I have had a week of binge watching ‘13 Reasons Why’ and I have spent some time reading the complaints about the programme, largely from professionals and charities which tackle teenage mental health. All of their complaints are valid of course, the biggest concern being that it presents suicide as a viable solution to teenage problems, and of course for a teenager already in the throes of depression a programme like this could well be the tipping point. That said, it could well be the tipping point in the other direction also. Perhaps seeing the collateral damage would prompt the teenage viewer to seek help.
In this respect I only have 1 issue with the programme;
1. Hannah’s final attempt at life was to reach out to the school counsellor, who failed her miserably. It is perhaps this representation of a Mental Health professional which was irresponsible. However; this does indeed happen. Not all professionals are able to detect problems staring them in the face. In light of the consumer complaints, who insist the programmer makers haven’t acted responsibly, well yes, they basically said that even seeking help from a Mental Health professional will not help you.
Though, ultimately I am of the belief that art, in whatever medium is about expression, and no matter how much it upsets people, it shouldn’t be banned. The more challenging the art, the more it ruses conversation. This is a good thing and ‘13 Reasons Why’ achieves its purpose. It has had us all talking about teenage suicide and the problems teenagers are confronted with at school.
The debate surrounding the graphic details of the rapes scenes and the suicide is compelling. Were they simply gratuitous and therefore shouldn’t have made the final cut? Personally, all 3 scenes are deeply upsetting. The rapes scenes do a magnificent job of demonstrating that rape is not always what people think it is; an act so obviously violent in which the victim is yelling ‘NO’. We are seeing a change in this attitude for sure, and I think scenes like these drive it home to anyone who is in denial about what constitutes a rape.
As for the suicide scene. It was horrible. Was it necessary? I haven’t answered that one yet.
Two things I am really clear on, which this programme did achieve, is illustrating how western culture needs to create two paradigm shifts.
1. Young women need to stop controlling female sexuality by feeling threatened by the ‘bad female’.
2. Young men need to exert leadership, not dominance, within their own peer groups.
How does our current paradigm playout in the series?
Hannah’s peer group make no attempt whatsoever to protect her from the slut shaming she incurs. Starting with the photo on the slide; Justin lies, he gets a heroic slap on the back and Hannah is called a slut. This tarnishing of her reputation sets in motion a continuous series of reinforcements on Hannah’s status as a bad female, because she apparently expresses her sexuality. The girls feel threatened and they exclude her from the group, thus buying into an age old social construct which disempowers women.
When will women slap each on the back and say, ‘You fucked him? GO YOU, WOOO HOOOO!!!’
As for Ryan who goes against Hannah’s wishes and publishes her poem, his intentions might be debatable, nonetheless, he never stood up for Hannah when the whole class was laughing at her pain. He needed a kick up the backside, to stand up for her. Again, it brings me back to lack of leadership.
In terms of the boys, the series explores how boys can dehumanise females, how they can knowingly be complicit in a rape and treat women as a commodity for their own ends. Bryce is the biggest culprit here and he is the most dominant in the group. Justin is unable to stand up to him and protect his own girlfriend. All of them are guilty of dehumanising Hannah by spreading rumours, plus Marcus and Zach treat her as a commodity for their own ends.
On the subject of rape, let us not forget that Hannah is also complicit in Jess’s rape. She hides in the room and allows Bryce to rape an unconscious young woman. Why didn’t Hannah step up? Fear. Fear, one of the biggest problems we face in society. Fear which prevents decent human beings taking action, from leading their own lives and standing up to the wrong doing in society.
So what is the difference between dominance and leadership?
Dominance is an imposed ‘alpha status’.
Leadership is about prestige and respect which has been gained by the individual’s actions.
There is a great deal of ambiguity when it comes to dominance and leadership, especially with the old adage of ‘the good guys come last.’ It is generally perceived that in times of conflict, it is best to assert dominance, however; leadership for young men addresses the issue of ‘silence and complicity’.
In Jackson Katz’s book ‘The Macho Paradox’, he talks of male leadership in sports, inside the US education system. He rejects the notion that men need sensitivity training, instead they need leadership training. A form of training which teaches them when they need to make a stand and hold peers accountable for their behaviour. They need to be taught to lead, to be leaders of their own lives, to set standards amongst their peers, demonstrate standards of respect and compassion towards all human beings, regardless of gender, colour and sexual orientation.
As Martin Luther King said, “In the end what will hurt the most is not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”.