It’s the first week of classes at Clements High School in Sugar Land, Texas, an affluent city of about 80,000 near the southeast corner of the state. The juniors, now proud upperclassmen, excitedly filled the auditorium seats to hear their administrative staff and faculty welcome them back. Or so they thought…
On August 24th, 2016, Assistant Principal Phil Morgante pledged his case in support of the high school’s dress code policy by perpetuating misogynistic stereotypes which were offensive to young women and young men. In an audio recorded by one of the students, Morgante can be heard saying, “Now girls, I know you are trying to work on your abs since the Olympics, right? But your shirts can’t be up here, it’s gotta cover the whole gut. So, cover up… um. Let’s see…ripped clothing; why would you spend (unclear mumbling).”
Towards the end, he states, “Ladies, I still blame you all for boys’ low grades because of tight clothing.” Students confirmed that the audio started after Morgante made the initial comment about male students already having trouble studying and how the girls’ tight clothing only made it worse.
Many students immediately took this to social media to express their outrage on the issue. The names in the following pictures are censored to keep the girls anonymous.
Morgante, who has been part of the Fort Bend ISD in Texas for 25 years, unintentionally promoted a culture that constantly blames women for actions of men. This culture is just as insulting to men because it implies that they are incapable of controlling their actions. While the principal of the school, David Yaffie, apologized the next day on Morgante’s behalf, the problem remains: there are too many school administrations who share this view.
Clements High School is one of the top 100 high school in Texas, and kids from this school end up in universities all over the nation. The fact that the boys are being taught so young that a girl’s clothes justifies what men do to them is beyond alarming. Just a few days ago, 18-year old David Becker, who sexually assaulted two unconscious girls, was let free because the judge wanted him to “enjoy a college experience.” What about the college experience of the girls who were left scarred for life by his actions? Apparently, that didn’t matter all that much just so long Becker didn’t have to endure the “stigma of being a registered sex offender,” as his lawyer casually stated.
When between 20 and 25 percent women are sexually assaulted on college campuses, it really does matter what one faculty member says in one high school assembly. The ideology behind victim blaming is not innate, it is taught. Women are constantly told to not walk outside late, not wear revealing clothes, watch how much you drink. Yet men are never repeatedly told one simple thing: don’t rape. Why is it that it is always women who must look out for themselves? People never tell victims of robbery that it was their fault to have cash or tell victims of car crashes to not drive on the street…I understand that there is nothing wrong with taking precautions; however, telling girls that their clothing hinders someone else’s education or actions is senseless.
Apart from accusing the girls, another disturbing aspect of Morgante’s comments were that he assumed that boys do not possess the self-control to focus on their studies rather than looking at the girls’ “tight clothing.” Our society tends to give men less credit than they deserve when it comes to them doing the right thing. If boys in high school are old enough to work jobs and understand complex game plans, then they are more than capable of focusing on their own work without getting distracted.
Cliché statements such as “boys will be boys” prevents young men from accepting their responsibilities and owning up to their actions. One bothered male student tweeted the following in agreement to his female classmate.
It is obvious that boys and girls alike agree that holding girls and their clothing responsible for boys’ low grades is ridiculous. While the majority of the new generation shares this consensus, the issue lies within the mentality of older people who then corrupt developing minds with their faulty reasoning. Fortunately, Clements High School’s students speaking out against their assistant principal resulted in the situation being addressed. If other students, teachers, parents can all unite against this stereotype, then maybe as a community we can eradicate the roots of victim blaming and rape culture.
Tell us what you think about the story on social media using the hashtag #LadiesIBlameYou.
UPDATE: As a result of this story, the local school board has released this statement:
"During assemblies last week, when speaking about the dress code, a Clements High School administrator made comments that were inappropriate and offensive to students. These comments should not have been made, and do not represent the beliefs of Fort Bend ISD or the Clements administrative team or faculty."
"The comments were a failed attempt at humor and inappropriate. Following concerns expressed by students, the Clements principal took prompt action to address the comments and apologized to the student body. We have high expectations for both students and staff at Clements High School and throughout Fort Bend ISD. Our goal is to provide a safe, positive learning environment where all students feel supported and valued. Please know this situation is being addressed, and appropriate actions will be taken."