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Kissing Edith Goodbye
June 22, 2010 10:05 PM   Subscribe

Edith Shain has died. She was 92. She worked at Doctor's Hospital in New York City during World War II, but you probably only knew her as an anonymous nurse.

In the 1970s, Shain wrote to Alfred Eisenstaedt, claiming to be the nurse in the picture. The search for the sailor was much more difficult--eleven men claimed to be the one in the photograph, but in 2007 a forensic artist at the Houston Police Department determined Glenn McDuffie was the sailor.
posted by mattdidthat (65 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
*
posted by Bromius at 10:10 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


The other kiss pictures in that Life series are a really weird selection of moments.
posted by andoatnp at 10:46 PM on June 22, 2010


I actually got to see her once in real life a few years back. She was riding on a float in the gay pride parade in West Hollywood. It was exciting to see someone from such an iconic photo in the flesh.

.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 10:49 PM on June 22, 2010


x
posted by brundlefly at 10:52 PM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Where is the news that she died from? Also, how certain is it that she is the woman?
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:56 PM on June 22, 2010


Whoops! Here.
posted by mattdidthat at 11:00 PM on June 22, 2010


Huh. The picture used in the obituary link must be one of the other shots Eisenstaedt mentions in the second link in the post. He says he took four altogether. That was one heckuva kiss.
posted by Spatch at 12:09 AM on June 23, 2010


I've heard that this was actually posed, but there's no mention of anything like that in the picture's Wikipedia page. Anyone know anything about that?
posted by skwt at 12:16 AM on June 23, 2010


She shall be kissed.

.
posted by hal9k at 3:27 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


That picture has always creeped me out. It looks to me like he grabbed her and is forcing her to kiss him. Look at his left arm, and the position of her body (notably her arms, which are NOT embracing him). But people think it's a romantic picture. It screams sexual harassment to me.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:50 AM on June 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


no sexual harassment there. it's pure unbridled joy joy. hey, the war's ended! thankfully no p.c. in those days. and you just know she's lovin every moment of it!
posted by billybobtoo at 4:07 AM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just did a short phone interview with her a few weeks ago for America in WWII magazine. She was very nice and completely together. I hope I'm like that at 92. She was acting as as spokesperson for Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive, a non-profit seeking to establish a national holiday to commemorate the end of WWII. She remained active up to the end.

Several years ago I also did a feature for the same magazine about one of the men who claims he is the sailor in the photo.

RIP, Edith.
posted by Man-Thing at 4:21 AM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


They went to Times Square where all the celebrating was and as soon as she arrived on the street from the subway, the sailor grabbed her in an embrace and kissed her. She related that at the time she thought she might as well let him kiss her since he fought for her in the war. (via)

That's not what I'd call "lovin ever moment of it", billybobtoo.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:27 AM on June 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


That's not what I'd call "lovin ever moment of it", billybobtoo.

Luckily there was "no p.c." in those days, so it doesn't matter.
posted by inigo2 at 4:47 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


It also doesn't sound much like sexual harassment. Not "I wish this wasn't happening but there's nothing I can do" but "I'll grant a small favor for services rendered".

Sure, her arms aren't embracing. But she's kicked her foot out to assist. (I don't see much significance in his left arm. He's supporting her head.)
posted by DU at 4:51 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can't find it right now (maybe it's in one of the links I missed?), but I remember reading an article with the photographer that the sailor in question was going down the street, kissing every woman in sight, but that he realized the picture of a sailor kissing a pretty young nurse would be a better icon than the sailor kissing random elderly women.
posted by fermezporte at 5:03 AM on June 23, 2010


Oh, for the days of "no p.c.", when dudes could just grab strange ladies and kiss them without worrying about their "feelings" or "consent".
posted by ellehumour at 5:09 AM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


That picture's always creeped me out a bit as well.

But, not as much as you just know she's lovin every moment of it! does.
posted by the bricabrac man at 5:13 AM on June 23, 2010 [13 favorites]


DU:(I don't see much significance in his left arm. He's supporting her head.)

Supporting her head in some kind of headlock...to keep her face near his. It doesn't sound like (or look like) she had any choice in the matter. Whether you can rationalize it or not doesn't keep it from being sexual harassment.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 5:35 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whether you can rationalize it or not doesn't keep it from being sexual harassment.

