My take on the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why”
Yes. It’s about suicide. Yes, the show has flaws, inconsistencies and faults. I do not think that suicide was necessarily glamorized. The death of the second student was an incongruent pull that detracted from what I found most compelling. And the whole riddle game and blaming of others for Hannah’s suicide… is for a different tangent.
There have been a plethora of responses and critiques concerning the show that focus on the topic of suicide. My issue is that I haven’t read or heard any response to what I thought was the most successful aspect of “13 Reasons” — its realistic portrayal of how young women, girls, are sexualized and sexually abused without pause.
We live in a misogynist, hypersexualized, rape-normative culture. Worshipping hypermasculinity, sexually aggressive behavior while we ignore the bombardment of sexual microaggressions that women experience almost every day of their lives— it could be argued from the time they are born.
As young girls, before we can comprehend the threat, the threat of rape, we are warned by our mothers not to be near, or alone with, strange men. The seed is planted. One day, it seems as if out of no where, we feel it. We feel the stare. We are aware we are being watched, looked at, consumed with a glance. It’s not the innocent stare of a boy across the cafeteria that makes us nervous and giddy— and those stares too, change all too soon— and it never stops, except maybe when we are old, crinkly and wrinkly, and then, become invisible.
“13 Reasons” showed how young girls are trained, even expected, to participate in the psychological manipulation of their peers, and unconsciously, simultaneously, as they are victims, too. Like in the 1996 movie, “The Craft”, the new girl is bullied by the popular jock, who also lied about having sex with her, calling her a “bad lay”. And, then, her only recourse to regain her power, to have revenge, to right the wrong, was through supernatural manipulation — casting a spell for him to be in love with her.
Young boys mirror men. They are not natural predators; they, too, are trained and manipulated. The difference is the system is designed to support them, to give them power, and help to maintain it. For some of these young men, it becomes like a drug, the power they have been told they possess. They are praised for exhibiting “manly” behaviors, for being physically strong, for being smart and confident.
How can they think their behavior is wrong? Everyday we read in newspapers where an anonymous woman accused an anonymous man of an “alleged rape”, yet charges were dropped, or police closed the investigation for “inconsistencies” in the alleged victim’s story. Or a chief of police claims that acquaintance rape or sexual assault isn’t a “total abomination” like being dragged off of the street. What does it say about holding men accountable when millions of people voted, both men and women, for a man who boasted about grabbing women by their “pussies”? School policies emerge that restrict clothing of young women because they are a “distraction” for young boys. Arguing, it’s in the boys’ nature to be sexually aggressive therefore we must curb it and hold women responsible. Men and women need to teach young boys to value all human life, to respect women, to not use their presumed power- to no longer presume.
It’s a fucked up thing to say, but pretty girls have it worse. If you are identified by your society’s standards of beauty, as being beautiful, you are more susceptible, you expect this behavior and learn to feel a responsibility for their lust. Women have to learn as young girls to ignore, to push out, to overt our gazes for fear of locking eyes. We learn to deflect, to deject and distract ourselves for want of not being consumed whole. The seemingly innocuous bumping into on the stairwell, the telling you to smile— the eye fucking— you can’t let it break you, break your spirit, but it penetrates you even if never touches your body. This is not to disregard the abuse that men are victims of, it’s just not the point. Hannah could not push out the comments and the ultimate physical violations she endured. This is not to say she is weak, nor to justify her suicide. This is an opportunity to talk about what women go through, what we endure every day of our lives, the minute we walk out of our door and go down the street and sometimes within the walls of our very homes. From magazines to television to day-to-day interactions, it’s a constant push and pull of horrible thoughts of realized actions and violations against our bodies, against our beings, against our spirits.
That is a conversation that “13 Reasons” should, and can, open up. How we watch our men be placed on pedestals and rewarded for their prowess; cocky men are revered and confident women are bitches or conceited— is a narrative far too old and far too dangerous to sustain.
Let’s talk about this.