13 reasons why 13 Reasons Why is still great (even though season two isn’t perfect)

Following season one of 13 Reasons Why, I wrote a blog post which you can read here (if you’re interested but it’s not necessary). As the show deals with triggering subjects, this post will too, plus there are spoilers. It’s not a review as such, but rather a breakdown of all the important points the show makes.

I still think 13 Reasons Why is one of the most important shows ever made. Shows like these are essential in an age where people insist women are equal, yet a sexist rich man called Donald Trump — an overgrown wannabe jock in my view — is the US president. There are still many Bryce Walker’s in this world, and whilst there still is, we need shows like 13 Reasons Why.

So here are 13 points made by 13 Reasons Why which we all need to pay attention to:

1. It’s hard for girls to come forward about rape and sexual assault, but it’s even harder for boys

Jessica’s pain of hiding her story haunts the whole of season two. She is not the perfect victim so how can she possibly win against the popular, rich athlete? 13 Reasons Why (both seasons) made me simultaneously angry and sad whilst admiring how it mirrors real-life to make its points. Rape cases against athletes, for instance Brock Turner, who are let off with short sentences, happen all too often. There is a documentary on Netflix called Audrie and Daisy which follows three teenage girls through rape cases. It’s an infuriating insight into how often the rapist is protected, not the victim.

The expectations on boys in our society are as a big as the expectations on women, just in very different ways. A patriarchal system has screwed everyone over. What Bryce and the other jocks do is now known as “locker room talk” as so aptly put by Donald Trump. It’s a rhetoric used by men who have grown-up learning that they are the powerful ones. To be a ‘real man’ often means to be physically strong. Showing emotion is more acceptable in the form of anger, but not being upset and certainly never crying. Unless it was about a sport. Some guys I went to university with would only ever show emotion over football, they said anything else was pathetic and girly.

2. Victim blaming

When Bryce Walker was on trial the judge said it was a “tragedy all round” which was simply not the case. This would imply that Bryce was not deserving of his situation when he was, in fact, he was the only one that did anything wrong. Jessica was in no way at fault, not for being drunk or for any other reason. This is known as victim blaming and was used in the case of both Hannah and Jessica, implying that because they’d slept with other guys, drank alcohol and took drugs, that it was fully or partly their own fault. Another example of this in real life is the way people say women are ‘asking for it’ if they wear revealing clothes. It’s no surprise women are scared of speaking out when they know there’s a good chance that they’ll be slut-shamed instead of believed. However, the ambiguous and blurred lines around rape have finally started to become more apparent. It used to just be that rapists were seen as inherently bad men that lurked in alleyways; a stranger jumping out on a girl in the middle of the night. But most cases don’t have that clear distinction.

“Approximately 66% of rape victims know their assailant.” — SARSSM

3. Blame

In Beyond the Reasons (at the end of season two), it was explained that the writers were torn in blaming the school or not. This seemed to come through in the way they portrayed it; although the school was found not guilty, it left room for opinion. I personally feel the school is not solely responsible, there are things they could have done better but then there was always more that everyone could do. However, when there’s a suicide there is often no fault, and in fact it’s not helping placing the blame anywhere. The person had complex mental health issues and decided to take their own life. There are things we can all do to help people with mental health problems who might be feeling suicidal, and talking about it is one.

13 Reasons Why has been criticised for being contrived and a little over the top, and it did seem a little too self-referential at times in season two. But it’s a TV show created to make important points. It shows the worst-case scenarios to demonstrate this. Not all kids who are bullied feel suicidal, but many do.

“Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University. A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying.” — bullyingstatistics.org

4. Silencing and censorship

Liberty High’s way of dealing with suicide was to shut it down completely by banning everyone from talking about it. I wondered if this was dealing with criticism following season one of 13 Reasons Why and the possible risk of suicide contagion, meaning the worry that seeing or talking about suicide can promote copycats. But how would not talking about it help? It only worsens the problem by building the stigma around it. Following my first blog post, I was asked to speak on the radio/TV opposite suicide prevention professionals. I get the impression I was expected to counter their arguments, but I wouldn’t ever want to disagree with them, they’re the experts after all. However, I got the sense that most of them hadn’t even watched the 13 Reasons Why.

5. Take responsibility

The truth is, I had to look away during the rape scenes, the suicide scene and especially the horrendous Tyler scene at the end of season two, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think they should show them. 13 Reasons Why definitely stepped up their trigger warnings for the second season, but we all know the trigger warnings don’t really mean much now. It’s just a selling point for most people. Those who are likely to be triggered by it are likely to be intrigued by it too. If you’re told not to watch something, you instantly want to.

Those scenes were meant to be hard to watch. Tyler’s scene is particularly tough because of the shame and stigma around it. People don’t want to be confronted with these problems but, I hate to tell you, the real life story is even worse.

“The average age of a rape victim was just over 13… and sodomy victims were younger, with an average age of 12 1/2.” — The Associated Press

Shows like 13 Reasons Why are needed to break down these barriers and get us to start talking about it. Discussion helps to take the stigma away.

6. Masculinity is oh so fragile

I already mentioned the demands imposed on boys to be “manly”. Tyler’s terrible experience could be seen as one of the most emasculating acts, which will make it near impossible for him to come forward. The anger that some men display when they don’t get what they want is terrifying. Bryce and the other jocks represent all those guys whose grown-up to believe that they are deserving of power and that they should always get what they want. A woman is just another object that they feel entitled to.