Wow.
posted by DU at 6:37 AM on June 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Funny, that photo always did look kinda brutal to me too--he's got her in a forceful grip and her left arm does not telegraph "lovin every moment" AT ALL. It's the composition of the photo that really grabs the eye, but once you scrutinize the thing it has a weird feeling of domination in spite of the celebratory context. I'm with the bricabrac man, that's an anachronistic and presumptive statement billybobtoo is making and it creeps me out big-time.

Plus, what was that guy's breath like? Bleah.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:41 AM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I remember reading an article with the photographer that the sailor in question was going down the street, kissing every woman in sight, but that he realized the picture of a sailor kissing a pretty young nurse would be a better icon than the sailor kissing random elderly women.

And they all came down with mono a month later.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:53 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've also had issues with that picture. It certainly wasn't the only time something like that occurred in public right after the war in Europe was declared over, but it managed to be iconic. A US serviceman grabbing a woman on the streets of NYC is not at all like a woman in a newly liberated European city running up to kiss a US serviceman. However, since I wasn't born for decades later, I can only imagine what the feeling of joyous relief that WWII being finally over was like. Combine that with a socially acceptable sexist attitude and you have servicemen feeling like they're entitled to go kiss a strange woman. It's lamentable in many ways, but I'll refrain on passing judgment on it.

billybobtoo's statement, however, deserves some judgment. Hopefully, he was just taking the piss here.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:54 AM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


(oops... Japan, not Europe)
posted by Burhanistan at 6:59 AM on June 23, 2010


She related that at the time she thought she might as well let him kiss her since he fought for her in the war.

I think this is the attitude of how a lot of the Baby Boomer generation were conceived.
posted by mikeh at 7:01 AM on June 23, 2010


DU:Wow.

"Wow" what? You think that if a woman rationalizes unwelcome sexual advances by someone by thinking "oh, well, they did something nice for me (gave me a job, fought in a war, fixed my flat tire)" that makes it any less sexual harassment? Of course it doesn't. I can't believe anyone would suggest the opposite.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 7:07 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


If she didn't feel harassed is it still harassment?
posted by DieHipsterDie at 7:15 AM on June 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's kind of useless to apply current standards of workplace harassment to a 65 year old incident, especially when there is all kinds of conjecture about body language and intent. Silly.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:17 AM on June 23, 2010 [10 favorites]


It's too bad that this had to degenerate into an argument about sexual harassment.


Rest in peace, Edith.


.
posted by spirit72 at 7:22 AM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Besides, it wouldn't be construed as "harassment" today anyway, since this was pretty much a random encounter in public. There are a bevy of criminal charges that one could face for doing such a thing, but it doesn't fit the definition of harassment since they don't work together.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:24 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's too bad that this had to degenerate into an argument about sexual harassment.

I take from this that it is out of bounds to talk about the circumstances and interpretation of the iconic photograph she was in? Sorry, I'm relatively new to posting on Mefi.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 7:33 AM on June 23, 2010


Conjecture aside, the appeal of this picture has always mystified me. Nothing about it ever screamed "romance" or "heat of the moment" to me- it always seemed awkward and forced and yes, like the woman was just tolerating it.
posted by Aubergine at 7:37 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


> I take from this that it is out of bounds to talk about the circumstances and interpretation of the iconic photograph she was in? Sorry, I'm relatively new to posting on Mefi.

Oh, I wouldn't worry too much about it. When I saw this post last night I was certain that the thread would play out just like it did. But, it is incorrect to call this "sexual harassment" as that term refers to behavior that "is intimidation, bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors". It's more on the level of assault, if anything.

But, I think that spirit72 was implying that the thread was ostensibly an obit thread, and that talk of harassment was somehow disrespectful. I disagree, and think it's ok to deconstruct that picture here.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:49 AM on June 23, 2010


Does it really matter what you call it? She doesn't look like an active participant. In fact, she almost looks like an inanimate object. I think it's an interesting point to make about a supposedly romantic picture. And just because the mores of the time mean she wouldn't have complained about being kissed without her consent doesn't mean we can't discuss that aspect of it. It's kind of creepy to long for the day when those pesky "p.c." ideas about consent hadn't developed.
posted by Mavri at 7:53 AM on June 23, 2010


:*

Today, I'm just going to reflect that sometimes a picture is just a picture
posted by lysdexic at 7:57 AM on June 23, 2010


I HATE EVERYTHING

I can haz mai sensatiff intallexual badge nao?
posted by grubi at 8:03 AM on June 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


My "wow" was that your proof it was sexual harassment consisted solely of restating your assumption that it was.

