The first book in the Great Stories Club grant, Structures of Suffering: Origins of Teen Violence and Suicide, was Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.
Because the book deals with the heavy yet relevant
themes of teen suicide and sexual violence, I thought we’d begin with an ice-breaker that centered around why we all matter inspired by the author’s Twitter campaign, #ReasonsWhyYou Matter. We all used the prompt, “I/you/we matter because…” and wrote down a sentence on a Post-it note and put inside a bag. We then all grabbed a Post-it from the bag, introduced ourselves, and read the phrase that we drew. It was a way for all of us to be vulnerable without being too vulnerable.
Booklist review: “When Clay Jenson plays the cassette tapes he received in a mysterious package, he’s surprised to hear the voice of dead classmate Hannah Baker. He’s one of 13 people who receive Hannah’s story, which details the circumstances that led to her suicide. Clay spends the rest of the day and long into the night listening to Hannah’s voice and going to the locations she wants him to visit. The text alternates, sometimes quickly, between Hannah’s voice (italicized) and Clay’s thoughts as he listens to her words, which illuminate betrayals and secrets that demonstrate the consequences of even small actions. Hannah, herself, is not free from guilt, her own inaction having played a part in an accidental auto death and a rape. The message about how we treat one another, although sometimes heavy, makes for compelling reading.”
“In this novel by Jay Asher, the voice of the deceased teenager Hannah tells her own story in a series of cassette tapes that describe her snowballing experiences of gender-based humiliation, bullying, and violence at her new high school. Her hopes to fit in, safely explore romantic and sexual feelings, and maintain her dignity quickly become crushed as classmates and strangers alike map their social and sexual desires onto her body. She addresses thirteen people who contributed to her suffering, and their trespasses range from peer “locker room talk” about her appearance and sex life to violations of her privacy to outright sexual assault. Buffeted by the paradoxical standards that young women are held to — to be both alluring and chaste; both independent and compliant — Hannah gradually loses confidence in herself and others until she feels completely isolated and decides to turn her loathing onto herself. Listening to her story and retracing her steps, Hannah’s classmate and crush Clay seeks to unlock the mystery of Hannah’s suicide. But instead of a single answer he finds a complex web of structural inequalities and everyday cruelties embedded in seemingly normal behavior, and is left to ponder how to live ethically and compassionately towards others in the face of these norms.”
According to the Oxford Dictionary, rape culture is defined as “A society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.”
We decided to explore the prevailing theme of rape culture within Thirteen Reasons Why and our very own society by inviting sexual assault prevention specialist, Rachel Taylor to read the book, present, and contribute to our discussion. Rachel works for the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC). Rachel started off the discussion by talking about power structures and asked a student to visually convey what power looks like to them through a drawing. Students then took turns contributing their thoughts as to the different types of people that hold power and what power can look like within relationships. This brought us to talk about how age of consent and consent in general. Rachel passed out KSCARC’s “Age of Consent” cards that included important information such as,”Just because your relationship is legal, doesn’t mean it’s equal.” AND “Consent is not just a lack of no. You need a YES! Here’s a portion of the card:
Rachel reviewed other resources including a handout on Washington sexual assault laws and how to support a friend who has experienced sexual assault. BTW, the KCSARC Resource Line is 1-888-99-VOICE (86423).
Our discussion also covered victim blaming, slut-shaming, the Madonna-Whore Complex, gender based violence, and more.
We delved into the snowball effect that Hannah talks so much about and how rumors and gossip about her quickly lead to a negative reputation, betrayal by her classmates, sexual assault, and dangerously low self-esteem. We also discussed the fact that Clay deserved to be on the tapes for two main reasons:
- He worried that the rumors were true and that Hannah was too experienced for her. Therefore, he didn’t reach out to her even though there were obvious signs that she needed support.
- Even if the rumors were true, so what? What if she was more sexually experienced? Why should she be treated any differently and as less than?
Ultimately, we had a powerful discussion and could have used more time. We also talked about how excited we are for the Netflix adaptation of 13 Reasons Why set to be released in just a few days on March 31st, 2017.
Check out the trailer!
***Considering suicide? There are people you
can talk to and who can help you.***
National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Whether you are personally in crisis or you are concerned about someone who is, you can ALWAYS call 1-800-273-TALK and get a listening ear, resources, and support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Trevor Project – 1-866-4-U-TREVOR
This is also a free, confidential 24-hour hotline. It focuses on crises and suicide prevention among gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth.
Crisis Text Line: Text START to 741-741 to talk to a trained counselor. It’s free, confidential, and available 24/7.