Bookgasm: The S-Word Discussion

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Here's another discussion about the book I've recently read, The S-Word. This post not only include my reactions and opinions to the book, but also some personal experiences related to the theme.
1. Angie refers to getting a dose of "high school," a term Kennedy used, to justify why "slut" was first written on Lizzie's locker. How does the high school environment portrayed in the story compare to your experience? In what ways is it less or more restrictive?
Since I live in a different country from Angie & Lizzie, I could say that it's a different case and experience. The culture varies so I think this also was a big influence to my high school environment. It was less in a sense of bullying or condemning, in comparison to Angie's experience. It happens but not to that degree--not to the point wherein your whole school will torment you of something you did or say (whether it's a rumor or not). On what I have observed, the labels and the name-calling usually happens between frenemies, old friends or those who have had intense issues with one another. Some will eventually overcome it and solve their issues but others will choose not to be friends anymore. What happened to Lizzie was brutal. Everybody punished her even though they don't know the whole story. I'm not sure if that's their way of saving themselves or feeling superior. Everybody pulled away from her as if she has a disease that everyone could acquire from a simple touch. It was sad and disheartening. But like what they always say, high school is a jungle and you have to survive--the strong ones live, the weak ones die.

2. Labels at Verity High are powerful and prevalent: prude, slut, queerbait, easy, Drama Queen, homecoming king, white-trash royalty. Angie contemplates, "I suppose it's hard to treat someone appropriately if you don't know what her classification is." Which characters seem to embrace their labels, and how are they treated by their fellow classmates?
I think almost all of the characters did embrace their labels. It will be social suicide if they don't. Kennedy was the popular cheerleader. She's known to be the prettiest among the girls of Verity High. She was the Queen Bee and the only way is to go up. She will not give up her throne because it promises so much power, socially speaking. Everyone looks up to her, everyone thinks she's perfect despite her flaws because she sets the standard--she set the trends. Together with her minions, she rules the school. Drake was the typical jock--handsome, popular athlete, abs included. He acts his part as the king of the jungle as the lioness fight each other to gain his attention. Make him your arm candy and it'll boost your social status. Shelby was the drama queen-slash-over achiever. She's the type who joins every committee or organization. Oh and she loves plays and acting so much. It's her life. Her resume is full of accomplishments and there's no space for failure. Martin was the geek who aces all his exams and top score all his video games that's why he hardly fixes himself. He can be easily bullied since he has no muscle to defend him. He would love to fight back but he wanted a peaceful, even if it means he's invisible, high school life and doesn't want to mess with higher power in the social strata.

What happens to those who reject their assigned labels?
Jesse was dubbed as a homosexual because he dresses differently. It shook the social order that's why the others bully him. They can't accept him that he's different. He tried to show them otherwise but was still tormented for it. So he chose the prior just to make them stop. Because of also what had happened, Lizzie was condemned for doing a scandalous thing that was not solely her fault. She was known to be the virgin who they praised and put on a pedestal. But one false move made her hit rock bottom. What I'm trying to say here is that these labels were rooted from our expectations, standards, and judgments. We get disappointed when the first two are not met that's why we chose to do the third one. We sometimes make it sound like it was the truth because that's what we want to believe in and how we want others to think as well. If we were the one being labeled, mostly we just take it and embrace it since we feel that we have to accept it to fit in and we feel powerless to those who gave such labels.

3. Early in the story Angie ponders the fallout from Drake and Lizzie's prom night encounter, explaining, "while Drake fur off with a boys-will-be-boys slap on the wrist, Lizzie became the harlot of Verity High." Why do you think some people are judged more harshly for their actions than others? Is it simple based on gender, or are there other factors?
In Lizzie's case, I can strongly say that gender was a factor. Even in this modern age where women wear pants, study, work, vote, etc., it is still obvious how the society perceives the female gender as secondary. I don't know if the Adam & Eve story were greatly applied to how we should treat other genders and act but that's what it seems to be at times--the notion that, "It's the woman who seduced the man so it's the woman's fault."The situation in the book showed how that kind of mistake can be a woman's downfall, whether she's innocent or not, and a man's right to brag. We blamed the prior, and cheered and encouraged the latter.

I was just an onlooker on Lizzie's world but on how the story started and on how it was told, I can shamefully say that that somehow I also passed an early judgment on Lizzie without finishing the book first. I thought Lizzie was wrong for doing that to her best friend though I also hated Drake for it. But what Lizzie "did" hurt Angie the most because she was her best friend. I had a different take on how I judged Lizzie but still it is what it is. Like when, we saw a not so pleasant cover of a book, we immediately think that it might not be interesting but surprisingly it has a captivating story and vice versa. It only shows how we quickly pass judgments without really knowing the whole story. We just look at it, but we don't see through it. That is why it is important to remember that there is always two sides of the story; in their case, there are three.