All we have is a photograph and a statement[1]. We don't know what happened other than that photograph (I'm considering the 4 to be basically one snapshot of time). We have no way of telling what this was even by our current standards, let alone by the standards of the day.

[1] We don't even know when her statement about "might as well let him" applied. After he grabbed her? When she saw him approaching? As a "rationalization" after the fact?
posted by DU at 8:07 AM on June 23, 2010


I HATE that photo. It looks violent and unpleasant. I don't know why so many people think of it as celebratory.
posted by agregoli at 8:20 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Burhanistan, I agree that the term "sexual harassment" is usually used in connection with the workplace, but not all definitions seem to agree. It doesn't matter to me what words are used to describe it; I'm just trying to articulate that the story the picture tells, to me, is one of an unwanted sexual advance, in a culture where that sort of thing is accepted (even glorified in some ways). I suppose people can disagree about that, but it seems like many people see the same thing in the photo, scanning the comments above.

DU, what "proof"? I never claimed to prove that it was sexual harassment. I was responding to your comment which implied that if she had rationalized it, it wasn't (really) sexual harassment. How did you read "[i]t doesn't sound like (or look like) she had any choice in the matter" as a proof?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 8:25 AM on June 23, 2010


R.I.P., Edith. 92 is a good run if you're in decent enough health. It's encouraging!

Personally, I don't see sexual harassment; I do see a recklessness and exuberance, though. I may be alone here, but I also see a hot kiss happening -- not "romance" per se, but I think the hotness of a kiss isn't dependent on romance, but rather timing. And I love the placement of his left arm; it works for me. I see spontaneous celebration, and I think that when confronted with a bit of photojournalism it's pretty important to consider the context. It's also important to consider that when one is confronted with a split-second capture (figure that the photo recorded approximately 1/125th of one single second in time), that the events leading up to and after the shutterclick are simply unknown to you. To me, that is the hotness of photography.

Speaking of Eisenstaedt and great photography, this is my favorite of his, a shot of Joseph Goebbels. Bonus extra additional that makes me giddy to look at because it's just so weird and cool.
posted by heyho at 8:31 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I do see a recklessness and exuberance, though. I may be alone here, but I also see a hot kiss happening

You've gotta admit there is an active party and a passive party, though, right? I mean, there is recklessness and exuberance on the part of the sailor, and there is a nurse who is, essentially, lying back and thinking of... america. She is not being reckless and exuberant in any way I can see. I think that's what makes it seem a bit off to a post-feminist mind. It's all about him. It's not the worst thing that can happen to her, but it's not like she's expressing her exuberance.

And the idea that "you know she's loving it" is just pure projection. There is absolutely no evidence of that in her body language - it looks as if she is at best putting up with it. Why assume otherwise? Would you say that if he were giving a noogie to his little brother?
posted by mdn at 9:01 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


You've gotta admit there is an active party and a passive party, though, right?

Yep!

...there is a nurse who is, essentially, lying back and thinking of... america.

Does not jibe with:

And the idea that ... is just pure projection. There is absolutely no evidence of that in her body language...

But whatever... this is also the part of photography that I like. Everyone fills the cup with their own experiences and tastes a different flavor. It's kind of great, really.
posted by heyho at 9:06 AM on June 23, 2010


> Everyone fills the cup with their own experiences and tastes a different flavor. It's kind of great, really.

I'm not sure "great" is the adjective I would use to describe the process of abstracting real events that effected real people in real ways into some kind of intellectual exercises for spectators. "Depersonalizing", perhaps.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:13 AM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


X
posted by rocket88 at 9:30 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was responding to your comment which implied that if she had rationalized it, it wasn't (really) sexual harassment.

Oh, I thought you were referring to MY comments as rationalizations.

If you mean her thought was a rationalization, then you are still wrong. Consider this not-contradicted-by-the-available-facts scenario:

Edith sees him coming down the street, kissing women. She thinks to herself "if he comes over here, what should I do? I might as well let him kiss me since he fought for me in the war." Then he comes over and kisses her.

I wouldn't call that sexual harassment. If you do, then I think you have to call any sexual contact harassment from the POV of the non-initiating party.
posted by DU at 9:39 AM on June 23, 2010


> I wouldn't call that sexual harassment. If you do, then I think you have to call any sexual contact harassment from the POV of the non-initiating party.

