A little over a year ago, I read Jay Asher’s novel, Thirteen Reasons Why. I hadn’t heard of the book until the news that it would be made into a Netflix original series. So, I read it in time to watch season one right when it released and there were areas I was happy with and others that felt dangerous. If you’ve seen or heard about the show, you are likely aware of the controversy that it brings with its existence.
The book is about a teenage girl who commits suicide. She leaves behind a series of cassette tapes, which hold recordings of the thirteen reasons why she felt driven to take her own life. The T.V. adaptation is astronomically different than the book, as so many other details and events are added in. With the tremendous popularity the show has received, there has been high praise in addition to contrasting warnings to avoid the show entirely. Before you begin watching, you need to know that this show is explicit and can be triggering. There are graphic scenes of sexual assault and suicide that you need to be aware of before making the decision to push play. Some viewers that have experienced depression, self-harm, and attempts at suicide have been caught off guard and triggered back to their old ways of thinking. This is not the intention behind the show but has been a result of its release. I feel that the first season of the show does a solid job of offering insight into what suicidal thoughts, bullying, slut-shaming, rape, and suicide look like in today’s society. However, there wasn’t enough of a focus on mental illness or an accurate portrayal of depression, which is what leads people to suicide. Many argue that this is an irresponsible, inaccurate look at a suicidal individual and glamorizes suicide, as a result. I’m glad that the show changed the way that Hannah Baker kills herself in the show, as I think the way she did it in the book would be less painful to watch and therefore more glorified to vulnerable viewers.
As for the rape scenes, I completely understand why they were triggering. I think the graphic hot tub scene was necessary because it shows young men an example of rape that isn’t the woman screaming “no” or struggling. Often times, women feel frozen in the fear of the moment and they can’t consent, as a result. If your partner does not give you a clear, verbal “yes”, they are not consenting. Too many young men are failing to realize this, so I am glad that this highly popular show used their platform to clearly show such an important message to their adolescent male audience. I hope that season one of this show positively affected young men in that way. Maybe a male viewer wasn’t clear on consent, as many teens aren’t, and future rapes were avoided by changing his viewpoint. I’m not a teen boy and cannot attest to that, but I can’t help but hope that at least one man will better understand consent thanks to this show. Women aren’t the issue in our country’s despicable rapist culture–men are. We shouldn’t be given rape whistles and told to travel in pairs and to dress modestly. Men need to be held accountable and be the focus on how to stop raping, rather than telling the victims how to avoid being raped.
Rape isn’t always a strange man jumping out of the bushes and assaulting a woman. In fact, a friend or acquaintance is far more likely to be the perpetrator of sexual assault. 93% of victims already knew their rapist. From a study found on RAINN’s website, 59% were acquaintances and 34% were family members. Also, according to RAINN, 94% of women who are raped experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms during the two weeks following their assault. For 30% of women, these PTSD symptoms are still very present 9 months afterward. 33% of women who have experienced rape contemplate suicide and 13% attempt suicide. With this being said, these statistics are not and will never be accurate because these are only from those who have reported their rapes and their experiences following their rapes. More people who are raped don’t report their incidences than those who do. If you need help after being sexually assaulted, call RAINN at 1-800-656-4673. They are a very helpful resource.
I do not think that what Hannah did was the right choice and, while the bullying and assault that she faced filled me with anger, I don’t blame any of the thirteen for her death, directly. While I understand why Hannah felt the way she did, she made the worst choice that a person can make. She could have survived, fought against the injustice, and gone on to live an incredible life. I’ve seen online opinions that feel some of Hannah’s reasons for committing suicide were “petty,” but I don’t think anyone should be able to decide whether another person should feel hurt by something that wouldn’t hurt us. Hannah was in dire need of mental health support, which she did not receive in any form and was not mentioned in the first season of the show.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens, with over 5,000 attempts each day in the U.S., this subject needed to be discussed. The author of the book, Jay Asher, said, “Suicide is an uncomfortable thing to talk about, but it happens, and so we have to talk about it.”
Now onto Season 2. The new season dropped just two days ago, on May 18th. I binged this new season even more quickly than I did the first time around. There were things that I felt they did an excellent job with, but other things that I am appalled by and disgusted with. If you haven’t yet finished this season, feel free to bookmark this blog post for later and read on. Proceed with caution. SPOILERS AHEAD!
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