Time Magazine just published a post: Colby Student: Billy Bush Exemplifies the Hypermasculinity on College Campuses with the tagline “A student from Bush’s alma mater says not much has changed.” Here’s my story. Billy Bush and I went to the same boarding school, St. George’s in Newport, Rhode Island. You may have read about the school recently in The New York Times or The Boston Globe or Vanity Fair because an investigation recently concluded that scores of students were raped and assaulted at the school, mostly during the 70s and 80s. While I was lucky enough not to be a victim of assault, this “elite” institution that supposedly educates “the best and the brightest,” like so many boarding schools was a bastion of sexism and racism, an old boys club where a culture of silence was encouraged and rewarded. The photo below is of me (on the left) and my friend, freshman year, in our high school yearbook from 1984. The caption reads “Todd’s toys.”
Todd was a senior prefect. The saddest thing to me about this photo is that I, at 14 years old, aspired to be liked, desired, by older boys, that I believed my value and worth was determined by whether or not older males– the guys with the power– were attracted to me. St. George’s did nothing that I can recall to recognize this sexism or to empower female students. To the contrary, the school seemed to condone misogyny. There was an annual event at St. George’s called Casino Night where all the new girls, mostly freshman and sophomores, dressed up as bunnies, as in playboy-type bunnies, complete with fishnet stockings and cotton tails on our butts. Our job was to sell the boys– who were fully clothed and pretended to gamble– candy and fake cigarettes. Casino Night was not a secret event, it took place to much fanfare in the school dining hall. Every teacher and administrator knew about it.
When I heard the Billy Bush/ Donald Trump tape I wanted to scream because it was like everything I learned in high school, the objectification of women and girls, the metamorphosis of teenager from San Francisco into a “toy” bunny plaything, was being reinforced by a would-be president of the United States of America.I felt ill and the nausea hasn’t left me since.
What are girls supposed to think and feel and be when we grow up surrounded by this kind of sexism, when it’s so normal that no one even notices it? When teachers condone it by never addressing it?
After I learned about the sexual assaults and rapes at St. George’s, about a year ago, I started blogging about the story. Though even before I was told about the abuse and the cover ups, I’d written about the sexism I experienced there in blog titled Women, class, and the problem of privilege: Everything I learned about sexism, I learned at boarding school.
I spoke to the investigators because they said they wanted to know about the culture of sexism at the school, how the place could’ve allowed the rapes to happen and go unreported. I was disappointed that the investigators didn’t publish more about the rape culture at the school, and I wrote many blogs about it, including one titled with a quote from a survivor: ‘There’s no sense of why so many assaults happened at St. George’s, what the school did to create cultural backdrop that allowed and encouraged rape.’
The links to the posts I wrote about St. George’s are listed below, though I removed the photos from the blogs. I had posted a photo, also from our 1984 yearbook, of a freshman girl dressed as a bunny on Casino Night. To me, the shame was on the school, not the girl, but when she told me she wanted it down, I respected her wishes. I took all the pictures of students down except for the one with me in it that you can see above.
Misogyny is so ubiquitous in America, paradoxically, it’s invisible. It’s in our schools and colleges and the air we breathe, but we don’t even notice it. I’m not 14 years old anymore. I have three daughters of my own now. I want them to have the right to control their own bodies, to find their value in their achievements not in how they appear to men, to be ambitious, creative, and inspired, to dream big and to acquire the skills to realize their vision, to be valued as people, not toys. That’s why I’m voting for Hillary Clinton for president on November 8.
Reel Girl posts on St. George’s:
St. George’s, how should law enforcement respond to 911 call about possible rape at your school?
Open letter to Bishop Knisely about sexual assaults and cover ups at St. George’s school
Why is a justice who argued against statutory rape laws on the R. I. Supreme Court?
St. George’s school continues to hold back information in sexual assault investigation
St. George’s releases report on sexual assaults at the school
St. George’s alumna creates fund for survivors sexually assaulted at school
Comments on petition asking St. George’s for fair investigation into assaults make me cry
St. George’s School continues to flub investigation into sexual assaults
Lawyer investigating St. George’s sexual assaults is partner of school’s legal counsel
‘There’s no sense of why so many assaults happened at St. George’s, what the school did to create cultural backdrop that allowed and encouraged rape.’