It isn't harassment because it doesn't fit the legal definitions. People can define their own terms all day long and they will just be spinning their wheels. Besides, in a setting where "harassment" applies, it doesn't matter if the recipient doesn't react negatively at the time of the incident.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:44 AM on June 23, 2010


...there is a nurse who is, essentially, lying back and thinking of... america.

Does not jibe with:

And the idea that ... is just pure projection. There is absolutely no evidence of that in her body language...


why? Her body language seems to be passive, doesn't it?
posted by mdn at 9:48 AM on June 23, 2010


...

I come into an obit thread to be respectful and I find (yet another) sexism fight.

this makes me sad in ways I cannot articulare.

ciao, lfr
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:58 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


If she didn't feel harassed is it still harassment?

Yes. Next question?
posted by tzikeh at 10:18 AM on June 23, 2010


> If she didn't feel harassed is it still harassment?

Yes. Next question?


No, then it wouldn't be. Harrassment is kind of like pornography in that you know it when you see it, but there's no bright line that says this is it and this is not it. It's situation dependent. I can tell a dirty joke to one person at the office and they would be fine with it, laugh, and maybe tell another one in response. I can tell the same joke to another person and they might be offended. Even if they didn't say anything at the time, it would still fall under the umbrella of harassment. Same goes if I grabbed a woman and kissed her at the office. If she didn't mind and didn't feel harassed, then it just might fall under risky behavior. If she did mind and felt it constituted a threat, even if she didn't react, then there's a problem.

The point is that "harassment" is really a vague shotgun term until you have specific incidents to apply it to. I'm quibbling here in this thread about the definition, but since these two are strangers in a very public place, harassment is not the term to be using here.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:28 AM on June 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


mdn, what I was pointing out was that you seem to be claiming that you have an idea of what she's thinking, but in the next breath claim that telling someone what the subject may be thinking is pure projection. I'm not out to argue it with you because I can't know what she's thinking either! Yes, she seems to be the "passive" subject of the photo. This doesn't imply much about what she's thinking, though. It only tells me that she's the passive subject in that split second of time. And, like it or not, that's all we're given to work with. The rest is all conjecture, and that's where images like this begin to interest me.

It's a power unto itself, the free-floating, split-second photograph. It forces the viewer to confront what they're seeing in a way that makes them uncomfortable most of the time (if it's doing its job). You can't know the preceding second and the following second of a snapshot usually, and it creates a delicious tension that I, personally, thrive on.

I realize I don't necessarily have a popular view of what photography is, isn't, tries to be, and can never be; I've always felt that I had that part of my brain removed in school, and then again through my own experience working with film. What I do know is that it's always a challenging thing to get involved in someone else's work -- and I live for that shit.
posted by heyho at 10:29 AM on June 23, 2010


> I come into an obit thread to be respectful and I find (yet another) sexism fight.

I've posted an obit thread went badly. This is fine. It's unreasonable to expect that a thread about a recently deceased famous person will not center around what they were most notable for. In this case, it was the picture. People in generations past seemed to have just taken the picture with little criticism. People here now, because of historical detachment and plenty of po-mo analysis, tend to want to deconstruct an iconic photo. None of this is in any way belittling what Ms. Shain did with her life before and after that particular moment, and the idea that we should be nothing but somber in a thread that was based around a photograph is rather misplaced.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:33 AM on June 23, 2010


PLATE OF BEANS
posted by BobFrapples at 10:53 AM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


.
posted by bearwife at 11:00 AM on June 23, 2010


I wouldn't call that sexual harassment. If you do, then I think you have to call any sexual contact harassment from the POV of the non-initiating party.

You left out the idea of consent, which is pretty central here.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:09 PM on June 23, 2010


Harrassment is kind of like pornography in that you know it when you see it, but there's no bright line that says this is it and this is not it. It's situation dependent.

All the time? What about quid pro quo harrassment? Isn't that always harrassment, even if the woman is fine with sleeping her way to the top?
posted by nooneyouknow at 1:08 PM on June 23, 2010


> All the time? What about quid pro quo harrassment? Isn't that always harrassment, even if the woman is fine with sleeping her way to the top?

That depends on if it's reported, properly documented, and filed, I would guess.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:19 PM on June 23, 2010


Ok Burhanistan, it seems like what you want is for people to stop saying "harassment". Would sexual assualt be a better term?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:32 PM on June 23, 2010


I recently discussed Watchmen, as a film, with a friend who didn't care for the montages. This mostly turned out to be because he did not know the images were all bits of history, reinterpreted — imagine a world in which, after a hippie places a carnation into a solder's rifle barrel, the soldier fires anyway. Or one in which The Silhouette, a costumed hero and a woman, kisses the nurse instead of an anonymous male sailor. I wonder how the posters in this thread who had seen Watchmen reacted to that scene.