Have you ever been judged for things you've done by people who didn't know the full story?
I think I had an experience to share but it was petty as compare to Lizzie's. It was about a mistaken identity. These "girls" thought I was the one who likes this person whom one of them was involved with that time. Someone pointed the girl in front of me to them and they thought I was THE girl. Weird. But anyhow, this group of girls always stare at me and whisper at each other whenever I saw me. They would give me the crazy eye whenever we would cross paths. They would say mean things when they pass by me which I really don't understand back then. I thought they just needed a punching bag to throw fists at. But I eventually learned that they just thought I was this girl who has a crush on their boyfriend-slash-girlfriend. Whew, it was crazy but I took the situation differently. I did not submit to them like Lizzie did. I knew I did nothing wrong so I stood tall and lifted my chin up high, ignoring their evil stares. :)

4. Jesse explains that he's an outsider because "I'm Mexican and I'm wearing a skirt. The kids that don't want to beat the queer out of me want me deported." The students at Verity seem to feel entitled to condemn the sexuality of people like Jesse and Gordy, and then treat them badly because of it. Were you ever in a situation where you judged someone for his or her sexuality, even when it had nothing to do with you? Why do you think people feel the need to go from maybe being uncomfortable with something, like homosexuality, to outright attacking it?
I've never judged someone about their sexuality in the same regard. Like I said on my previous answers, people are scared of changes. We panic when we experience, witness or see things we are not used to. It's like telling us to write on the ballpen using a paper. It's mind-boggling because people don't know why and how it happened, where such a thing came from and sometimes the only way to deal with it is to hurt it because maybe, eventually, it would be back to normal. Like how we sometimes slap and hit the TV when it hanged then it will eventually go back to normal. Homosexuality toppled the whole table of social order. It already existed way before but we chose to ignore it and see it as evil because our society, culture, and religion say so. Since they did not conform and they stand out in the crowd, we pinpoint them so they would follow the norm. We will hit them until they bend and break just to make them follow us again. We will embed fear on them so they will not fight back. We will condemn them so others will not follow. (DISCLAIMER: I do not condone such acts of bullying and I support the LGBT community. The term 'we' is used to emphasize my point on the issue and my answer to the question stated.)

5. In a conversation with Angie, Jesse says that when he was growing up, people treated him "like stilettos were going to show up on their feet without their permission," simply because he dressed differently. In your experience, has anyone ever challenged your idea of how people "should" dress?
I think we all grew up knowing that skirts and dresses are for girls, and shorts and pants are for boys. Flats and heels are for girls, and sneakers and oxfords are for boys. But in the current era we are in, everything was bent to extreme proportions, that things we thought are not possible before are happening now. Women can wear what men wear and vice versa. In some cultures, men wear skirts. Women nowadays also sport androgyny and think it is chic because it is!

Have you ever used clothing in a way that challenged people's perceptions?
I actually wear whatever I want to wear. But I had a phase, which I've said in my other posts before, that I was tomboyish when I was younger. I didn't use to challenge others' perception but I wore it because it's comfy and there was a lack of choices and tasteful clothes back then unless you had it custom-made. So I wore sneakers, cargo pants, shirts, jerseys and caps! There was even a time when my mom second-guessed if I like girls and remembered that I love buying skirts and heels, hate when I catch a puddle of mud or dirty water on my feet, and pinches my nose whenever I smell something unpleasant. Haha.

6. Angie dismissed her mother as "the parent who doesn't want me," while her father is "the one who can't support me." How do her very different relationships with her parents affect her and inform her choices? Does she share any characteristic with either parent?
First, I want to say what I think about her parents. I think Angie's mom is just busy with work so that she can live a good life and support her daughter's education, needs, and even Angie's leisure. I do think she loves Angie but has a funny way of showing it. Well, maybe she's not that expressive of what she feels but you can see that she cares. While Angie's dad has a disability so he can't support her financially, it was evident how he loves her whenever she stays with him. He gives her the time and attention she needs. So anyway, I think Angie acquired the coldness from her mother. It's difficult for her to express what she really feels and have this really tall wall she projects as a cool facade to show she's not vulnerable. I think her stubbornness and pride came from her father. These traits highly influenced her decisions because that's how she handles it so that's how she will address a problem.

