Content warning: This post contains spoilers.
For the last two weeks, Netflix’s hit TV series about teen suicide has exploded all over our social media feeds, dinner table conversations and news websites.
While everyone is discussing the merits of creating a show that hovers between refreshingly open and toxically instructive, I can’t help but think we’re missing one of 13 Reasons Why‘s key messages.
And no – it’s not about death or depression.
LISTEN: The Binge discuss if 13 Reasons Why is helpful or dangerous. (Post continues…)
It’s about something almost every single one of us has experienced, and the all-encompassing way it can crush a human soul.
In so many ways, 13 Reasons Why is about the poisonous effect of sexual assault.
Of course that includes the rapes carried out by resident scum bag Bryce Walker to Jessica Davis and in the penultimate episode, Hannah Baker. But this theme stretches far and wide beyond those rapes. It extends to almost every episode, where the producers perfectly depict just how insidious casual sexual assault is.
Sexual violence is actually the hidden thread that connects every one of the 13 Reasons Why episodes together, but nobody seems to be talking about it.
Let me explain.
Episode One, all of Hannah’s troubles kicked off when Justin Foley took a photo of her going down the slide – when her legs were partly open – and proceeded to spread lies that the pair had done more than ‘just kiss’. He made her feel like a sexual object, and almost instantly Hannah – who was actually a virgin – gained the reputation of a “slut”.
Episode Two, where Hannah makes Alex Standall’s “Best and Worst” list. You know, the one where girls are ranked based on their physical appearance. She described the experience as having a “target” put on her back.
Episode Three, Bryce approached Hannah from behind in the milk bar so he could grope her ass, and she left in floods of tears. She described this very moment as the “butterfly effect” – the theory that a small change can lead to colossal consequences in the future.
Episode Four, the moment Hannah’s stalker Tyler Down captures a photo of her on her bed, in her underwear, and spreads it to the school.
Episode Five, Courtney created a rumour about Hannah at the school prom to a group of jocks and claimed she was easy and interested in lesbian threesomes.
Episode Six, the chair of the student council Marcus forced his hand up Hannah’s inner thigh on a Valentine’s date.
Episode Seven, when sports star Zach retaliates and isolates Hannah because she refuses to go out on a date with him.
Episode Eight, when Hannah's private and intimate thoughts in a poem - about her being in a 'black lacy bra' - are published in the school magazine.
Episode Nine, when Bryce raped Jessica, and her boyfriend Justin simply sits outside the door... allowing him to do it.
Episode 10, when Justin denied Jessica was ever raped, and made her question her own sanity, pushing her to develop an alcohol dependence.
Episode 11, arguably the only episode where a new act of sexual violence is not depicted. Rather, Hannah is unable to have a sexual relationship with Clay because of her past experiences.
Episode 12, grabbing her by the arms and pinning her down, Bryce raped Hannah in the spa at this house. Arguably the second most traumatic scene in the series, you see the light completely vanish from Hannah's eyes.
Episode 13, Hannah tells her school counsellor she was raped, and the victim blaming begins. She is immediately asked whether she was drinking, and is told it's unlikely her claims will ever be taken seriously. She's advised to move on with her life, but instead goes home and ends it in a bath tub.
So yes, 13 Reasons Why is about suicide and depression. But largely, it's about sexual assault in all of its forms, and the disastrous impact it has on women's lives.
13 Reasons Why is about the casual sexual assault that's often laughed off as a "joke". The sexual violence that nearly all women have experienced; the violence that we're told to "lighten up" about every single day. The violence we have numerous personal stories on, but almost all feel too petty or too common to tell.
But 13 Reasons Why chooses to tell them, and chooses to take them seriously.
Despite its many flaws, I don't think I've ever seen a show depict the effect of casual sexual violence quite so well.
And for that feat, the producers deserve applause.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of sexual violence, Mamamia urges you to contact 1800 RESPECT, or visit this website.
If you are over the age of 25 and suffering from symptoms of mental illness please contact your local GP for a Mental Health Assessment Plan or call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.