*Trigger warning: mentions of sexual assault and suicide*
I know, I'm late to this topic. I've heard so much about 13 Reasons Why - both good and bad, but I was wary. I suffer from depression and have had suicidal thoughts, so I wasn't sure how it would affect me. But the other day I decided it was time and now I want to explain which side I fall on in the debate, and why.
I believe that making this story into an accessible piece of media was a good thing. I believe it was right for Hannah's suicide to be shown as it was; a real and painful death, not just some off-camera mystery. Suicide happens. There's not always a person to save you at the last minute. There's not always a happy ending in reality.
'But 13 Reasons Why isn't reality' you may say. True, but the story of Hannah is real in so many ways, and played out in so many young lives across the world. I can't speak for other generations or even everyone in my own, but nothing in the show was unfamiliar or very shocking to me. I only have to look at my teenage years to compare; photo of my breasts being shared around a group of guys in front of my face; being sexually assaulted in the school hallway when a fellow student put his hand against my vagina as he was walking past; constantly being called a slag or 'easy' and that's by no means everything. My experiences are nothing unusual and that was before social media had really hit the ground running.
I don't think Hannah's story is about her. It's not about the character. It's about what young people, especially young women, face on a daily basis. It's about the lack of education on sexual consent and mental health. It's about how we value women in society, and how we talk about depression and suicide.
Yes, this show could be damaging, I know that. But I also believe that the tapes tell a story that needs to be told, and that they were a necessary narrative tool to tell us just a snippet of what life is like for our young people. They were about showing us how the smallest things can mean so much more than you could ever imagine if only you stepped into someone else's shoes.
This doesn't mean that I think we should all blame ourselves for other people's choices. Ultimately, it was Hannah that made the decision to end her life. But we can't use that as a way to shake off responsibility. Every suicide has a story, and many stories will have similar themes; it's failing to piece it all together and find a way to address these themes that's the real reason to feel guilty. It's about time we stop just saying "that's what it's like being a teenager" and own up to our society's mistakes.
But this show isn't just about suicide and mental health; it's about rape, sexual assault and violence against women. It's about showing that it's not just creepy alleyway strangers who rape. It's about showing the way our society treats of rape victims. It's about showing that violence against women is still hugely prevalent, despite the progress made in other areas of gender equality. Women and girls get 'ranked' wherever they go because their bodies are what society deems most valuable; they're open source, verbally and physically.
Hannah could be anyone right now. She could be that boy who's quiet and hurting but can't open up to anyone because 'boys don't cry'. She could be that popular girl who's putting on a mask to cope with her self-esteem issues. What 13 Reasons Why has shown us, is that you never know what's going on inside someone's head.
So what I believe everyone should take from this show is that the smallest things can make a difference. You have the power to add to the pile of crap that each person is dragging around with them, or you can do the exact opposite. We have the power to make even the smallest positive change individually, but we have even more power to make a positive change as a collective, and it's about time that the people at the top, decision-makers and the like, take responsibility by doing everything they can to change the stories of our teenagers.
What can you do?
Firstly, and most importantly, vote in the upcoming elections for someone who you believe will make a difference in these areas.
Secondly, get involved in campaigns on mental health awareness and ending violence against women. Or even just sign a petition or two.
Thirdly, open your mind to the experiences of others and keep trying to be a better person. Don't mistake me, I'm no angel, but we've all got to keep trying.