Shaming Beyond the Fictional Grave
A Psychotherapist’s feelings about 13 Reasons Why
Like so many of you, I sat glued to the television for an entire weekend, slowly watching each episode of 13 Reasons Why (13RW) unfold, wondering what would happen next. It was as if I had returned to high school: The constant gossiping; certain students getting away with messed up shit because of their social standing; wanting to have sex but being afraid that the world would end if the wrong people found out; overt and covert sexism; and the school teachers and staff knowing, but “not knowing” all at the same time. Back when I was in high school, bullying wasn’t yet a crime, the internet was just gaining popularity and we couldn’t yet text every thought we had, or send a picture to someone at the push of a button without thinking that decision through. The thought of being a teen these days, particularly a girl, makes me really glad those days have come and gone.
So when I finished the series, I was amazed by how painfully accurate it was. It was a show that literally grabbed you by the gut, twisted and wouldn’t let go. And although I watched what is one of Netflix’s most popular shows like thousands of others, my being a psychotherapist likely made that experience a lot different. But soon after I was brought back to reality when the think pieces and memes started flooding in, highlighting how horrible the show was because Hannah is a “selfish bitch” or a “drama queen” who went out of her way to hurt others; or the fact that the show was too real about such a sensitive subject. I quite frankly felt angry. Because in the last 9 years of my career, I’ve met with and treated a number of “Hannah Baker’s” and never once did they come across as vindictive or manipulative. In fact, many of the Hannah’s I knew were frightened, lonely, had no where else to go, and were ignored or invalidated. They often didn’t know how to manage the trauma they had endured and felt like these things were only happening to them. Sometimes they’d even witnessed other victims speak up and saw how they were mistreated.
Yes, 13RW was a dramatization and the whole idea of someone making 13 tapes and passing them around secretively is not only pretty farfetched, but likely logistically impossible. Yet our focus on how mean Hannah was for being honest is exactly where we are getting it all wrong. Why are we so afraid of victims of sexual harassment, bullying, and rape having a platform to take back their experience and draw attention to the horrible rape culture, sexism and harassment that teens are navigating in school every day? Because if you think for one minute this shit isn’t happening in the high school in your town, you are being willfully ignorant. And if you think that by ignoring this problem these issues won’t come to the surface, well you’re just being dangerously ignorant. Because the fact of the matter is, there are teens that have been raped, sexually harassed and bullied into the grave. And if Hannah Baker is being given little sympathy for her experiences, what do you think the real life bullied teens are thinking right now?
If you are someone you know has been experiencing suicidal thoughts, has been sexually assaulted and/or is being bullied, please reach out to the following:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800- 273-8255 (Open 24 hours)
National Sex Assault Telephone Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) (Open 24 hours)
National Sexual Assault Online Access: ONLINE.RAINN.ORG(24 hrs)
*You can also go to https://www.stopbullying.gov/get-help-now/ to learn more about ways you can help someone who is being bullied.
There are people out there who care, greatly. They want to help you and they will do their best never to let you down. You matter, you’re worthy and you will be okay.