Why Would Someone Spray #MeToo On This ‘Romantic’ Statue?

Shortly after the death of the man in the iconic V-J Day photograph, someone spray painted “#MeToo” on a statue of the famous couple, bringing the truth of the iconic image back into the light.

The man in the photo died on Sunday at the age of 95. The next day, police believe, someone spray painted #MeToo on a statue modeled off of the image in Sarasota, Florida, causing an estimated $1,000 in damage. But why would somebody #MeToo this romantic statue?

We have probably all seen the iconic V-J Day photograph of a sailor and a nurse kissing in Times Square, celebrating the end of World War II. For decades, the photograph remained a mysterious but romantic symbol of love and joy, but when researchers finally tracked down the couple in the photo, the truth they uncovered had a far less romantic twist.

Taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt in Times Square on V-J Day in 1945, the classic black and white photo featured a sailor kissing a nurse to celebrate the announcement of the end of WWII. The photo was published in Life magazine a few weeks later, but it wasn’t until 1980 that the identity of the people in the image became known.

George Mendonsa, the sailor, and Greta Friedman, then a 21-year-old dental assistant, weren’t a couple. In fact, they didn’t know each other at all. Mendonsa had simply been drinking and walked onto the street and kissed a woman he didn’t know.

“So we get into Times Square and the war ends and I see the nurse,” he told CNN in 2015. “I had a few drinks, and it was just plain instinct, I guess. I just grabbed her.”

Friedman was in Times Square when the announcement came on a billboard that Japan had surrendered.

“Suddenly, I was grabbed by a sailor,” she told Veterans History Project in 2005. “It wasn’t that much of a kiss. It was more of a jubilant act that he didn’t have to go back.”

Friedman believed Mendonsa grabbed someone who looked like a nurse because he “felt so very grateful to the nurses who took care of the wounded.”

Maybe. Or maybe he was drunk and entitled. Either way, sexual assault is not an appropriate way to show your gratitude.

Friedman told the Veterans History Project about her experience in 2005. Mendonsa was engaged at the time, and his fiancée may have even been there. When the interviewer reminded her of this, Friedman said, “Well, I didn’t know. Well, it wasn’t — it wasn’t my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and kissed or grabbed.”

In 1980, she finally met Mendonsa for a second time, in Times Square, when Life wanted to do another photo of the two of them together. In the 2005 interview, Friedman said multiple times that she did not want to reenact the original photograph.

We can’t know how Friedman felt about the kiss at the time or in the years after. Maybe she, too, was feeling jubilant and celebratory and felt that being kissed by a strange man was the perfect way to express those emotions.

What she did make very clear is that she did not consent, and that’s something that should bother us. It should bother us that what we’ve perceived as this iconic moment of love and joy and celebration was actually a sexual assault, caught on film. Perhaps at the time, neither party thought anything about the kiss. Maybe through their cultural lens, and personal ones, it wasn’t a problem.

But we’re not looking through that lens. We’re looking through one with decades more experience and understanding. Regardless of how Friedman felt—although that is certainly important—our modern understanding of this iconic image should change how we feel about it.

Friedman was an accomplished woman in her own right. She was a dental assistant, artist, book binder and mother. She worked in a theater and in the toy industry, using her fashion training to design clothes for dolls. She graduated from college the same year as her children.

“My mom had so many stories and so many experiences; this was just one of many,” said Friedman’s son.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

73 comments

Irene S
Irene S18 days ago

I´m really surprised about some of the comments. Some of you would not care, if a stranger would grab you to express his way of celebration not caring if you agree or not? It happened long ago and he was completely right to be happy, but does this excuse his lack of interest in the feelings of his counterpart, his lack of empathy? The boys will be boys thing? He only wants to celebrate, so don´t be so prude, don´t be so humorless. Don´t care about your unease, your dignity, your self-determenation? And now, what some call art is just a manifestation of a mere relation of domination to others. I´m sorry to say so, but spoiling the look of such a thing, will be always less evil to me than the statue of a sexual connoted assault.

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Mia B
Mia B18 days ago

Thanks for posting

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara21 days ago

I would not like it if some random man grabbed me, forced me over backwards on the street and kissed me.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara21 days ago

Well, I never once thought that the woman in the photo looked as though she initiated the kiss or was happy with the kiss or was enjoying herself. look at the body language - which is even worse on the statue. She's bent over backwards, clearly not in charge of her own body. She's not struggling but that is all you can say.

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Hannah A
Hannah A22 days ago

thank you for sharing

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Jack Y
Jack Y23 days ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y23 days ago

thanks

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Christine Stewart
Christine S23 days ago

I think the intention at the time was innocent- but would not be at all appropriate in modern times...

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Ruth S
Ruth S24 days ago

Thanks.

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Ruth S
Ruth S24 days ago

I agree Nancy B.

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