Whether you have binged, or are holding off on what might be a high-school melodrama, Netflix’s latest series 13 Reasons Why (based on the novel by Jay Asher) is an important narrative the mass public can no longer shy away form. We don’t want to be the one to spoil the story for you, so we will stay within the barriers of vague, but the general plot gist is as such: cyber bullying in a high school setting leads to a series of backlash for those who made a teenage girl’s life un-livable. However it goes much beyond just social media attacks. There are two scenes in particular that stand out far beyond the rest — leading to the most tormenting of them all. Almost unfathomable to watch, let alone film, are the rape scenes.
Reason One: Hollywood has long been in the habit of skimming over this subject for entertainment’s sake but also for protection of the viewer. However, how will we teach the ethics of consent if young people cannot deeply feel the detriment, and repercussions of these actions? We can only hope one won’t have to experience these moments for themselves — making a visual teaching even more necessary if we want both boys and girls to develop a deep empathy for the victims of sexual assault without knowing it first hand.
Reason Two: The conversation of rape has been very public in the past few years, for both the good and bad. Women are taking stances, being more vocal about their experiences, and banding together to aid one another in healing. However, each coin has a flip side and as many resources as are being built it is also prominent that our judicial and school systems are failing many who find themselves in this place of trauma. 13 Reasons Why may be TV but it adapts a very real issue on campuses both high school and college in which a hierarchy of students allows many to feel entitled over their peers, even to the point of assault. This often comes with the mindset of either knowing they will get away with it, or thinking their actions were justified in the first place. And what happens after school? These predators trickle out into the world — into our offices, bars, and neighborhoods. As the episodes unfold it eerily introduces an archetype of men we face everyday in our lives — those who have been egotistically pumped up to believe they can do no wrong, even if their physical actions are in fact very wrong. Illegal to be exact.
Reason Three: We watch as two separate characters react to how the sexual trauma effected them — it’s painful, it’s cringeworthy, it’s very real. Everyone reacts to shock differently and it’s important for the consumers of the show to understand that all expressions are valid. There is no template for how one can digest a physical crisis as invasive as this. This leads to the importance of understanding that many times a drastic change in someone’s behavior can translate to a cry for help.
Reason Four: There is a very wrong cultural construct that weighs down heavily on women — that is called slut shaming (for lack of a better term). Throughout our careers as students, then young adults, we as girls are told that a certain skirt length, or style of top could draw the wrong kind of attention. Over time this equates to girls feeling that when they are faced with harmful attention (even just verbal) that they are to blame in some way. Even their male counterparts often throw the blame in this direction (something the writers also included in 13 Reasons Why). Because of this construct, victims are often first to blame themselves in some sort of mangled mindset that they attracted this kind of energy. 13 Reasons Why is both underlining that the victim is never at fault, and that our society needs to rephrase how we nurture individuals to look at sexuality and action.