You’re going to see a lot of people wearing jeans today.
You probably see a lot of people wearing jeans everyday, but today is different. Today is Denim Day, a worldwide event meant to raise awareness of rape and sexual assault by encouraging people to wear — you guessed it — denim.
Denim Day traces its origins to Italy in 1998, when a young woman was raped by her 45-year-old driving instructor. Though the rapist initially got locked away for the crime, the ruling was overturned when the Italian Supreme Court decided that “because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them, and by removing the jeans it was no longer rape but consensual sex.”
People around the world were furious with this unapologetic manifestation of rape culture, and decided to wear jeans to their presumably non-business casual work environments in protest. Denim Day was born.
It’s a powerful back-story, sure, but when I first heard about Denim Day, I thought it was a somewhat silly idea for an awareness event. I mean, these events are held to clue the public into issues by making people stand out, right? Yellow bracelets, pink ribbons — these are symbols that we associate with causes. How could denim — one of the the most commonly-worn fabrics in the world — be used to raise awareness of anything?
Then I started thinking about the number of people I see wearing denim on the subway during my commute each morning. I thought about how many pairs of dungarees, as my grandmother calls them, I’ve tried on in my life. I thought about how jeans have become such an expected component of our wardrobe that I typically don’t think twice when I see them.
And then I thought about the number of times I’ve been catcalled or touched when I didn’t want to be, and about the number of times I’ve been told to “just let it go.” I thought about how sexual assault has become something so common that we sometimes don't think twice about that, either.
I thought how many people I know who have been raped. I thought about how many more exist who I don’t know — certainly at least as many as I see wearing jeans everyday.
I thought about Steubenville’s Jane Doe, and also about all those other Jane Does out there who may think that their rape was their fault, if they realize it was rape at all. I thought about all the girls I met in high school who were assaulted while drunk, and I thought about how, in our teenage ignorance, we didn’t know what to call the thing that happened to them. I thought about how we didn’t call it anything, actually, because it was nothing out of the ordinary.
And I thought about how rape culture has become so pervasive that we more often than not fail to take meaningful note of it. I thought about how it has become practically as ubiquitous and unavoidable as is seeing people wearing jeans.
And then I thought that perhaps denim is a great awareness symbol after all.
So whenever you see someone in jeans today, which you undoubtedly will, let it remind you that rape culture is all too often sitting right in front of you. Let the number of denim-clad legs you spot momentarily overwhelm you, as you envision the scale of this problem. And then let them spur you into action, and to do your part to speak out against this culture every time you witness it.