The reason behind all 13By Madeline Anscombe | 04/18/2017 11:01am
CW / Kylie Cowden
By Madeline Anscombe | Staff Columnist
**DISCLAIMER: this contains spoilers for the television show 13 Reasons Why and talks about both suicide and sexual assault. I would also like to acknowledge that while this particular case focuses on male-on-female assault, the experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community deserve validation as well. This article also does not aim to discredit the many legitimate criticisms of the show and I hope that more dialogue may be started surrounding each of these concerns. **
“Not all survivors survive.”
My advisor told me this one afternoon while we looked over future scheduling for Not On My Campus. I looked at her wide-eyed and considered what I had known but been too afraid to admit to myself. I collected my thoughts and responded to her as coolly as I could “sometimes, or most of the time, we don’t give survivors the support they need.”
If you have opened either Facebook or Netflix in the past few weeks, you have probably seen something about 13 Reasons Why, a new book-to-television series graphically detailing the suicide of high school junior Hannah Baker. The show has received a lot of buzz, and rightfully so. It is not often that we delve into taboos such as suicide or rape culture, but now that the door is open, we must continue the conversation and become more cognizant of how we can change.
Growing up a girl means a lot of things. As soon as you first enter the classroom, your opinion and ideas become secondary options to what the boy in your group thinks, because as you know, boys are always right. When your reading teacher finally assigns a book with a female protagonist, all of the boys groan and fail to find any literary merit in anything girlish because they are unable to see a need for female narratives. When you grow up just a little and start experiencing changes in your body, it feels as if a whole new world piles on top of what you are already experiencing. In class, you catch boys staring at your chest and can feel your heart pounding as you fail to concentrate on the lesson. As soon as you walk out of class, you are honked and whistled at by cars passing you, sometimes including vulgar messages about the size of your breasts or your butt. But instead of having any recourse for their actions, rules are set in place so that you can’t wear anything that may tempt them. Boys are seldom scolded for making us feel this way, yet the effect this has on us is drastic. From a young age, girls are seen merely as objects for male disposal and are expected to follow the age old adage: women should be seen but not heard.
In 13 Reasons Why, the vulnerability of being a young woman is expressed just as I remember it in the halls of high school and as I still experience it now walking down fraternity row. The reality is unfortunately no better than what we see at the fictional Liberty High School. Throughout the series, those accused in the tapes do everything in their power to justify blatant instances of sexual harassment. When Justin took pictures of Hannah’s underwear and told the whole school he went to “third base” with her, her own best friend chose to start dating him. Boys grope her because they are told she is easy and they like her butt, and when she tells them no, she is seen as aggressive and is ostracized. Most women I know share similar stories. Old men who have called us hot since we were thirteen are seen as “friendly” and if we are weirded out when a friends dad or grandpa places a hand lower than we are comfortable with, we turn a blind eye because “they couldn’t have meant anything by it.” If you went through high school and had a cell phone, odds are you either were sent someone’s nude pictures without their consent or heard about it and judged someone for it. When a random boy in high school told you that you had a great butt, you were supposed to thank him for noticing even though you would have much rather been noticed for your brain and this “compliment” made you uncomfortable. In college, men are taught that they should expect to have sex with someone if they take them to a date party. If you go to a party, it is not uncommon to be followed around by boys whom you have repeatedly told you are uninterested. Fraternity houses stay open even after knowingly drugging party-goers and we barely look twice. Hannah’s reality is not so different from our own. We have been taught to be complacent, and when we voice our outrage, we are cast off as liars, sluts or dirty feminists.
Seeing that it is so common to degrade women verbally, it makes sense to see this manifested at such alarming rates physically. “Locker room talk” exists and teaches us that men are deserving of whatever it is they choose to pursue. We cannot act as if this attitude is not conducive to sexual assault. In fact, it encourages it. When we validate the objectification of women and deem hypersexuality as the insignia of masculinity, we create a dangerous culture for every little girl who leaves her house each morning. We teach men that women are created for them and just as they ignored our opinions in the classroom, we teach them that a woman’s “no” is secondary to their “yes.” Sexual assault does not exist in a vat. We condone this behavior when little boys pull girls hair and adults validate it claiming that “it’s okay, it just means he likes you.” We grow up and at age 20 we expect men to somehow become enlightened and treat us with respect, instead we are degraded down to “TFM Babe of the Day” posts and bombarded by accounts such as @meninisttweet that claim women have “rape fantasies.” If repercussions for this behavior are neither taught nor expected, it makes sense that some boys fail to respect another person’s autonomy.