In interviews, Shain seemed to recognize the event as the product of a moment of elation: not something she initiated, but not, apparently, something she begrudged. She let him, she said, because he had served his country. "Passive" seems fairly accurate, but passive is not the same thing as dislike; she did recognize that she could have refused and decided against it. She was embarrassed with the photo and its public nature at the time, but later wanted a copy of the photo and claimed the event for her own. "I would like a memorial photo of my sexual harassment" doesn't particularly stack up.

If you have ever kissed someone in a moment of joy or been kissed like that yourself, it's ... different. The event is spontaneous and a surprise to both parties as the usual reserve breaks down in genuine emotion, awkwardness overcome by the need to share emotion through touch. To hold someone like that is an instant when the games played are set aside, if only briefly, and on the balance I am not sure I care for a world where we have traded that rare second for grim and elaborate spoken rituals of unbroken constant consent in each particular.

Was the solider an opportunist, calculatedly making his move in this fraction of an hour when all might be excused? Perhaps, perhaps not, if he were kissing "young girls and old ladies alike." Maybe we could give people the benefit of the doubt, rather than passing judgment across decades. Or we could advance agendas, even into the past, and trample away.
posted by adipocere at 1:50 PM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


> Ok Burhanistan, it seems like what you want is for people to stop saying "harassment". Would sexual assualt be a better term?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:32 PM on June 23 [+] [!]


Yes!
posted by Burhanistan at 1:51 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Was the solider an opportunist, calculatedly making his move in this fraction of an hour when all might be excused? Perhaps, perhaps not, if he were kissing "young girls and old ladies alike." Maybe we could give people the benefit of the doubt, rather than passing judgment across decades. Or we could advance agendas, even into the past, and trample away.

Why would the age of the women matter? Are unsolicited sexual advances OK, as long as you are equal opportunity about it? Or don't plan on kissing ONLY young women?

Frankly, the reason why we have laws about things like sexual assault and sexual harassment is because people in the past didn't like the way things were, on some level. Let's not pretend like we can't evaluate past behavior by current standards. Our current standards came from the past; the behavior of people 60 years ago is quite relevant in understanding our own laws and mores.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 2:13 PM on June 23, 2010


> the behavior of people 60 years ago is quite relevant in understanding our own laws and mores.

For the most part, yes. But, I don't think that the hindsight here is including just how much of a huge high people, especially servicemen, were on after four years of an all consuming war (not like our wars today that are fought by volunteers while the president advises people to keep shopping for pleasure) ended. You really have to have a bit of sympathy for that. There was drunken revelry in the streets, and this kind of thing happened all over the country. I'm not excusing it but, as I already mentioned, one needs to grasp the full context here before just passing a binary judgment on the matter.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:17 PM on June 23, 2010


I'm not excusing it but, as I already mentioned, one needs to grasp the full context here before just passing a binary judgment on the matter.

It is my impression that the photo is generally interpreted in the way the caption link interprets it; that is, completely uncritically. Until I posted here, I had never met someone who interpreted the photo like I do. Thinking through the photographed situation in a new light (today's sexual assault standards) is, in my mind, preferable to the complete lack of thought and criticism that is usually associated with "romantic" movies/pictures/books of the past.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 2:38 PM on June 23, 2010


> It is my impression that the photo is generally interpreted in the way the caption link interprets it; that is, completely uncritically.

I'm not so sure about that. It's certainly become an iconic image, but how much of the notions that it is somehow romantic is anything but the observer's baggage? It's usually presented as part of montages about WWII or the century in photography or something of that nature, so it's not really explicitly branded as a romantic celebration, is it? But all the same, I think there is some healthy middle ground between outright condemnation of it being sexual assault (which a clear case could be made for, certainly) and an innocent incident of bygone times.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:43 PM on June 23, 2010


In one of the connected stories, the sailor, or at least one of the guys who claimed to be the sailor, said he was holding his arm in that awkward way so that her face would show in the picture. When you look again at the photograph with that context in mind, knowing the photographer took several shots, it does look forced but in a different way, more like they were trying to hold the pose and got a little off balance or something.
posted by tamitang at 4:14 PM on June 23, 2010


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