Not a kiss but a fist: The myth of one of America’s most enduring images
Mic: I’m delighted to welcome Dr. Marianne Baker as a contributor to The Malcontent. As well as holding a PhD in cancer research, she is a broad thinker on feminism, scepticism and the wider world. Today Marianne tackles a hidden injustice behind a famous photograph…
I have just learned about this statue, titled “Unconditional Surrender” by sculptor Seward Johnson, via a photography group on Facebook that I’m a member of (and suspect will soon censor the discussion I had about it, due to it apparently not being the “proper platform” for a discussion of what art represents or emotions it elicits – partly due to admins noting the hostility in comments on other pieces written about this incident).
A photographer who captured this statue in black & white said, after I raised the issue of this being an assault, [edited for spelling etc]:
“…this picture (in my opinion) portrays emotion at the end of a conflict in which many men didn’t come home and see it as an innocent kiss – I’ve read the article you attached and who said the guy was drunk or the lady unwilling to be kissed. That we will never know. I understand your concerns but I am sure that that is all it was”
I don’t think it’s up to anyone but her to decide whether it was innocent or not – she has gone on record to state she was not willing, and tried to push him away but could not.
No drunk man, no sad man, no man at all has the right to force himself on another person – man, woman or child – regardless of emotion, desire or anything else. Forcing oneself on another human being is wrong, disrespectful, and a violation.
Saying “it’s just a kiss” diminishes the experiences of everyone who has been assaulted in that way – and worse. If you found someone on your face suddenly, would you not find it alarming? Would you disbelieve your own friends or family if they said someone had kissed them, a stranger, without asking? Would you defend that man? Why?
Yes, it’s sad that so many died in war. That does not make this action or any like it OK. Rape in the military is an enduring problem, and attitudes like this (basically “men have needs women should fulfil regardless) support it.
To say “it’s just a man showing emotion” completely discounts the fact that this woman is a human being who should not have had her consent and autonomy disregarded. To ignore this is to treat her, and women generally, as less deserving, as less human, as having rights that can be waived upon someone else’s decision.
People often say she must have been fine with it. She has said:
“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’s important to try to understand and listen to women regarding how ‘little’ acts of accepting the violation of women’s bodies, rights, choices and consent add up to a culture that permits, encourages and fails to punish rape and assault in all its forms. We all live in this world, and we all need to work to make it better.
The photographer then also claimed she should have reported it if she didn’t want it – that old chestnut. It’s very easy to tell women they should report or should have done so in the past, but look at the world’s reaction to this incident, how do you think she’d be treated? Women are frequently disbelieved, told they are lying, abused further by the authorities – people should read around on why women often do not report the assaults they are subjected to. It’s far from simple. Often it leaves them wishing they had not bothered, as it merely extends and amplifies their trauma.
“Heat of the moment” is not an excuse. It wouldn’t hold up in court, and it shouldn’t cause people to defend men who disrespect women. We’re human beings, not objects here to satisfy sudden desires. It’s heat of the moment that leads to the weekly deaths of women at the hands of their current and former partners – “I just snapped” is not an excuse for violence.
That people see fit to honour this assault and all it represents in this gigantic physical space turns my stomach.