I can’t tell you how eagerly I waited for ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ to air. I also will pretend that I didn’t binge-watch it in almost one entire go.
I was immediately enthralled with everything to do with the series – I loved the trigger warnings that previewed the last few episodes, I loved the uncomfortable reality of the two rapes that were shown, I loved the painful, scary, messy suicide that was Hannah’s last moments.
I was surprised, however, that so many people didn’t see the positives that I did. I’ve since learned that the internet is divided into two groups of Thirteen Reasons Why people: Those who think Hannah’s a bitch for committing suicide and blaming others and those that find rape and suicide incredibly under-addressed topics that are often used as tropes or glossed over in the media.
Firstly, I call bullshit on anyone who says Hannah is a bitch for committing suicide and blaming others. This is one of the most important messages within ‘Thirteen Reasons Why.’ Actions and words do have consequences – often unforeseen consequences. We like to pretend the harsh words said in a fight with a friend or loved one don’t leave a mark, but we also know, as the person who’s been on the other side of those harsh words, that sometimes they do.
Sometimes they leave a mark far deeper than we’d care to admit.
We like to pretend that our actions don’t have consequences, whether it’s by act or omission because we don’t want to take responsibility when we’ve hurt someone else’s feelings. Instead, we prefer to act that we’re somehow superior and often gaslight someone else into believing that they’re wrong to feel the way they do.
Except they often aren’t. People are complex human beings, and we have no idea what is currently happening and has previously happened, in someone else’s life. We have no idea what our actions, words, and omissions can do to someone else – and we have no idea what impact they can have, either.
When Justin first shared Hannah’s photo and told his friends she was easy, he started a chain of events that led most of the school to believe that she actually was easy, which led to her being sexually assaulted more than once. It led to her so-called friend, Jessica, not believing her when Alex created “The List”, because, as Jessica told Hannah, “She should have known”.
Are these thirteen reasons the sole reasons Hannah decided to take her own life?
No. Of course not. And no one – not the producers, directors, or author, is pretending like it is.
I doubt, if Hannah could return for an encore, even she would say it was – in fact, part of her last reason was about that (that people didn’t care enough).
So, before you share another “This Is Why Thirteen Reasons Why Is Bullshit” article, or make some silly joke about how Hannah committed suicide because someone touched her ass, let me, as someone who has attempted suicide and has been raped.
Firstly, I’ll address Hannah’s rape and why it resonates so much with me.
Rape is uncomfortable. For me, even saying the word rape is hard to do. Focusing on Hannah’s rape for that extra moment sells the scene – because rape should never be comfortable. Hannah’s rape isn’t used as a trope and it isn’t glossed over. The gritty reality is what we saw when Bryce rapes Hannah. The gritty reality is when Hannah goes numb, and the light in her eyes dies out.
The gritty reality is Hannah’s inability to completely remember what happened, and that she’s sort of walking through a fog afterward.
And it should be like that. Rape shouldn’t be dismissed. It shouldn’t be a topic we’re ever comfortable with because too many judges throw out cases and too many rapists don’t receive any prison sentence for raping someone.
And I loved the fact that ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ was one of the first movies or TV shows that didn’t gloss this over.
Secondly, Hannah’s suicide scene was almost barbaric. I was horrified. But that was why I loved it.
Suicide isn’t easy. It’s not an easy decision to come to, even when you’re seriously depressed. Cutting your skin, even with a sharp knife (or razor blade), actually isn’t as easy as people would think.
Cutting your arterial veins in your arms will cause blood to spirt. Hannah was scared about dying. She’d made her decision, but that didn’t change the fact that it hurt to slice her wrists open the way she did. That doesn’t mean she wasn’t frightened to die.
And just because she decided to do it in a bathtub doesn’t mean she didn’t leave a mess behind – both figuratively and metaphorically speaking.
And we do need to see that.
We do need to feel uncomfortable and sick when watching that scene because suicide should never be a comfortable topic.
We need to be reminded that everything we say and does has consequences, both positive and negative.
We need to be reminded about how serious bullying is, and that bullying literally causes both adults and children alike to commit suicide.
We need to be reminded that, while someone taking their own life is their choice in a sense, we can affect the outcome.
On my darkest days, when all I could think about was taking my own life, sometimes it was the kindness of literal strangers that stopped me, that gave me a moment’s pause, that made me think: Not today.
We need to be reminded that these topics shouldn’t be avoided and that the controversy surrounding Thirteen Reasons Why is one of the best things that have ever happened because it doesn’t matter which side you’re currently on.
All it matters is that we’re talking about some of the most controversial topics in such an empowering way and that counts.
Because we never know who the Hannah Baker might be in our lives.
And this discussion might give the next Hannah Baker pause before making a choice.