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’13 Reasons Why’: Challenging The Rape Culture And What We Can Learn

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The season 2 of “13 Reasons Why” is releasing on May 18. Since the first season came out last year, both bouquets and brickbats were thrown at the show. Some appreciated the show’s narration of teen suicide and mental health while others panned it for glorifying suicide. Warnings have been issued against the series citing the suicide angle and a very disturbing “welcome to your tape” joke was circulated. A lot has been said about the depiction of suicide, lack of focus on Hannah’s mental health by blaming it all on a third person, as I have mentioned in my previous article.

But the depiction of the rape culture and how it is challenged is something we as people could learn from the show and I have never seen any other show doing it the way this one did. Plus, what Hannah experienced at school, from isolation to sexual assault, as pathetic as it sounds is very difficult to witness. We know that the culture of shame and defamation is what killed her. The protagonist Clay accentuates the same when he confronts Mr Porter, the 13th subject in Hannah’s tapes when he says “It has to get better”. So, in that sense, “13 Reasons Why” is something you should watch. At least once.

How does the show address rape culture and its repercussion?

Slut Shaming

Episode 1 talks about Hannah’s hook up with Justin where she describes him as her first kiss. During a date where they went to the park, Justin takes pictures of Hannah in her short skirt where at a point he gets a flash of her panties. After the hookup, Justin goes on to spread lies where he claimed that they did more than just kiss. Then his friend Bryce goes on to share the picture with others in her class in her presence. We could see it all on her face; shame… fear… embarrassment… helplessness… and she felt betrayed because she had feelings for Justin. Hannah felt betrayed not because her first kiss was ruined. She felt violated.

Something that she didn’t ask for or imagine in her wildest dreams was thought about her and it went out of hand, thus earning her ‘slut’ status. Our toxic culture shames a woman for being sexually active and it makes her a soft target before the society. When Alex makes the list with Hannah having the “best ass”, Hannah becomes a receiving end of sexual harassment. Bryce molests her and boys make fun of her. In her own words, Hannah says, “you have never been a girl Alex and you will never understand“. Justin initiated a chain reaction with inconsideration and Alex ruined it further. Marcus, Ryan, and Jessica furthered it by insulting her. Ryan ruined Hannah’s trust by publishing an intimate poem of hers without her consent (or rather against her consent).


Hannah suffers more when Tyler stalks her and takes a picture against her will. When a picture of her and Courtney goes online, she feels further violated. Clay gives Tyler a sense of “how-it-feels-like-to-be-violated” by spreading a nude picture of him. However, I despised this part of the show and it ruined Clay’s personality as a sensitive person and revenge porn is wrong no matter who is at the receiving end. Through Tyler, everything wrong related to stalking and its consequences are depicted.

Rape And The Culture Of Silence

During a party at her house, Jessica gets drunk and passes out on her bed. Bryce comes in and rapes her. In a horrifying reveal, Justin does not stop him from doing so, citing ‘friendship’ or rather intimidation as the reason. We know that the victim in the Brock Turner case is blamed and shamed for passing out drunk thus leading to the incident more than Turner’s decision to rape her. Through Hannah’s narration and Clay’s sensitivity, a similar scenario is shown but it asks why didn’t Justin stop Bryce? Hannah herself feels guilty for not stopping it. And the focus is shifted on Bryce for being a sex maniac. Bryce rapes her in his hot water tub after finding her alone. Hannah, being a deeply depressed girl, with a sense of self-destruction, was unable to say no or fight back. We could see what depression did to Hannah and we know that Bryce took advantage of that though he claims that she “wanted it”. Hannah feels ashamed and insecure when it comes to speaking out about it. Thus she couldn’t open up to the counsellor Mr Porter when he asked her the same. A question that’s asked all the time is, why don’t women report or speak up? 

Speaking up is just the beginning of a process, one that can last years, drag through a courtroom, entangle parents and loved ones, cast a cloud over work, and require the continual retelling of a uniquely horrific event.

Hannah could not speak up due to fear and shame and in author Jay Asher’s own words, “it was ok that she was not able to speak up strongly and that she didn’t express her lack of consent to Bryce“. Rape culture holds the survivor of the brutal crime at the centre and asks them all the difficult questions. The rape culture prompted Mr Porter to be insensitive and to feel exasperated at Hannah’s lack of cooperation. Finally, he gives her the solution, that is to remain silent and move on. When she left, he didn’t stop her or go after her. Even Mr Porter wanted the crime to be shelved and assumed that Hannah will “move on”. When Clay confronts him, Mr Porter becomes uncomfortable at the subject of Hannah’s rape.

To Hannah, the bullying, slut-shaming and isolation were like a dark cloud surrounding her ruined reputation but sexual assault ruined her soul. She felt useless and that is what the society does to women who are raped. Sexual assault is seen as a process of ‘ruining’ a woman. We know that culture is more severe here in India due to the religious fundamentalism and misogynist culture surrounding chastity and virginity.

The point is that, for the first time, instead of holding Hannah accountable, showering her with hows and whys, the perspective is shifted to those who committed the crime. That is what the show succeeded in doing and it is sad that it took 13 tapes to explain the same. Now that season 2 will be out, we will be introduced to the story through another survivor, Jessica. At the end of season 1, Jessica musters the courage to speak out to her father, after she was encouraged where he guarantees that he has proof (he gets Bryce’s confession). Hopefully, we will see survivors getting justice and culture of rape being shattered with Bryce’s prosecution.

What do you think?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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