Three iconic images hiding a violent rape culture. Three women forcefully kissed by a man in front of a camera and an audience. Three sexual assaults that have been considered for years as passionate romantic gestures.
1945, Times Square, end of the Second World War. An American sailor, who was celebrating the Victory over Japan, grabbed and kissed Greta Friedman, a nurse who was one amongst the bystanders in the streets and was just anxious about getting back to work quickly, as she said in an interview. The renowned Alfred Einsenstaedt clicked the scene. Looking carefully at the picture, we can feel how much the sailor was indeed assaulting the young woman, trapping her with his arms around her waist and her neck. As if she was nothing more than a prey, an available body, a mouth devoured by an allegedly uncontrollable male desire.
1986, Adhirapally falls, shooting of Punnagai Mannan. Kamal Haasan, in connivence with K Balachander and the rest of a mainly male crew, decided to surprise Rekha, with a passionate kiss, before their characters jumped into the void to commit a couple suicide. The sixteen years old actress’s consent was sacrificed on the altar of the « art of cinema ». We indeed feel that she was totally helpless when he suddenly and violently kissed her. As if she was nothing more than a prey, an available body, a mouth devoured by an allegedly uncontrollable male desire.
2003, Los Angeles, the Oscars ceremony. Adrian Brody won the best actor Oscar for The Pianist (by Roman Polanski, hm, hm…). He went to the stage to receive the award from Halle Berry and surprising everyone, he grabbed her by locking her with his mouth and his whole body. Looking more carefully at Halle Berry’s face, we can see how disgusted she was. Everybody in the audience seemed thrilled by this sexual assault of a white man on a black woman, all the more objectified as a pleasurable object. As if she was nothing more than prey, an available body, a mouth devoured by an allegedly uncontrollable male desire.
In these three cases of assaulting unwanted kiss, two types of similar reactions. First reaction. Why didn’t she refuse or object something ? Why was she so courteous after the sexual assault ? First, the usual immediate reaction to any assault is to be freezed with fear. Secondly, these women were not in a position where they can make a stink, create a fuss, especially because the assault happened in a very public and filmed space. But the worst part is the second reaction : applauding the sexual assault and glorifying the abuser’s so called boldness and freedom. In 1945, the other sailor is laughing about the scene. In 1986, the mostly male crew of Punnagai Mannan legitimated this impromptu kiss. In 2003, other actors in the audience like Jack Nicholson and Nicholas Cage joyfully applauded Brody’s madness. Blaming women victims, glorifying male abusers. That’s the most unbearable echoing violence behind theses icons.
Post scriptum : On Instagram, the conversation continued in the comments section. So, here is two comments and my answers to them.