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Denim Day & the Right to be Sexy—Because There’s Never an Excuse for Rape!

By Kyla Bender-Baird

Today is Denim Day. I’m wearing jeans to work in support of sexual assault survivors and to raise awareness about sexual assault misconceptions. Denim day has been around since the late 1990s when the Italian Supreme Court overturned a sexual assault conviction because the survivor wore tight jeans when she was raped. In protest, women in the Italian Parliament wore jeans to work. (read more about denim day’s history here)

As Hello Ladies writes,“Denim Day reminds us how important education, understanding and awareness are with regards to sexual assault.” According to the CDC, 1 in 6 women in the U.S. report experiencing an attempted or completed rape at some time in their lives.

And yet, we’re constantly battling the same sexual assault misconceptions over and over and over again. (For some sexual assault myth busting, click herehere, and here.)

Alex DiBranco’s post on Change.org today offers a partial explanation for why we aren’t making greater progress:

"We've made more inroads in domestic violence in shifting attitudes than we have in sexual violence." Part of it, [Patti] Giggans suggests, is "the fact that S-E-X in the term sexual violence makes it just really hard for people to even talk about let alone do something about it." Oh no, not the three letter word!

Patti Giggans is the Executive Director of Peace Over Violence, the violence prevention organization that has been behind denim day since its inception.

Meanwhile, there are so many amazing activists working to move the conversation forward. I’ve been blessed to meet many of these activists whose work has challenged my own conceptualization of sexual violence and how I process it in my everyday life. What I’ve learned from these activists is that we don’t have to give up our sexuality in order to fight sexual violence.

From Jacyln Friedman and the other writers in Yes Means Yes!, I’ve learned about enthusiastic consent, which Friedman defines as,

Enthusiastic consent is a principle that says that “no means no” is crucial – if a sexual partner says no, you have to stop – but it’s not enough. In order to ensure consent and prevent sexual violence, everyone, regardless of gender, has to make sure that their partner is enthusiastic about what’s going on.

From Emily May and Hollaback!, I’ve learned about the importance of breaking the silence around street harassment and my right to feel safe and confident. As May explained to me when I interviewed her for Curve magazine,

"Street harassment is taking away someone's agency. It's being told who you are rather than defining that for yourself."

From Nancy Schwartzman and The Line Campaign, I’ve learned to not be afraid of the perceived “grey area” in sexual assault and to articulate my own line.

As you sport your denim today, what lessons are you thinking about and who did you learn them from? Whose work makes you stand up and yell, I'm with you!

The opinions and commentary posted in this public forum reflect the viewpoints of guest contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Council for Research on Women, its member organizations, or affiliates. Contributors are responsible for the accuracy of content posted under their name.


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