7. Anger vs emotion

Women are allowed to feel emotional, right? So how do men channel their difficulties? The Bryce types of this world take what they want, but then there are the Tyler types; angry because they don’t have the same power. So after Tyler’s ordeal, it makes sense that he would channel it into anger. It was clearly a ‘final straw’ for him as throughout the season he was showing all the signs of potentially doing something big…like a school shooting.

Just as I started watching this season, there was the Santa Fe shooting. Whenever there’s a shooting like this, I want my assumptions to be proved wrong. I don’t want to presume the shooter was another angry misogynist. But when I saw that he (when is it ever a ‘she’?) had been rejected by a girl he’d been hassling a girl at school for months, it didn’t surprise me. She was the first person he shot. Coincidence? These shootings are not done by bad guys who just have a taste for murder; he knew exactly what he was doing.

I tried to find a statistic to see how many female vs male mass shooters there have been. There are almost no female mass shooters — not even enough to base a study on. Why are we not questioning this? There’s clearly something in this that we can explore and learn from.

Not long before, there was the Toronto van attack where a man drove a van into a group of people, mainly women. He was a self-proclaimed incel, which means ‘involuntary celibate’. Incels believe they’re entitled to sex and they’re very angry when they don’t get it. For more information, I’ve written a post about incels here.

8. The importance of community and friendship

Another issue which added to Tyler’s outburst at the end with his lack of friends. The support network Clay, Jessica and the others create is quite beautiful, especially in the dance scene at the end. Tyler briefly makes friends but ultimately ends up with no support. With no friends, and not being able to talk to his parents or the school, Tyler is alone with his pain. In real life, many men like this find themselves in online forums (this is often the way for incels) to find that sense of community. It’s a way of reaching out for help, but it doesn’t necessarily lead them to the healthiest of places. Many of the recent school shooters have been linked to Men’s Rights Activist, Incel or Red Pill communities. It’s important that we start taking these communities seriously. Some men in them have proved to be very dangerous.

These men seem to be reaching out for help but instead, are having their bad behaviour validated by other angry men online. If we could talk about men’s mental health more openly and de-stigmatise talking about emotions, might avoid them turning to a toxic online community but instead seek out a professional therapist.

9. Setting a good example

The 13 Reasons Why style is usually to confront the problem, mirroring real life. However, in the second season there were also demonstrations of how people can change, showing how it maybe should be done in the case of school counsellor, Mr Porter. He took full responsibility for his actions, and was trying his best to do the right thing, despite taking it a little too far because of how much he blamed himself.

I found Zach and Hannah’s relationship to be particularly beautiful. It’s so powerful to see a teenage girl exploring her sexual side and enjoying herself. The communication they have is great; the consent and respect is another one of the ‘how it should be done’ examples.

Clay’s reaction, when he says “I feel like I don’t know her” is excellently turned on it’s head by Justin who points out that he’s slept with lots of women; it’s back to the old cliché about guys being ‘studs’ for having sex with lots of women, but if a girl sleeps with lots of guys she’s a ‘slut’.

10. The same backlash is happening again, proving the point is still being missed

The backlash to season two is literally the same as the first one. You’d think that if people didn’t like the first one they wouldn’t watch the second. Plus there’s less an excuse for complaints — you’re aware of the nature of the show and know that it can be a difficult watch. Some people have asked for it to be cancelled, saying that it’s gone too far and it’s just brutal for the sake of being brutal. There are many violent films and TV shows out there that are gratuitously violent for entertainment. For me, this is more damaging. 13 Reasons Why is there to make its audience confront issues in society: bullying, rape and sexual assault, and gender expectations and inequalities.

11. We need TV shows and films that challenge and confront these issues

We need to start admitting that gender and power imbalances are causing major issues in our society. There are hardly any female shooters and terrorists and we can’t keep ignoring this. I’m not saying we should be blaming men — we should be helping them. Men’s Rights Activists often see feminists as being anti-men, but in fact most probably want to help alleviate the issues that the patriarchy created for everyone. Teaching girls that it’s okay to be emotional but not men can be dangerous. We have to show boys (and everyone!) that being emotional and empathic is not a sign of weakness.

This doesn’t mean everybody needs to hate rich white men. We just all need to be aware that they are only one group of people in the world (and in fact a minority) and see that giving power to other groups does not take it away from them. Being accepting of all people from all walks of life is not too ‘liberal’ or ‘soft’ — it’s called being a decent human being.

12. Compliance

One of the problems highlighted in season two is Bryce’s friends, the jocks, being compliant. You get a sense of how trapped they feel, too scared to be able to stand up to him. In Justin’s case, Bryce looked after him and needed him. Bryce has this immense power over everybody. It comes back to the sense of community again, and being part of a sports team validates their masculinity and tell them that ‘the boys have got your back’.

Some men may never question their own privilege, but there are other men around them who can. Zach and Justin are great examples of this. Even if guys don’t join in with the ‘locker room talk’, they’re still contributing to rape culture by allowing it to happen. It’s a shame that Zach had to leave the team to stand against it, and it took bravery to make that kind of stand. We need a cultural change so the boys still feel like they can be in sports teams without having to buy into this locker room culture that is so damaging to everybody. We need to reframe the way we do masculinity; it will help everybody in the future.

13. It’s bold and brave shows like 13 Reasons Why that can really make a difference

Our hope lies in the teenagers watching the show. They may be more willing to learn and to create a kinder world. Movements like #metoo are wonderful. It proves we’re listening as a society and making positive change. Social media, for all its downsides, can also be used to make an amazing impact.

For help, resources or further info visit https://13reasonswhy.info/

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Mental health, body acceptance and eating disorders. https://melciavucco.com

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