Writing by Chanel Retief // photograph by Olivia Dileo
CW: Rape, Suicide, Assault, Gun Violence.
When I was seventeen years old, I hated myself.
Before you close the internet tab thinking this is another pessimistic article by a millennial, I do have more to add. At that stage in my life, I would have done anything to talk to someone the dark and horrible thoughts in my mind. The worst part was walking through the door everyday, only to feel like the world around me was fine and that I was the problem.
I felt like this all through high school leading into university, until the release of one particular television show. It’s a show that has received a modest amount of compliments and a HIGH INTENSITY of complaints. If you haven’t guessed it yet, I am talking about 13 Reasons Why.
Since the first season, the show has received backlash due its controversial nature. But controversy or not, I think the show does exactly what it is intended to do: start a conversation and bring to light topics that the generation before us found difficult to engage with.
There are a few reasons that I appreciate 13 Reasons Why and why I feel it is important to watch the show. It goes without saying that if you have not watched the series or recent episodes, there will be spoilers ahead.
- The problem with “boys will be boys” and the root cause.
In the second season, it becomes evident to the viewers that the boys in the show love to brag about their “conquests”, reducing women to little more than a game. In particular, it highlights how disrespecting women is often a way to be accepted into male peer culture, with boys feeling pressured to act this way to fit in.
For most part of the season we are lead to believe that Bryce Walker is the ring leader, but we later learn that it is his baseball coach who lead them to this behavior and how he condones it as long as “you don’t get caught”.
As someone who is not even in their age group, I was forced to question what other actions Coach Rick condones, as well as what actions he commits himself. More than anything, if you look beyond the show, you ask yourself; do Coach Rick’s really exist in the real world?
2. The Online Presence vs. The Real World Presence
If you were to test the kids in 13 Reasons Why on maths or English, how would they go? Being part of the same generation, I can confirm that I spend more of my time on my phone then on my studies. What we see in both seasons of 13 Reasons Why is how you can portray an image online but that same image is dead in the real world.
In the second season this is extremely clear when photographer (and stalker) Tyler gets into a fight with his season best friend, Cyrus, but still posts pictures of the two of them on Facebook like nothing is wrong. I am not sure if this is to resurrect the friendship or if it’s just to show the world that they are both delinquents either way, two different things are being displayed.
3. Sexual Assault against women
In the first season, besides the graphic suicide of Hannah Baker, was also the controversial scene of the rape of Jessica and Hannah, both raped by the same person. However in the second season, the show focuses a lot on sexual assault and looks at how women are disrespected beyond just what is said about “her ass”.
I come from a generation where rape culture is so prevalent but also so spoken about. In my country, South Africa, my university had an entire protest against Rape Culture. The fact that we have given rape so much power by making a culture is also something a little shocking. With that said though, I am in full support in what the writers and producers did to create awareness in it.
In episode 13, the beginning, all the women in the cast speak about their experience with sexual assault. Whether it is Rape, or being touched inappropriately or sexually harassed to the point where if you do not give the perpetrator who is also a co-worker what he wants then you are unfairly dismissed. In episode 12, Hannah Baker’s mother even states “I don’t think I know one female in my life that hasn’t been sexually assaulted in some way”.
I have to agree because I don’t.
Rape Culture may be something that is discussed more in my generation but it is nothing new to the world. The scene in episode 13 where all these women, old and young, come out and discuss their stories is something very important to hold onto.
On that note about stories, the show also looks at the aftermath of rape and how even when you try to get justice, do you ever really feel content and healed again? What many people don’t know, men in particular, is that rape is not a trauma that you just easily get over.
There were moments in the show where Bryce Walker- the guy who raped Jessica and Hannah and even his own girlfriend- talks about how these girls were sexual encounters that he had as if they were consenting partners. But then this sense of power that he hold onto these girls restricts them from wanting to come out and talk about what happened to them. Hannah only felt she could do it because she did it over a tape and then killed herself. However having to face the trauma again when you come out about it can be nearly as painful as the rape itself, and the show makes that very evident to the viewer. Especially in the case of Bryce’s girlfriend, Chloe, who refuses to believe that this happened to her even when there is proof? In a time where she is in front of the court and given the chance to get justice, she does not testify. As Jessica puts it “she was not ready…it is her story not mine”.
That does not eliminate the fact that unfortunately Chloe still falls under the representation of people who condone rape. And there are women who condone it for different reasons especially if they know the perpetrator. In her case it’s because she loves him and later we learn she is pregnant with his child. In the case of Bryce’s mother, well it is her son. What mother wants to assume the worst of her child. As for Bryce’s friends, it goes back to boys will be boys.
4. Sexual assault against men
It’s not a secret that men assault women, but it shouldn’t be a secret that men also assert their strength onto other men. And this assertion of power is sometimes done through sexual assault or abuse and not just physical violence such as king hits.
This gruesome scene was the cause of a lot of conversation on social media after the second season aired in May. This scene is also the reason the American parental council called out Netflix to cancel the show. This scene is actually why I chose to write this piece…
Did you know one in six men have been sexually abused or assaulted and the majority of the time it’s by other men? But only 16% of those men come forward to report/ document these assaults (for more information click here). You can question why all you want, but I am of the opinion that reason is obvious.
Context wise, I saw the warning not to watch the scene and what the Parental Council said before I even got to episode 13. But even with the warning I was not prepared for the scene and I was not prepared for my reaction either. As someone who prides themselves as being a feminist, I won’t deny that before watching the scene I didn’t think it would bother me. Especially since before that scene all these women had spoken about how they had been sexually assaulted by men countless times.
But I cried and I felt anger when Tyler was beaten up, drowned in a toilet and then raped with a broken mop. The scene was graphic but I think that was the point that even though I have watched the scene a long time ago, it is still ingrained in my head. I will never forget how Tyler tried to reason with these three boys, I will never forget the reason why these boys did what they did (Tyler is the reason they can’t play baseball for a season…So a lifetime of trauma over a season of baseball?) and I will never forget how Monty (the main perpetrator) said “hold him” while he went to retrieve the mop from the corner of the bathroom.
There was no screaming, or weird background music. Nothing but the sound effect of flat-lining and the scene playing out in front of me. It could not have been more than a minute long.
5. Gun Violence
By far the most prevalent thing in the US today and why I have put it under sexual assault of men is because after Tyler is brutally sexually assaulted, he wants revenge. And the way he chose revenge was to plan a mass shooting.
I feel like the question of why someone chooses to go on a shooting “spree” is important. A lot of the time when I have read of shootings happening in schools the perp is often just described as “really quiet”. The scene where Tyler gets ready to shoot people at this school made me question real life events where students go into a school and shoot other students. For the longest time, Tyler was the victim and then the people who bullied him, made fun of him and raped him became the victims. All of a sudden…Tyler is not the victim anymore. He is the offender.
The main reason why the show even exists is because a girl took her own life because of all the horrible things happening around her and she felt alone.
Her death brings about many more topics that should have been discussed when she was alive. And what this show does is open up the door for conversation.
As I said, when I was seventeen, I hated myself – but no one knew that.
There could be someone sitting next to you now, who you think is the happiest person on planet Earth but they could easily be someone who is secretly needing help.[share]