The #MeToo movement has jumped the shark. This is not about a woman bravely stepping forward to raise her voice and tell her own story. This is not #MeToo, in first-person, but #HerToo, a third-person narrative, a suppression of the woman’s voice in order to superimpose a feminist narrative upon it.
Greta Zimmer Friedman, the woman in the iconic Kiss in Times Square photo, has been retroactively declared a victim of sexual assault, and her statue has been defaced in the process.
Friedman determinedly argued against other claimants for decades, for recognition of herself as the subject of the iconic photo, doing interviews and providing evidence of her claim to fame. Once validated, she accepted an apology from the photographer for not having been properly identified, and she proudly signed autographs beside her leg in the photo.
Now, a feminist vandal has defaced her statue with #MeToo scrawled in red over her leg, determined to cast Friedman in the role of victim, a role she herself rejected in 2012 and 2013 interviews.
Friedman passed away in 2016, and can no longer speak up for herself. But the feminists of today have no problem with using her story and co-opting her voice to further their own ends.
Wikipedia has spliced together several of her statements: “It wasn’t my choice to be kissed,” Friedman stated in a 2005 interview with the Library of Congress. “The guy just came over and grabbed!” she said, adding, “That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me.” “I did not see him approaching, and before I know it I was in this tight grip,” Friedman told CBS News in 2012.” [1.]
It certainly sounds pretty bad for George Mendonsa, the sailor in the photo. But activists on Wikipedia have carefully curated those statements, taking them grossly out of the context of what Friedman also described as “a jubilant act” , “kind of fun” , “a happy event” , “just somebody celebrating”  “on a day when everyone celebrated” , “like New Years’ Eve, only better.”
And what Wikipedia very carefully does not report at all, is Friedman’s own response, after the idea of sexual assault had begun to surface online.
“I can’t think of anybody who considered that as an assault. It was a happy event,” [4.] Friedman clarified in a 2012 interview with the Navy Times.
“There is just no way that there was anything bad about it,” she said again in 2013. “It was all good news, the best news we’d had for a number of years.” [5.]
Before labeling her a victim and using her story to promote a political position, we should take a look at those interviews in the context she herself gave them, and let her speak for herself. In the 2005 interview for the Veterans History Project with the Library of Congress (referenced by Wiki), Friedman describes her first look at the photo:
“I didn’t see the picture until the 1960s when I looked at a book called The Eye of Eisenstaedt. I immediately wrote to LIFE, and they said we will send — something to the effect that they’ll send me a picture, but the person has been identified. And so I didn’t believe that because I know it happened to me, and it’s exactly my figure and what I wore and my hairdo especially, and I sent them some photographs. So time went by, and in 1980 they contacted me, LIFE Magazine contacted me, and I brought the picture to Mr. Eisenstaedt, and he signed it and apologized [for not properly identifying her]. [3.]
Many soldiers and nurses came forward over the years, claiming to be part of the iconic couple. But Friedman is adamant that she was the woman in the photo.
“They definitely were not, and I’m going to show you in LIFE Magazine how we looked at the time… You see how my hair is braided on top. You can tell that it’s swept up with a comb. In the back, her hair is long, her hair is much longer.” [3.]
Friedman explains how many strangers were kissing that day. “…Other sailors did. They — they were happy they didn’t have to go back to war. They had had enough. So, you know, they were not the only sailor that kissed women… Oh, sure. Different times all throughout the day and the evening people were there and it was like New Year’s Eve, only better.” [3.]
The idea of sailors grabbing and kissing strange women on the streets of New York certainly sounds absurd to our new-millennium ears. But let’s try for a moment to gain a 1945 perspective. These men and women did not feel strangers to each other. They had been united for years in a life-and-death battle to protect their country from a great evil. They fought and bled, witnessed their friends and loved ones also fight and even die for this great cause. These young people lived through horror, sacrificed everything, and now, at the end of the war, felt a love and loyalty to each other strengthened by the willing sacrifices they had made for each other.
Mendonsa speaks of witnessing 350 crew members dying in the burning flames of a kamikaze attack on Bunker Hill. From the flight deck down to the water was nothing but a curtain of flames,” Mendonsa recalls. “We picked up the guys who jumped off. Some of these guys were hurting bad, real bad.” [2.]
Then a hospital ship arrived. “Those nurses went right to work on these guys, and I mean those guys were hurting. And when I saw what those nurses did that day, it stuck with me, I guess, for most of my life.” [6.]
It was still with him on that celebratory day in Times Square. “I saw this nurse coming down,” Mendonsa remembers. “The war is over. The excitement of the war, and the drinking — and when I see the nurse, I grabbed her.” [2.]
Friedman does state that “it wasn’t my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and kissed or grabbed.” But she also puts the moment in a larger context. “Everyone was very happy and relieved, and people on the street were friendly and smiled at each other. It was a day that everyone celebrated because everyone had somebody in the war, and they were coming home. And women were happy though, their boy friends and husbands came home, and so were the parents. So it was a wonderful gift finally to end this war. It was a long war, and it cost a lot.” [3.]
What a day this was, what a celebration in Times Square, in 1945, marking not only the end of their long hard fight, but marking their victory! Friedman tells us that many strangers were kissing, it was better than New Year’s.
Suddenly, I was grabbed by a sailor. It wasn’t that much of a kiss. It was more of a jubilant act that he didn’t have to go back.” The sailor was “very strong,” she told the Veterans History Project. “He was just holding me tight. I’m not sure about the kiss… It was just somebody celebrating. It wasn’t a romantic event. It was just … ‘Thank God, the war is over.’” [2.]
She also describes the impact the event has had upon her:
“Oh, it’s kind of fun because it was very accidental. It’s a fame for just being there, being dressed right and, you know, some people get famous because — Actually the fame belongs to the photographer because he provided an art. I can’t call it a skill. He was an artist. So I think he deserves the credit. I just happened to be there and so was George.
“Well, I think he [George] was the one who made me famous but, I mean, because he took the action. I was just a bystander. So I think he deserves a lot of credit. Actually, by the photographer creating something that was very symbolic of the end of a bad period.” [3.]
Again, look at Friedman’s characterization of the event. Kind of fun. Better than New Year’s. The photographer deserves credit. George deserves credit. This has not been a tragic event in her life. Indeed, she even initiated contact with Life magazine to achieve recognition as the woman in the photo!
Her son, Josh Friedman, spoke to the sexual assault controversy after her death.
“My mom always had an appreciation for a feminist viewpoint, and understood the premise that you don’t have a right to be intimate with a stranger on the street. But she didn’t assign any bad motives to George in that circumstance, that situation, that time.” [7.]
Nobody is suggesting that it was an entirely appropriate act to grab a stranger on the street and plant a kiss on her. In 2019, such an action certainly does not play well. But should we really be projecting our cultural standards onto the brave men and women of 1945?
And shouldn’t we, who find everything under the sun offensive, not also find it offensive to deface Friedman’s image on the sculpture that commemorated the historical event that this woman obviously enjoyed being a part of? (Evidenced by the way in which she argued her case to Life Magazine to ensure that she was credited properly.)
But rather than allow these feminist vandals to identify Friedman as a victim, in clear opposition to the way in which she self-identified, let’s give the last word to Friedman herself. Because in the end, it should be her own voice that matters.
“I can’t think of anybody who considered that as an assault. It was a happy event.” [4.] “There is just no way that there was anything bad about it. It was all good news, the best news we’d had for a number of years.” [5.]
2. WNEP, 2015