Is This What A Sexual Assault Looks Like?

Is it sexual assault if the woman in the picture doesn't think so?

It was on August 15, 1945 in Time Square that photographer Alfred Eisendstaedt took the above photo of a sailor swooping in to kiss a woman in celebration of the Victory over Japan Day. For years, this photo has been regarded as an iconic piece of American culture finding its way into Life and framed on many walls in American homes. It is, so we thought, a depiction of romance, victory and a spontaneous kiss between two lovers. But that’s not the case at all.

According to a quote on, a London blogger who goes only by “Leopard,” says this photo “unambiguously depicts an act of sexual assault.” Do you agree?

If you take your romantic notions out of your head and really focus on the details, they could go either way depending on how your body responds mid-kiss. The woman’s body is limp, she’s not embracing him back and her fist at her side appears to be clenched. “Leopard” points out that the “smirks” on the faces of the his fellow sailors is also a sure sign that what we’re witnessing is “stomach-turning when properly viewed.”

It did later come out that the two, George Mendonsa and Greta Zimmer Friedman were not lovers at all. The dental assistant had gone out on to the streets to see what all the hoopla was about when Mendonsa went in for the kill. Apparently, his then-girlfriend and future wife, is also in the photo although she doesn’t seem to be too concerned over the incident. Neither is Friedman.

In 1980 the two reenacted the kiss in Times Square for the same photographer. During an interview Friedman, seemed elated about her part in American culture and the end of the war. Never once does she call the incident a “sexual assault”:

Well, I think he [Mendonsa] was the one who made me famous, because he took the action. I was just the bystander. So, I think he deserves a lot of credit. Actually, by the photographer creating something that was very symbolic at the end of a bad period…it was a wonderful coincidence a man in a sailor’s uniform and a woman in a white dress… and a great photographer at the right time.

If the woman in the photo doesn’t have any qualms with it, is it fair for anyone else to regard it as a sexual assault? Is this part of the “rape culture” of which Leopard writes, that we’re able to look at this photo and see it as something that maybe it isn’t? At what point do we stop taking apart the past and accept that it was a different time, or is that too easy a label?

For me, I can’t look at this and see anything but a celebration. Even standing on my head, with my glasses off and only one eye open, I can only see the end of a war, a man who survived it and a woman who was there at the “right” time. And I’m using that woman’s words, not mine.


Photo: Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1945, Life Magazine

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    • Guest

      It’s really quite unpleasant to try to shift your perspective of the image, I know, but really the best you could say is that the lady seems to be frozen in surprise and shows no signs of enjoying it. She may not have used the phrase ‘sexual assault’ – how likely was that in a fluff piece nearly 70 years after the photograph was taken?? – but she did say in interview that ‘That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me.’, I doubt I’d feel especially happy about it if it happened to me in any case; ‘rape culture’ might be going a little far but it certainly does speak of a squicky power dynamic.

    • Samantha Escobar

      Even though it’s totally weird that his girlfriend saw him smooch another lady, if the woman in the photo doesn’t think ill at all, I have no bad feelings towards it!

    • Lisa

      When I was in college, I came back from spring break early, when campus was empty, and ended up having a serial rapist follow me around. He rode by me on a bike and grabbed my ass, and so I got my pepper spray out. He kept following me for a while, so I called the police on him. Fortunately, they were close, and they caught him.

      What I learned from all that is that is actually a felony called sexual assault to grab the ass of someone you don’t know. It’s weird. I really didn’t think anything of it; before I saw him, I thought it was some male friend of mine trying to catch me off guard. And the ass-grabbing didn’t emotionally traumatize me, but the fact he had rape on his rap sheet was upsetting.

      Point being whether something is sexual assault doesn’t depend on your emotional reaction to it. If someone touches your body in a sexual way, and you didn’t say they could, they committed sexual assault. Which is tricky I know, because sometimes when you’re having the greatest victory of your life, or of your country in your lifetime, sometimes two strangers might spontaneously, mutually decide to kiss. But does that great victory entitle one to kiss whoever they want.

    • Tania

      “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. [sic]“
      “You don’t forget this guy grabbing you.”
      “That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me.”
      Quotes from the woman herself. They don’t really sound like a woman who was enjoying it, even if she agrees it’s iconic and a sign of the exuberance of the time.
      Also, this article here addresses your “but she seems all right with it” argument.

      • Amanda Chatel

        We also don’t know the exact inflection of any of her comments. It’s a tough one… especially since she did reenact it with him 35 years later.

        But it is sad to think that something that was regarded as “romantic” for so long, could actually be something completely opposite.

      • Tania

        I think what it comes down to is the lack of consent. I mean, if a hot guy grabs and kisses you on New Years Eve at midnight, you’ll probably be okay with that. But if a gross old drunk man grabs and kisses you when you’re walking home from work, you’ll be less okay.

        They are, in reality, the same thing. They don’t know if you’ll be upset or not. Just because you weren’t doesn’t mean it’s okay.

      • jn

        she said it wasn’t happy and wasn’t harmful to her.
        “he didn’t do any harm”
        “i got a kick out of it”

        telling her how to take care of her own space, rights and body is anti-feminist.
        this is not empowering a woman to make her own decision free from fear of reprisal.
        100% anti-feminist to presume to have the right to decide her well being for her.

      • Tania

        It’s not “telling her how to take it.” Someone you don’t know grabbing you and kissing you without your consent is assault. If that person turns out to be handsome, and makes you famous, you can be okay with it! You’re allowed to be. It does not change that he was in the wrong, because there is no way he could have known beforehand if she was okay with it.

    • jamiepeck

      It is absolutely a sexual assault to force a kiss someone who doesn’t want to kiss you back. End of story.

      • jn

        shes on record saying shes indifferent to being grabbed but got a kick out of it and liked the fame from it. telling her what she thinks is and is not sexual assault is anti-feminist and not empowering her to make her own decisions about her own body and personal space.

        women have the right to make their own decisions about their life and their health. remember what real feminism is.

    • jn

      she never hit him. she never said no. she never tried to push away. she didn’t resist at all.

      shes reinacted it with him since. shes on record saying she loves the fame and notoriety it has brought her. shes on record saying she likes the man and has kept in contact.

      conversely, she did say she was indifferent to it but that it ‘did no harm’ and she ‘got a kick out of it’.

      where is the damn controversy? TELLING HER WHAT TO THINK AND FEEL is the exact OPPOSITE OF EMPOWERING her and its as ANTI-FEMINIST as you can possibly get.