I was seventeen, working as a hostess for a waterfront seafood restaurant. I loved the location and the semitropical plants and most of the staff, so I put up with hard work for low pay. Some of the adult male customers would flirt, and a bartender who had my back would shout out to them “Fifteen’ll get you twenty!” warning them I was too young for that. I could have stayed there, if not for one of the cooks. He grabbed me one day, pushed me into the walk-in freezer, and followed after me, trying to force his tongue down my mouth. It wasn’t the worst assault I’ve endured, but it shocked me and upset me, and when the owner refused to censure him, I was forced to leave my job. I’ve been able to largely walk away from that moment. It sucked, and it was his fault, and I wish it hadn’t happened, but it’s over.
I can’t imagine how much harder it would be to move on if every five years there was a “romantic” event commemorating the assault with a “Kiss In” in Times Square, or if giant statues depicting the assault were on display from Florida to California, or if people hung photos of that moment in their dining rooms and dorm rooms. The assaulted nurse in the famous V-J Day photo is forced to be reminded of the incident, over and over and over again, by people who have decided it was a good thing. A celebration, an indication of joy, a representation of good times ahead. For her, it was a stranger holding her “in a vice like grip” as she has said.
We know the story of the kissing sailor photo. We know from his words and hers and from the photographer’s that he was drunk, that he was unknown, that he grabbed her from behind and forced a kiss on her before she could react. The actual facts of that day are not up for debate, but debate them people will. Over the past few days since the sailor’s octogenarian death, I’ve seen many people defend the assault. They tell me I’m reading too much into the photo, that times were different, and that surely she enjoyed it. Her own words on the matter don’t seem to account for anything.
I’m glad none of my assaults have been turned into “romantic” and iconic images. I’m glad when I walked out of that kitchen, I got to leave the memory of what his face looked like behind me. Moving on is a gift and I think if the public at large was heavily invested in defending my assailant, it would be much harder to come by. It doesn’t matter if you like the kiss. She didn’t. It doesn’t matter if you can imagine a scenario with consent that would fit the image. Her consent was never asked for. I for one won’t try to benefit from another woman’s violation.