12 Jun 13 Reasons Why is Yet Another Example of How We’re Failing Young Girls
Thirteen Reasons Why has been criticised for many reasons, the way it romanticises suicide, the explicit nature of its rape and suicide scenes, and much more. It is a series that represents so many cultural phenomena that the youth is immersed in, and indeed, an engagement with them is long overdue. Whilst Thirteen Reasons Why took on the responsibility to bring these phenomena to the forum, it failed to expose their origins and acquitted its audience, both young and old, of any responsibility in perpetuating them.
In the first tape, Hannah tells her listeners that the first event leading to her suicide was caused by the boy who also gave her, her first kiss, Justin. When a photo of Hannah’s skirt flying up is forwarded to the majority of Hannah’s new high school as ‘proof’ of Justin’s claim that they went to “third base”, Hannah is labelled a slut. General gossiping, rumour spreading, snide comments, and nastiness ensues, leaving the audience feeling disgusted at the injustice that Hannah was lied about. But that is it. That is all the injustice the show portrays and all the injustice the audience feels people are responsible for. The only ‘lesson’ we are asked to take away from the first tape is to not lie about people or spread rumours.
What if Hannah and Justin did go to ‘third base’? And this is not to discredit her claims that they didn’t, if it was a different story, if in this story Hannah confirmed that they went to ‘third base’, what would be the injustice then? The fact that Justin told everyone? That he sent a photo of her to lots of people without her consent? That people were nasty about it? Yeah sure, these are injustices, and these are lessons we should learn.
But the phenomenon that is avoided in Thirteen Reasons Why and in many other similar discussions, is the slut-shaming culture that permeates youth culture, and is largely taught by adults.
The top definition on Urban Dictionary for “slut-shaming” is:
“Slut Shaming is when guys, and perhaps some females too, call girls that pass out nudes and porn of themselves sluts, hoes, whores, tarts, light skirts, floozies, trollops, doxies, strumpets or other derogatory expressions. Slut shaming is also frequently applied when women engage in sexual intercourse with lots of men or girls in schools have indiscriminate oral sex with guys to try and be popular. Many feminists dislike slut shaming because they think it’s demeaning and degrading to the slutty girls but apparently sucking lots of dick, porking lots of guys or passing lots of nudes and porn somehow isn’t.”
Apparently, the definer felt it necessary to provide an example of slut-shaming in their badly written ‘definition’ of it.
Essentially, yes, slut-shaming is when people use derogatory language and are judgemental of womxn for engaging in sexual behaviour. Think about that for a minute, it sounds normal. Our ideas that womxn who are abstinent in any sexual contexts are the only ones who ‘respect themselves’ are so deeply imbedded in the way we think, nothing about shaming a womxn for ‘disrespecting herself’ seems wrong.
But let’s unpack this.
Hannah Baker was a 16-year-old teenager, this is an age that is publically renowned for the hormonal development it hosts, the sexual interest it develops, and the experimentation that takes place. So if a 16-year-old girl was attracted to another 16-year-old, actively consented to kissing him and going to ‘third base’ with him, enjoyed it, and learnt a bit about her own sexuality, how can we as a society feel justified in shaming her for that?
Why does Hannah’s gender forfeit her the right to enjoy sexual activity, experiment with her own sexuality, or make decisions about her own body?
Because sexism, that’s why.
Bryce’s response to ‘how far’ Justin got to with Hannah is: “That’s hot…You gonna hit that again right?”
Apparently no one at Liberty High School cares that Justin went just as far as Hannah? On the contrary, Justin’s friends praise him for it.
This is slut-shaming culture.
Why was it important to engage with?
Thirteen Reasons Why and lots of other media and material had a responsibility to bring up slut-shaming culture and to demand that we as a society stop being acquitted for it.
Whilst the way the show dealt with other people’s roles in Hannah Baker’s suicide is questionable to say the least, there is a line that is repeated over and over again in the episodes, “we killed Hannah Baker.”
Except us right? The audience? No. We’re responsible too.
Every time we call a womxn a slut for having sex. Every time we tell a teenage girl her revealing clothing makes her look trashy. Every time we teach our sons to only marry the ones that make them wait for sex. Every time we don’t educate young girls about their own bodies. Every time we watch shows like Thirteen Reasons Why and forget every time we did one of those things.
We teach young girls that their worth and their confidence is dependent so thoroughly on men, that we give a 16-year-old, high-school going jock the power to strip it all away from a whole humxn being with one photograph.
It is long past the time that we give young girls and womxn the power over their own bodies back to them. It was never anybody else’s to take, and it is our responsibility to relentlessly, tirelessly, and passionately return it.
Until such time however, we all kill a Hannah Baker every day.