“Will you be wearing denim on Wednesday, April 27?” I ask my friend.
“Maybe, since I usually wear jeans… but why specifically April 27?”
“Because, until we end the scourge of gender-based violence, we’re going to protest the victim-blaming of rape survivors by observing Denim Day.”
“Got it. I wear denim almost every day anyway,” she says.
“There’s Denim Day swag at denimday.org; a button will then prompt a conversation.”
“OK, I’ll do it!”
If you’re not familiar with Denim Day, it is the brainchild of Patti Giggans, a local hero and one of the most effective and inspiring self-defense advocates in the United States and the world. Giggans, the leader and founder of the nonprofit Peace Over Violence (POV), created Denim Day in 1999 to protest a terrible miscarriage of justice in Italy. Since that first Denim Day, millions of people worldwide have worn denim in solidarity and to decry the medieval legal decision to “blame the victim of rape” for her own rape.
Briefly, there was an Italian rape case where a knife-wielding 45-year-old driving instructor raped his 18-year-old student driver. Under threat of death, she helped him pull down a leg of her tight denim jeans. Initially, the driving instructor was convicted of rape and sentenced. On appeal, the high court in Italy overturned the conviction, with the chief judge stating, “…because the victim wore very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them, and by removing the jeans it was no longer rape but consensual sex.”
Ugh. The appellate court made that bone-headed, hateful, misogynistic decree, overturning the first court’s conviction. The outcry — thank goodness — was loud! Female legislators around the world wore denim pants in protest. Giggans observed the global outrage and declared that the last Wednesday of April every year would be Denim Day. It’s been going on ever since.
Victim-blaming. It’s a practice that hopefully is in its death throes.
“It’s not the size of the woman in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the woman” is a play on the phrase “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
It was a T-shirt I wore when I became an instructor for IMPACT Personal Safety of Los Angeles. One of the die-hard myths concerning women’s self-defense is that women are “biologically” unable to defend themselves because of their size.
It’s also apt for petite Patti Giggans, one of my favorite pioneers of the anti-violence-against-women movement. Yes, thanks to women like Ms. Giggans, there is such a movement.
I produced and directed a documentary, “Beauty Bites Beast: The Missing Conversation About Ending Violence,” that debunks the most pernicious self-defense myths. During production, I interviewed a young anti-violence activist who was rigid about her view that women’s self-defense was merely another form of victim-blaming.
“Why are you against self-defense?” I asked.
“For a few reasons. Are you going to teach me how to punch, and then if I get assaulted, it’s my fault for not punching?” (We don’t teach fist-punching!)
“No. My colleagues and I understand that not everyone will be able or choose to defend themselves. We support whatever choice is made. But if women are denied the knowledge of self-defense, they can’t choose it. Why else?” I asked.
“Another reason we are so turned off is that it’s usually straight white men telling us to protect ourselves,” she replied. “They need to tell men to not rape instead!” After a beat, I said, “Agreed. Except rapists don’t care what other people say or think. Are you aware there are a lot of women who teach self-defense that are survivors themselves and just want to give you tools in case you need them?”
“No, I wasn’t aware of that,” she said.
How could she be aware of all of us empowerment-based self-defense providers, most of whom are women? The media has completely ignored women in the self-protection fields, whether it’s women in traditional martial arts or more down and dirty street fighting. We are the poster gals for the marginalized and minimized. Women teaching and learning self-defense? What?
Again, Patti Giggans breaks many molds and leads the way. Peace Over Violence is marking its 50th anniversary this year. She is not only a brilliant and ardent advocate for women, but she’s also a genius at keeping a nonprofit alive and well. And POV has great self-defense classes!
I have no control over when you read this, but if you are reading after Wednesday, April 27, wear jeans anyway. And if you read it before Denim Day, make sure you wear your jeans with pride and purpose. Be a mouthpiece and a pants-piece for ending the ubiquitous and most thorough pandemic of all — violence against women and girls. And while you’re at it, thank Patti Giggans.
Ellen Snortland has written “Consider This…” for a heckuva long time, and she also coaches first-time book authors! Contact her at email@example.com.