I believe that Hannah’s rape is emblematic of the culture we encourage. Her perpetrator was not a man who came out of the bushes. He was a popular, rich athlete with social skills. He didn’t look scary or have a face mask on. He was her classmate and knew that he could have his way with her without anyone doubting his innocence. He was a repeat offender, as most predators are, yet had never been questioned for his blatant mistreatment of women. He didn’t think he was a rapist and saw his actions as justified considering Hannah’s reputation. It would be comforting to think that sexual assault could never happen to you and that it only happens to scantily-clad girls in poorly lit neighborhoods. But the reality is it happens to people from all walks of life, regardless of age, sex, gender, socioeconomic class, orientation et cetera. Sometimes, as demonstrated in the show, perpetrators fail to even see the negligence in their actions. It is a hard pill to swallow but if it were as easy as telling people that rape was bad, this is a problem that would have been solved a long time ago.
Hannah’s reaction is not out of the ordinary considering the trauma that comes with sexual assault. Not only are survivors violently deprived of their choice and stripped of all human rights, but they are signed up for a battle between guilt, self-loathing, and doubt. Many survivors deal with depression, eating disorders, addiction and often display signs of PTSD long after their assault. They are still expected to continue on with daily life despite this constant internal struggle and appear as if everything is fine. They continue to hear the whistling and honking from cars. They see stories about rape survivors on their Facebook feed which are greeted with comments about how these brave individuals who come forward are liars or sluts. Oftentimes, they must continue to see their perpetrator on a regular basis, each time feeling like another stab to the chest. When they want to enter new relationships, sometimes dealing with the stigma feels like too much of a burden to place on someone else. If they try to talk about it with other people, some may cast it off as a “personal problem” and ignore it entirely, others doubt, and few listen. In a culture that isolates and degrades the victim down to an object, is it any wonder that Hannah felt as if there was nothing left to live for?
Albeit emblematic of rape culture and totally enticing, we shouldn’t need a show to tell us that we need to change, nor should its upsetting nature be a reason to divert the problem any longer. We must all treat survivors and women as human beings. We must learn to change the way we conduct ourselves in daily conversation. Unless explicitly agreed to, do not assume that you have any right to sexualize anyone else’s body. For fellow women, think of your sisters when someone chooses to confide in you and be the person you wish they would have. Learn how to be there for people. Men, learn to respect the autonomy of a woman. If a girl you are seeing tells you about her experience, support her in every way you can. It takes a whole lot of guts to open up about something so intimate and it is incredibly important to make sure she knows that her experiences are valid and that you like her just the same. If this makes you uncomfortable, too bad. No one asks to be sexually assaulted, and it’s not your problem to deal with. Do not fall into the trap Clay succumbs to, it is not up to you to “fix” or “save” anyone. Just be a decent human being and commend her for being strong and brave every single day.
Everyone should spend a significant amount of time educating themselves on consent and become an active bystander even when it doesn’t make you the most popular person at the party. Parents, teach your little boys feminism and that women are more than objects of their desire. Give them books that feature the many kinds of incredible women that make the world a wonderful place. Teach your daughters that they are so much more than their cup size or the size of their waist. Encourage them to be resilient and to speak up when they see something wrong. Teach all of your children that they are no better than anyone, regardless of race, creed or gender. We do not need 13 reasons to do these things, we need merely one: it is our personal responsibility to be decent and respectful human beings. It is as simple as that.
Until we can adopt this in our own lives and work towards a culture that empowers survivors and respects the autonomy of every human being, we cannot rightfully say that those who are placed in Hannah’s situation are weak or overreacting. We may only say that surviving is difficult, and that from a young age we set survivors up to fail. For now, we must continue to remind ourselves of the message I learned that day in my advisor’s office: not all survivors survive.
Madeline Anscombe is a junior majoring in anthropology. Her column runs biweekly.