7. As her quest for justice progresses, Angie finds out there is more and more that she didn't know about Lizzie--things her own best friend didn't tell her. Angie thinks she would have accepted Lizzie if she had known the truth, but do you think she would have
I don't think she would accept it right away. Angie might panic and ignore Lizzie, or even stay away from her. I'm not really sure how she would take it but I know it will not be easy because she only realized and saw things differently when Lizzie died and she didn't know her secret then. But if Lizzie did tell her, it's either Angie will give herself time to think away from Lizzie or she will lead the people to condemn Lizzie, again.

Have you ever discovered something surprising about someone you thought you knew well? How did it affect your relationship? Were you able to be as understanding as you thought you'd be before you found that thing out?
I have a friend who recently came out and I have to admit that I was kind of in denial at first. I've seen some hints of changes, but I ignored it thinking she might just be boyish like me at times. She was hiding it back then because she has a boyfriend that time so I never entertained the idea. Then she came out and to tell you the truth, I was scared to see how this will affect our friendship so I thought I wouldn't understand. But after the gap we've had due to other issues, we talked about it, and opened everything to each other. We made each other understand the situation and now all is good. I'm extremely happy for her and I think it made our bond stronger because of the trust, respect and acceptance we gave to one another.

8. When Angie begins to see justice against those who wronged Lizzie, she feels righteous as a vigilante. Is Angie right to seek this type of justice, or is she merely sinking to the level of the bullies, as Jesse suggests? When bringing wrongdoers to justice, at what point do we cross the line? When, i your opinion, does Angie come near, or even cross, that line?
I think some of her intentions was right but she wanted to execute it in a vengeful way which is wrong. Like Jesse said, Angie was not better than the wrongdoers if she also played their game. It might make the score even but it will not bring justice to Lizzie. The fight will not be over and remained a cycle. Crossing the line is ambiguous to begin with. If it's a negative perspective, Angie nearly did it when she attempted to embarrass the three cheerleaders who bullied Lizzie during their graduation day. It could have been messy. A lot of people will get hurt. Good thing she changed her mind. In crossing the line in a positive way, we can take justice in our hands by telling the truth, letting the authorities know what should be told (in Drake & Kennedy's case), asking for some guidance so that disciplinary measures will be placed (regarding bullying), etc. There are a lot of good things that can be done. Justice can be served without playing foul and acting on revenge. It's more fulfilling to get justice without hurting another person in the process.

9. Throughout the course of her investigation, Angie uncovers many of her classmates' secrets. Kennedy's secret in particular, seems to require action. What is Angie's responsibility in this situation? Have you ever discovered something that made you feel like you had to intervene, even if you knew people would be angry with you? How would you have handled things if you were in Angie's shoes?
I think she felt responsible as a woman to protect Kennedy. She knew she has to do something to help Kennedy. That was such a traumatizing experience and she also knew that justice must be served. It was unforgivable. I have not experience such so far but I think like Angie, I would have offered help. I would back Kennedy up no matter what. I will push her to get some because she needs it and deserves it. I would find different ways to help but not to the extent that I would take things in my hands. I will, of course, need to gain her trust first and make her feel that the help I' offering is the right thing to do.

10. In her diary, Lizzie explored her feelings on being branded a "slut," writing, "ask a hundred people the meaning of that word and you will a hundred answers. It means absolutely nothings." While many of Angie's classmates used the word slut with relative ease, they seemed truly shaken when suicide slut appeared. What is the S-word? Chelsea Pitcher's website suggests the additional words severed, silence, secret, shame, separate, shunned, shattered, and scorned. Which word or words carry the most resonance for you in the story?
I chose three words: silence, shunned and shattered. Silence because numerous students in Verity High chose that road rather than to stand up and speak out and correct the injustice. It might have been because of fear, apathy or self-preservation. The latter would be, I think, the main reason of those people since they do not want the aggressors to turn to them and torment their very peaceful lives in the shadows. Silence was also what Lizzie opted to do. You cannot blame her. She knew the drill too well. Whether or not she defend and explain herself, people will not forget and most of them, will not believe her. She was Shunned. That happened because she did something people cannot accept, something that people think are wrong even if she was the victim. She was Shunned because people were too busy with themselves to actually care and know the truth. She was Shunned because they needed someone to pinpoint and to blame. And that Shattered her. She couldn't take all of it especially when that one person who knew her too well turned her back on her. The burden was too heavy to bear every single day, when people won't stop throwing words and stones at you. Later on, Angie was also Shattered but she didn't really show it at first. The mixed emotion she felt--blame, anger, disappointment, grief, denial--made her dizzy and eventually her cold front Shattered to pieces which showed how broken she was towards the end.

What are your thoughts?

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Style Reader by Arra Abella is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Images and text are copyrighted, unless stated otherwise. Therefore, if you want to use any of these, feel free to contact me.

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