13 Reasons Why: How to Make a Movie (and maybe Write a Novel *) without acknowledging the Elephant in the Room 

So I’ve just finished watching 13 Reasons Why (Netflix) and am struck by the completely unacknowledged elephant in the room.  Not one character acknowledges that almost all of the problems leading to Hannah’s suicide stem from sexism and its many tumours – misogyny, male entitlement, male privilege, hypersexualization, objectification, the rape culture, etc., etc., etc.

Consider:

Justin – Being a man is all about getting sex, using women for sex, and bragging about it afterwards to get points, to improve your status (among males).  Exaggerating and lying about your ‘achievements’ is, well, standard operating procedure if you’re a guy.  ‘Bros before hos’ — even if it means letting your girlfriend be raped (because hey, what’s mine is yours) (and women are just property, after all) (otherwise, it wouldn’t even have occurred to him that what he ‘owed’ Bryce could include Jessica).  That said, (weak) applause for his eventual decency, especially given his relative-to-Bryce lack of privilege and the pull of moral obligation for reciprocity (albeit disgustingly overgeneralized, as mentioned).

Jessica – Men are more important than women.  One, getting a boyfriend is the most important thing you can do, being someone’s girlfriend is the most important thing you can be; your status, your value, depends on your relation to a male — which is why as soon as she and Alex hook up, Hannah is dropped like a second-class piece of shit.  Two, what men say is to be believed, they are authorities, about everything; when they open their mouths, truth tumbles out like little golden nuggets — which is why she believes what she’s told by Alex et al about Hannah.   Three, she’s a cheerleader.  Her actual ‘job’ is to cheer and applaud men when they do stuff.  (In fact, many of the girls in 13 Reasons Why are cheerleaders, and many of the boys are jocks.  A whole 90% of the student body is missing.  Why?  Give you one guess.)  (Actually, on second thought, strictly speaking, that’s not true.  Of the eight boys listed here, only three are jocks.  So why did I get that wrong impression?  Because they appear as a group, wearing uniforms.  They appear as a team, a gang, a team, an army.  That’s why they seem more … powerful.)

Alex – Women are to be evaluated solely on the basis of their body parts, on whether their body parts please you/men.   Again, (weak) applause for his regret and guilt, and his speaking up, but, yeah, men like Alex who confront men like Bryce will get beaten up.  Thus, his limited confrontation and his suicide attempt can also be traced to the fucked-up patriarchal culture.

Tyler – Women’s bodies are public domain; ergo, photographs of women’s bodies are public domain.  It’s not like there’s a person inside or anything.

Courtney  – Being lesbian in public means you risk ‘corrective rape’; can we blame her for hiding?

Marcus – When a girl agrees to meet you for a milkshake, she’s really agreeing to have sex with you.  At the very least, she’s agreeing to have her genitals fondled by you.  In public.  In broad daylight.  And certainly in the presence of the bros you brought along to witness your conquest.  If she objects, well, your outrage is justified.  Because you’re entitled to touch her.  In fact, you’re entitled to touch any woman.  Any time, any place.  Simply because you’re a man.

Zach – She doesn’t particularly like you?  She rejected your advances of friendship?  Well, yeah, FUCK HER!  Because men are entitled to the affection of all women.

Ryan – Sure it’s okay to publish someone’s work without their permission, without crediting them, perhaps especially if they’re a woman and you’re a man.  Because you, men, know best.   What’s best for her, women.  (Oh, and thanks for carrying on the great tradition of ‘Anon’…)

Sheri – Perhaps the only episode that doesn’t implicate the elephant.

Bryce – Women don’t know what they want, but you, you, a MAN (well, a boy), you know what they want.  (And they all want you.  They all want your penis inside them.)  (At least, you “assume so.”)  (And that’s good enough.)  Thanks to the patriarchy, you can be appallingly deluded about your knowledge and your appeal.  You can lie to yourself about it.  Again and again.

