Why You Should Watch "13 Reasons Why"

When I first saw Thirteens Reasons Why on my “Trending Now” list on Netflix I was hesitant. I remember my friends reading the novel in middle school. I knew it had to do with bullying and teenage suicide. And I knew it didn’t have a happy ending. Hannah Baker, the narrator of the series, records the thirteen reasons why she ends her life and gives these tapes to each person who contributes in that process. When hearing about this in middle school, from my friends who read the novel, I thought Hannah’s decision to leave a suicide note like that was cruel. Therefore, when I saw the T.V. series on Netflix I knew I didn’t want to watch it, but I was curious. What could these kids do to her that would compel her to commit suicide? What did they do to deserve receiving personal tapes of how they indirectly killed Hannah Baker?

I was surprised to find that the show was about so much more than I originally thought. Tapes aside, what really stood out to me were the underlying messages of sexism and the rape culture heavily prevalent in the young adult world today. Many peers and even adults continuously let Hannah down in many ways. They are mean, judgmental, assuming, selfish, indifferent, and more importantly unable to hold themselves accountable for their actions; they are cowards. However, the topic of sexual assault and the objectification of women really spoke to me. All the violations Hannah endures are felt and experienced by females everywhere in the world. The scariest thing about the series, though, is that it forces you to realize that it happens in front of your own eyes in high school and on college campuses.

Hannah Baker’s downfall starts with a rumor; a rumor which implies she did more with Justin Foley than just kiss. This is when Hannah’s image starts to become morphed and the boys and girls of the school view Hannah in a derogatory way. They say she’s “easy” and imply that she “gets around” especially after her so-called friend, Alex Standall, puts her down as having “the best ass” on a bests list which the boys in school never let her live down. She becomes further objectified when Bryce Walker, the football star, sexually harasses her at the market after he pays for her snack. Still hoping that nice guys exist, she gives Marcus Cooley, the class president, a chance on Valentine’s Day. Hannah is left even more broken and humiliated after Marcus tries to touch her under the booth at the diner. Later in the series she goes to a party where she finally kisses her crush, Clay Jensen. But what should be a nice kiss with a nice guy quickly becomes a turning point in the night when Hannah’s internalizations of her past experiences being sexually objectified compel her to force Clay off of her. To make matters worse, Hannah becomes stuck hiding in a closet as she witnesses her drunk ex-best friend, Jessica, being raped by Bryce Walker. Unable to move, Hannah freezes and fails to stop the situation. Later in the year, Hannah finds herself stuck in the predatory presence of Bryce. Bryce rapes Hannah and is left completely destroyed. At this point, Hannah no longer feels like a person.

What started as a simple and sweet first kiss turns into a nasty rumor. The rumor, untrue words conveniently strung together to compose a false reality, fueled by men’s desires to be seen as powerful and sexually dominant and women’s desires to put other women down. We all do it. We immediately assume. We hear a statement, see a picture, listen to one side of the story and fill in the rest with what we want to believe. The man becomes the hero and the woman is put to shame. Why is this so? When Alex puts Hannah down as having “the best ass” the boys praise Alex assuming he did something to know this about Hannah and they stop viewing Hannah as a person. Why? When Marcus tries to touch Hannah under her skirt in public, his friends turn the other way. When Bryce goes into the room where Jessica lies drunk, Justin lets him advance on his girlfriend. Why didn’t they do anything? Why is this okay?

It is not okay, but the characters failed to realize this. Real people still fail to realize this. If you look up the meaning of rape culture on Google this is what comes up: a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse. When we call women demeaning terms like “easy”, “slut”, and “bitch” we contribute to this culture. When we ask “why was she drunk?”, “why did she wear that?”, “why didn’t she say no?” we participate in this culture. Rape is a crime that our attitudes, actions, words, and bias can lead to. Hannah Baker may be a fictional character, but what she endures is not a work of fiction; it is a reality that we all need to recognize. It is a reality that we live everyday. Our words matter. Our actions matter. The way we view and treat other human beings matter.All Photos Courtesy of Pexels