there know that this picture, this iconic moment, is actually sexual assault? No, really, this sailor, was “grabbing every female he could find and kissing them all” according to the photographer himself. There are just… so many things wrong with that in and of itself! Here we have a person with a great deal of power and privilege - he’s a man, he’s white, and he’s behaving in heteronormative ways each of which is powerful all by themselves and then we add the fact that he actually has institutionalized power by virtue of his being a member of the armed services in uniform and the guy’s basically unstoppable. All that power and privilege meant that he was not only permitted to run down the street sexually assaulting every female-presenting person he saw but also was praised for it. Based on accounts of the day not one person tried to stop him, not one person had anything negative to say to him about that, and he was immortalized in one of the world’s most iconic photos in a positive way, forever reinforcing this behavior for everyone who hears about it.
Imagine if it had just been some random guy walking down the street kissing people for no apparant reason without the institutionalized power of the navy and wartime heroic propaganda at his back - there’s a good chance somebody would have at least tried to stop him or said something negative about it. Imagine a woman walking down the street kissing all the men she saw - again, there’s a good chance such actions would received negative attention. Imagine a Man of Color, any Person of Color really doing something like this - again, lots of negative attention, in fact, a Man of Color walking down the street kissing random white women would probably get arrested and/or shot/lynched/murdered. Finally let’s imagine some behavior that’s not heteronormative - a female presenting person kissing female presenting people, a male-presenting person kissing male-presenting people, someone who’s obviously non-binary in some way kissing anyone, a known trans person going around kissing anyone, etc - again, lots of negative attention, probably some sort of physical violence of some sort.
All that negative attention for all those imaginary people in all those other possible scenarios would be because walking down the street forcing kisses on random strangers without their consent is sexual assault. But make it a privileged, powerful individual sexually assaulting people who don’t have such privilege and power and all of a sudden it becomes “cute” and “endearing,” not only positive in some way but also not negative at all. So not negative, in fact, that I’m willing to bet that if that nurse had tried to defend herself against this attack, had maybe even gotten physically violent, had maybe tried to report this assault to anyone she would have been treated like she’s making too big of a deal out of it, like it’s actually not an issue at all, like she’s the one behaving in a way that she shouldn’t, instead of the person assaulting her.
This right here is rape culture in action. This right here is how privilege and power coalesce into one giant heap of shit that makes it easy for people to sexually assault, sexually harass, abuse and rape. The worst part about it, I think, is that it’s so easy that certain kinds of sexual assault/abuse/harassment are actually so normalized that nobody even stops to think about what’s really going on. The woman in this picture has been violated, her basic right to consent has been ignored, she has been abused in a very serious way and yet for most of us that’s just not something we even think about, it’s not something that it even occurs to us to consider. That kind of normalizing of violence is what helps to perpetuate rape culture. We have to get to a place where it’s not normalized or nothing will ever change.
It’s grossed me out since the moment I learned of what really happened that day, even before I knew what rape culture actually was. I have a hard time looking at this photo without feeling sick to my stomach.