Resources to Address Sexuality Issues Raised by 13 Reasons Why

Introduction

People inside and outside of the Jewish education world are talking about the new Netflix show, 13 Reasons Why, mostly focusing on how the intense story and attractive characters glamorize suicide.

The show also contains scenes and storylines having to do with consent, objectification, and sexual assault. These story lines have received far less public attention and discussion than the focus on suicide, even as, within the show, they are contributing factors to the mental health state of the main character.

For example, the main character, Hannah, witnesses the sexual assault of a friend. Later, she herself is sexually assaulted. In another episode, Hannah’s classmates pass a list around school in which she and other girls are rated by “best and worst” body parts. These incidents contribute to the foundation of sexualization on which the show exists. As Dr. Betsy Stone said recently in a webinar she led for URJ, “There’s not a woman in the show whose body is her own.”

The glamorization of a culture in which women don’t have full agency over their own bodies is a topic that teen watchers of the show need help to discuss, critique, and unpack.

In order to help adults interested in guiding teens to think about these aspects of 13 Reasons Why, we at Moving Traditions are sharing adaptations of our newly-created materials related to topics of sexuality, pleasure, consent, sexualization, and objectification. We encourage you to use these materials within your 9th grade and up Rosh Hodesh and Shevet Achim groups to address the issues brought up within the show. We also encourage you to attend a Moving Traditions Advanced Sexuality Training in the coming year to gain facility in exploring these issues with teens, and to gain access to more curricular resources.

Here are additional resources you might want to reference before having a conversation with teens about 13 Reasons Why:

Moving Traditions Curricular Activity: Contexts and Jewish Wisdom Card Activity

Download and print these two sheets:

Spread out the Jewish Wisdom Cards face-up on the floor or across a table, so participants can easily read all cards. Stack the Context Cards face-down, like a card deck.  (Cards are below.)

Say: “This activity will involve thinking critically about Jewish wisdom in relation to real-world contexts, modeled after situations within the show 13 Reasons Why, having to do with dating, consent, friendship, and boundaries.”This activity can be done individually, in pairs, or in small groups. First, ask all participants to choose a Jewish Wisdom Card that resonates with them. Then, hand out a Context Card to each pair/group. Ask participants to prepare an answer to one or more of the following discussion questions about their Context Card and chosen Jewish Wisdom Card:

  • How can someone use this Jewish wisdom in this context?
  • What is helpful/problematic about practicing this Jewish wisdom in this context?
  • How might practicing this Jewish wisdom in this context affect teens?

Facilitator’s Note: Emphasize that there is no good or bad way to connect the wisdom to the contexts or to answer these questions.

Now, have each participant, pair, or group choose one or more of their Jewish Values and Context pairs to share with everyone.

Additional Questions for Further Discussion

  • How was it to think about these situations in connection to Jewish wisdom? Have you ever drawn upon Jewish values or Judaism when thinking about relationships and sex before now?
  • Are there other guidelines or values that you have used to guide your decision making? How might having such guidelines help your decision making? Hinder it?
  • Are there any Jewish values we discussed in this activity that particularly stood out to you/ that you think you’ll bring into your process of sexual decision making?
  • What are some other difficult situations faced by characters in the show? How might Jewish wisdom have helped them in those situations?
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