09/10/2012 09:09 BST | Updated 09/10/2012 12:33 BST

Is The Kissing Sailor Photo An Iconic Image Or Sexual Assault? (PICTURES)

Alfred Eisenstaedt's Kissing Sailor is one of the most iconic images in American history. But recent interpretations have led us to question what the image symbolises. Is it victory, young love and the American dream, as popular culture has led us to believe? Or is it, in fact, a symbol of sexual assault?

As reported on HuffPost Books the young nurse and sailor pictured in the image weren't a couple. They didn't even know each other.

kissing sailor

The Kissing Sailor

A recent blog has highlighted the debate around the photograph and the nature of consent at a time when reports of commonplace sexism in recent decades have shocked the nation.

After recent revelations late DJ and Top Of The Pops host Jimmy Saville stands accused of sexually abusing young girls in the 1960s and 1970s. Testaments of alleged victims claim the presenter targeted girls in his BBC dressing room and will form part of a documentary.

This year a book called The Kissing Sailor strongly indicates that the couple in the image are George Mendonsa and Greta Zimmer Friedman, as previous reports have suggested. Both are now 89 years old, live separately and were reunited for the first time 35 years after their brief initial encounter, in 1980.


In an interview in 2005 Greta explained how she was grabbed by the sailor as she walked through Times Square on her way to work. She was just 21.

"It wasn't my choice to be kissed," Greta explained. "The guy just came over and grabbed me!"

She added: "I felt that he was very strong. He was just holding me tight. It wasn't a romantic event."

It is believed that George's then-girlfriend later-wife was also in the picture, standing back while her boyfriend grabbed another woman and kissed her.

This image has then been broadcast around the world with commemorations including a "kiss-in" in Times Square and a giant statue in San Diego bay, which is ironically named Unconditional Surrender.

Photo galleryMore Times Square Kisses... See Gallery

Alarm bells have begun to ring around the nature of sexual assault and how, by modern standards, actions that were dismissed as commonplace in the past would be deemed sexual assault.

When asked to re-enact the pose for a LIFE magazine in 1980, Greta refused. Whereas in 1945, no one saw an issue with the sailor's actions, Greta included.

"It wasn't that much of a kiss. It was more of a jubilant act that he didn't have to go back [to war]," she said.

Does this change of attitudes from not only those looking at the image, but the woman in the photo itself, reveal a seismic shift in attitudes around sexual assault? We certainly hope so.