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.

 

New and Improved

‘New and improved’ is not just a bit of harmless puffery; it’s a two-party addiction.  Stupid consumers must have and stupid companies must produce – new and improved stuff.  And it hurts third parties.  Such as the animals who are used to test a product every time it changes, every time it becomes new and improved.  And, perhaps more importantly (though I’m really not sure anymore), the people who won’t get their needs met because resources are being spent on stupid people’s wants.

There is a difference.  Between needs and wants.  One you can do without, the other you can’t.  People like to call wants ‘needs’, however, because needs are more compelling, and such people are thus being manipulative: to say ‘I need X’ makes it sound like it’s not an option, like X must be provided; but to say ‘I want X’ leaves the other more free not to fulfil the request.  We need clean water, nutritious food, shelter/warmth, and sometimes, medical care.  Everything else is a want.  (So yes, Freud and Maslow and every man since who says sex is a need – you’re wrong.  Evidence supports the contrary claim: surprising as this may seem, people who don’t have sex do not die.)

Nor do you die without the new and improved dish detergent or lip gloss.  Or this year’s Chrysler.  Don’t get me wrong: many improvements are indeed improvements; some are even valuable improvements.  The new detergents without phosphates are much better than the ones we had before, the ones with phosphates.  And the car with the catalytic converter and higher mpg is better than its predecessor.  But most changes are not improvements.  (There is a difference – between change and improvement.)  And most improvements are not significant enough to warrant new and improved products at the rate they’re being put on the market.

Most of the new and improved stuff is stuff we don’t need.  Actually, so is most of the old and unimproved stuff.  There’s a frighteningly high number of people in our society who exhibit arrested development, who seem stuck at the infantile phase of shouting ‘More! More! I want more!’  I yearn for the day when kids across our country do not start each day reciting a prayer or the anthem but the words ‘We don’t need.’  Because, by and large, in Canada, we don’t.  We don’t need.  We already have.  Enough.

Growth is not always good.  We have these good associations with the word because we think of a child growing.  But the healthy child stops growing when it reaches an optimum size.  There’s a name for unlimited growth: cancer.

And it’s this not stopping, it’s this making and taking more than we need, that has gotten us into this dead end.  The oil supplies will run out, according to the oil industry, by 2040.  The ozone layer is still dealing with the CFCs we released in the 1980s.  We have enough radioactive garbage to make a six foot high pile stretching clear across our country and we don’t know what to do with it.  Isn’t it time to stop?  To grow up and say ‘No thank you, I’m fine, I have enough’?

 

Catherine, by Chris Wind

Catherine, by Chris Wind (from Snow White Gets Her Say)  www.chriswind.net

 

That you don’t recognize me by name is but the first of my complaints about my tale. Oh you know me alright. I’m the main character—in a tale titled with the name of one of the men in the story. But what’s in a name? A lot. Especially if it’s a man’s name. This man’s name is the answer to the question upon which rests the fate of myself and my newborn child. So his name is very powerful, it is very important. My name apparently is not.

Nor is my life. For whether it is to be filled with joy and delight from being with my newborn, or empty with grief and loss from separation is to be decided by a mere guessing game.

Nor are my words important. I denied my father’s boast. I told the King I most definitely could not spin gold out of straw. But he didn’t believe me. Of course not. He chose instead to believe the words of an immature, egotistic, vain man. And I suffer the consequences.

The consequences. To pay for my father’s ridiculous lie, I lose my sanity, my freedom, and my dignity for three nights—and almost my child, forever. (And one sentence—one sentence in the whole tale is devoted to that ‘choice’, that decision to give up my child in return for my life.)

Because I ‘succeeded’ on the third night, I was ‘rewarded’ with marriage to the King. Thus, for all intents and purposes, I also lost my life. Can you imagine what it is like to be married—legally bound to honour and obey until death, and socioeconomically bound with little option but to stay and make the best of it—to a man who didn’t believe me, a man who locked me in a room for three nights, a man so greedy that he said three nights in a row he’d kill me unless I did as he wanted? And that was before he owned me.

But as the tale says, I am shrewd and clever. And I have learned the force of threat, and the importance of a name—especially if it is male. Proud fathers want very much to pass it on. But royal fathers—dear husband, aging Highness, what would happen to your precious lineage if my, your, only son were to suddenly—

Since I am not dead, and am living still…

 

**

Catherine is the name I’ve given to the woman in “Rumpelstiltskin”. One day a vain and proud miller boasted about his beautiful and clever daughter to the king, telling him that she could spin gold out of straw. The poor maiden denied it, but the king locked her in a room full of straw and insisted that she spin it into gold or else she’d lose her life.

Once in the room, she began to cry; then “a droll-looking little man” appeared and, after hearing her story, offered to do it for her if she’d give him her necklace. When the king returned and saw that the straw had indeed been spun into gold, he locked up the maiden with another roomful of straw. This time she paid the little man with her ring. The third time, the king added the promise of marriage if she succeeded, but she had nothing left with which to pay the little man. He asked for her first child, and having no other option, fearing death if the king returned to find straw and not gold, she agreed.

So she was married to the king, and when her first child was born, the little man came to collect. Appalled, she offered him instead “all the treasures of the Kingdom”—but he wanted the child. Eventually he softened his terms and said that if within three days she could tell him his name, she could keep the child.

For the next two days, she guessed all the names she knew and sent messengers all over the land to gather new ones. Finally, on the third day, a messenger returned with the name ‘Rumpelstiltskin’—which was indeed the little man’s name. She was therefore able to keep her child, and everyone laughed at the little man, Rumpelstiltskin, as he made his way away.