A momentous social statement is taking place at the Air Force Academy today. Cadets and officers are omitting their traditional uniforms and wearing jeans and T-shirts to work. As a cadet at the AFA, I couldn’t be prouder.
Denim Day was inspired by an Italian Supreme Court ruling. A male driving instructor had been found guilty of raping his female driving student. Years later, the Supreme Court justices overturned the decision. They argued that because the victim’s jeans were too tight, she must have helped her perpetrator remove them, thereby suggesting consent. The women of the Italian Parliament subsequently protested by wearing denim jeans to support the victim.
The AFA is taking part in the 20th Annual Denim Day. Military professionals and civilians who choose to do so can wear denim jeans and T-shirts that say “Stand Up USAFA, I will.” The “Stand Up”, of course, refers to standing up to sexual assault and violence.
The omission of the military uniform underscores the gravity of the event. The military uniform is a treasured part of service. To substitute it with a message against sexual assault is empowering.
Cynics might think that Denim Day is just a useless gesture about an overwhelming problem, but psychological research suggests that it can make a difference.
Social norms are collective representations of acceptable group behavior and conduct. For some, there is an uncomfortable atmosphere surrounding sexual assault, and avoiding the topic is the norm. By providing the AFA community the opportunity to collectively take a stand, it allows cadets and others to recognize how many of their friends and coworkers are intolerant of sexual assault and violence. This can adjust perceptions of the social norms surrounding sexual assault.
Kimberly Dickman, sexual assault prevention and response analyst at the AFA, notes “Denim Day is about awareness. Though it may not stop an offender immediately, it sends a visual message to survivors that we support them. It also sends a message to all: we stand against sexual violence and want a culture that is united and any type of disrespect or interpersonal violence would stand out and be addressed.”
It would be naïve to think that Denim Day alone would end sexual assault in any organization, but it is a tremendous step forward in creating a supportive culture and climate that openly supports survivors and rejects wrongdoers.
As a future Air Force officer, I am overwhelmed with pride that I can support sexual assault awareness by participating in Denim Day with my peers and leaders. I am thankful to the Air Force Academy for addressing this issue and encouraging a culture of healthy relationships.
I’m participating. Replacing my uniform today, makes me even prouder to wear it tomorrow.
Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the United States Air Force Academy, the Air Force, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.”
Brooke Duckworth is an Air Force Academy cadet from northern Virginia. She is majoring in behavioral sciences and leadership. She hopes to serve as a pilot in the Air Force after graduation.