Mr. Porter – Yes, he goes to regretted sex first, then to alcohol and drugs, but when he gets to rape, Hannah says she didn’t tell Bryce to stop, she says she didn’t tell him ‘No’ – so what’s he supposed to think?  He suggests she may have consented then changed her mind (which she’s certainly entitled to do) (and which still leaves the door open to rape), then asks whether they should get her parents or the police involved, but she says ‘No’ – again, what’s he supposed to think or do?  And of course, he can’t promise that Bryce will go to jail.  Guess why.  He tells her it may be ‘best to move on’ (but only after he clarifies that Hannah won’t give a name, she won’t press charges, she’s not even sure she can press charges), showing that he too is caught in the mire of our fucked-up patriarchy.

Clay – Clay buys into the Prince Charming shit: he blames himself for not saving Hannah.  (He doesn’t blame himself for not saving Alex – though perhaps he doesn’t know yet…)  Near the end, he says something like ‘We need to start treating each other better, we need to start caring about each other.’ Well, as Bryce would surely tell him, caring about others is for sissies – females.  And in a patriarchy, male values trump female values (and yes, in a patriarchy there’s a difference).

Hannah – She exhibits a lot of passivity, a persistent denial of agency.  She wants Clay to kiss her; why doesn’t she want to kiss him? (She wants to be kissed; she doesn’t want to kiss.)  She wants Clay to ask her to dance; why doesn’t she just ask him to dance?  She wants him to be her Valentine; why doesn’t she just tell him that?  She tells Clay to go away, but then expects him to stay.  Not only is he not a mind reader, but it’s that kind of shit that got us to ‘no means yes’.  (Tony had it right: she asked him to go, he should go, end of story.)  Standing outside Mr. Porter’s office, she waits to be saved, for him to come running after her.

And of course as soon as Bryce, whom she’d seen rape Jessica, gets into the hot tub, she doesn’t get out.  She probably didn’t want to appear rude.  You know, hurt his feelings.  Once he begins, she doesn’t scream STOP; she doesn’t scream NO.  She just … accepts it, endures it.  (And ‘it’ looks like it might have been sodomy, not ‘just’ PIV rape.)  That’s what women, girls, are supposed to do.  That’s what we’re raised to do.

If the girls wore alarm necklaces (instead of short little genitals-easily-accessible skirts) she could’ve pulled its pin (like a grenade) when she saw Bryce start to rape Jessica …  And again when she was in the hot tub …  And, backing up a bit, why do we keep our teenaged girls so clueless, so desperate for … what? that they get into a hot tub at a party at a rapist’s house in just their bra and panties (let alone go to a party at his place in the first place)?   Not to mention, of course, why do we keep our teenaged boys so clueless the moral wrongness of patriarchy, sexism, misogyny, male entitlement, male privilege …

So the thirteen reasons why pretty much boil down to one.

And it’s not even acknowledged.

Feminists have exposed and fought against patriarchy, sexism, misogyny, male entitlement, male privilege, hypersexualization, objectification, rape culture – hell, we named most of that shit – for decades.  Not acknowledged.  Not once.  Not even a little bit.  It’s like Jay Asher was born yesterday and has remained oblivious of such women’s voices.  Ironic.  To say the least.

(I cheered when ‘the male gaze’ was actually mentioned by the girls – but then they got it wrong, they made it sound like it just describes the attracted look on a guy’s face.  Oh for the love of God!)

There are no doubt hundreds of 13 Reasons Why novels written by women.  Have any of them been published?  Made into a movie?  Received great critical claim?  No.  But a man writes about what it’s like to be raped, what it’s like to be subjected to misogynistic shit every fucking day, well, world, PAY ATTENTION!  Asher is himself a shining example of the male privilege his novel criticizes so unwittingly.  Again, the irony.

Furthermore, how many more Sylvia Plaths do we need to see?  Why must we keep seeing women kill themselves because of this shit?  Why can’t we see as many, if not more, saying FUCK THIS SHIT!?  Yes, okay, Jessica was drunk, and Hannah isn’t a cheerleader, but why couldn’t Asher have reversed that?  Because, hey, if a girl can do four back handsprings (without mats even), she surely has the strength (shoulders, abs, legs) and the courage (without mats, remember?) to fight back at least a little.  Why didn’t we see a sober cheerleader, or two or three, bustin’ Bryce’s ass when he tried his shit.  Why don’t we see more movies like Jodi Foster’s The Brave One?   Give you one guess.

Never mind the elephant.  13 Reasons Why is a trojan horse.

 

* I’ve just watched the movie, so don’t know how much of this applies to the novel.

 

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