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?
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.
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?