Prep school alumni respond to St. Paul’s rape trial verdict
Women, class, and the problem of privilege: Everything I learned about sexism, I learned at boarding school
Tucker Carlson, Jerry Garcia, and me
Excellent piece, Margot! You are a person of integrity and, like you, I believe it is time to publicly address this pervasive problem. Ironically, this is one instance in which we can thank Trump for busting this dialogue wide open. Thank you for writing it.
I respect your choice to vote for the person you so choose. May I respectfully say that I agree with everything that you say in your blog. When all is said and done, I don’t know the right answer, but what I do know is that Hillary Clinton is not part of the solution to this, but she is part of the problem. Peace in whatever your vote may be. I know that I am struggling as so many Americans are. Pathetic choice. I’m going to go with voting my conscience – even if that is writing the name of another individual.
Democracy means yes of course, you should vote with your conscience.
However, please imagine everything negative Trump says regarding women being said by Hilary about men –
or that he said it about disabled people, or people with a low IQ, or people of colour (“I do what I like to them and they let me”)
Somehow many Americans don’t see a problem about it being about women. I don’t understand why. I can only think that in America, despite the rhetoric, women are believed to be worth less than men.
I actually heard a school girl from Virginia say that it wasn’t right for a woman to be ‘in charge’ – which rather reflects the middle-eastern motto that a woman should be either in the house or dead.
Is there any group about which he could say these things / have these attitudes and you would feel unable to support him? Children? Young men? Pensioners?
The power of the celebrity can be toxic. It sickens me to think of his toadies saying nothing to stop him. Laughing, encouraging… like a lynch mob. Look up the name JImmy Saville to find out what will go unquestioned when a celebrity does what he wants.
Respectfully – to your point. I don’t see any distinction between the two. That is why this is all so troubling. Neither of them deserve the presidency. We live in a Democratic Republic. Neither Congress nor the Executive Branch seems to know what their Constitutional obligations are. The ignorance and arrogance blended run rampant between both candidates. If you haven’t read Wikileaks or listened to Ed Snowden, I believe that it will be enlightening. The celebrity Ronald Reagan continues to live through for more than 30 years, a time when most of us were in high school wet behind the ears with little to no knowledge of “how things work” here in the U.S. We were subject at that time to the cultural standard that sexual abuse of children and adult secrecy were acceptable. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are products of that same culture. Only both of them seem to believe that it is still acceptable. What happened to our country?
Madness. Simply madness!
Peace in all of this ugly mess..
And…Here in Rhode Island, we don’t need to look that far as Savile (although I do understand your point) We have plenty of evidence of the old boys network that remain alive in well – all the way up to the judiciary working hand in hand with other celebrites in powerful institutions (i.e. the Vatican State; Diocese of Providence; )
Nonetheless – R.I. Supreme Court Justice William P. Robinson, who issued the disgraceful decision – remains a member of the highest judicial office in the State of Rhode Island.
“Fr.” Marciel Maciel” What a “celebrity”
Celebrities…I get it.
As an alum myself (76) what went down was appalling and criminal. I think however what is missing is the nuanced view that the school was not a monolithic culture. There were plenty of both children and faculty pushing back against the dominant old money/jock culture that had defined the schools “elite” at least up until the dawn of coeducation. The “Bushes” were always jerks, but the Walkers were wonderful people, for example. And Donald Trump, for what it’s worth, would never have been admitted.
I remember the old boys network, the superiority of males and the sexualization of girls being pretty monolithic when I was at St. George’s.
Margot-Megan Fitzgerald here, from KDBS class of 83 (?!*). That’s you and SH, right? I also went to boarding school after KDBS. In the past 2 years, it has come out that an administrator, the one who was in charge of disciplining the students, was sexually assaulting female students. I was not one of them, and I don’t know any who were, but it is awful. This happened in the 80s and the girl/woman is just coming out with it now. Good for her. The school notified us to see if there were any other victims, which I applaud them for.
P.S. As a high school yearbook editor, I am appalled at that caption on that photo.
Oh my Goodness, I have to change the SG yearbook date to 1984. Yes, you got the pic ID right. Where did you go, or do you not want to say? So many boarding schools have been in the news.