But this time, not on a book cover. Try the front page of a newspaper. Bitchery reader Kay Web Harrison thoughtfully sent me both the picture and the follow up letters that line up on either side and either cry, “Yay for teh sexy!” or “Down with the sexism!”
So have a look: this photo by Rich-Joseph Facun (additional popup copy here in case that link breaks) ran on the front page of the Virginian Pilot with the caption, “Candice Knilans waits for her husband, Petty officer 3rd Class John Knilans, to disembark from the carrier Harry S. Truman… after the strike group’s seven month deployment ended. More than 7,000 sailors returned on the Truman….”
Those are some new shoes, judging by the stickers and the pristine condition of the heel tips and shoe bottoms as caught in the photo. And they are pink. Shocking, hot pink. But in the “picture worth 1k words” department, what do they say?
On 6 June, the Pilot published two letters, one from JulieAnn Singleton-Smith, a fellow military wife, who stated that she has “a career and a series of degrees” and therefore objected to the “cheap, hot pink high-heeled shoes” as an image that “conveys a message that military wives are cheap and trashy.”
Another letter praises the image as on par with the WWII era photo of the sailor kissing a nurse on V-J Day.
But the reaction continued on!
On 7 June, more letters appeared.
First, a rather fascinating analysis from Dr. Frederick Lubich Chair of Old Dominion’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, who calls the image “controversial” as it may be “insulting” or “intimidating to those military wives who are…more than just lusty ladies in waiting.” But Dr. Lubich then likens the image to:
mythic memories of seafaring warriors” such as Ulysses and Penelope, providing the epic model for this timeless human experience, in which ‘passion’ in its archaic sense connotes the suffering of separation and the ecstasy of reunion.
From the shorts of ancient Greece to the modern ports of Hampton Roads, there is nothing offensive about young lovers dressing up to celebrate the magic…of homecoming and its nostalgic euphoria.
Dr. Lubich also recognizes the similarities to the V-J Day photo, and states that the photograph “symbolically encodes the increasingly more complicated lifestyles and love lives of our own times and…stand[s] as an iconic image.”
But wait, there’s more. A former military wife weighed in by relating her memories of “choosing carefully what to wear to enhance that special first evening home,” and pointedly responding Ms. Singleton-Smith that “one can have degrees and careers and still look fabulous while celebrating while celebrating the ship’s return from a difficult mission.” A second military wife also said she thought the picture was “absolutely great” and that it had “nothing to do with how many degrees you’ve got” but the “joy of having your ‘sailor’ home again.”
Another letter said he thought the image was not cheap or trashy, but “touching and poignant” and offered “a unique perspective on that familiar theme” of families reunited during wartime.
But another spouse was “saddened” by the paper’s decision to highlight that particular photo as “inappropriate” for the Truman’s homecoming, as “a woman’s legs and her high heels with the price tag still on the bottom…do not capture a…homecoming for one of our beloved aircraft carriers.”
I’m struck by two things: one, the seeming desire to asexualize a homecoming. Those who objected referred to the aircraft carrier, not the people on it – people who loved and missed their families, and in some cases spouses who, one would hope and pray, were loved in a demonstrative fashion once they arrived home. The asexualization of the military and the concept of homecoming vs. the sexuality and human need for contact on the part of the servicemen and service women on board are quite at odds with one another in the responses, especially in the context that we are, after all, at war, and deployment is a life-or-death issue for many, many enlisted individuals. Coming home safe means coming home alive, and let’s be frank, the most affirming way to celebrate the fact that one is alive, home, and safe? Sex. Hugging. Kissing. Possibly more sex. (I hope it was awesome.)
And two: that yet again hot pink shoes are very, very eye catching.
Personally, I thought the image was very evocative and certainly sexual, and that’s not at all a bad thing from where I stand in my shoes which, today, are brown. I don’t know if I can stand anywhere and judge the welcome-home wear of a woman whose husband has been deployed for seven months, but I surely wouldn’t dare start by casting aspersions on the relative cost of someone else’s shoes.
However, what is the lesson in this minor kerfuffle? That pink shoes are eye catching? Publishers already know that!
No, the lesson may be: take the price tag off the bottoms of your shoes. You never know from what angle you may be photographed.
Addendum: welcome home and thank you to the service men and women of the Harry S. Truman, the Oscar Austin, the San Jacinto, and the Winston S. Churchill and anyone else who returned home. Hope your reunion was so great you had to take your shoes off.