*warning this contains spoilers for the show 13 Reasons Why…
I recently decided to watch a new Netflix show that everyone was talking about on Facebook. This show was like a train wreck; I couldn’t peel my eyes from the screen, but it increased my blood pressure and seeped into my dreams bringing back past traumas and turning them into nightmares. This show, which I finished watching last night, was named “13 Reasons Why.”
This show touches on several heavy topics that impact youth, as well as specifically women. It is about a young high school girl, who is new to a small town, and experiences the horrors that are gossip, bullying, sexual assault, and depression. High school is not easy for most kids. Only those at the top of the high school stratosphere, actually enjoy the whole experience. If you are a student who isn’t popular, then life is quite different.
From the first episode, we are introduced to the main character, who we soon realize commits suicide and then we slowly get to know her 13 reasons why. These 13 reasons are students and faculty at the school who bullied her or simply didn’t take her cry for help seriously. She is the victim of gossip that ruins her reputation and opens her up to sexual harassment. She battles with her desire to fit in, make it work, and maintain friendships. No one makes this easy for her.
Ultimately, she decides that her presence in this world is meaningless and no one will miss her. She wants to end the misery caused by bullying and sexual assault. What she doesn’t realize is all the people that do love her and will miss her. She cannot see beyond her current situation, to know that things will get better. This unfortunately leads to her chosen fate. It also leaves everyone wondering if they had done one thing differently, if she would still be alive.
Having been a victim to bullying and sexual assault, this show hit way too close to home for me. I knew in the back of my head that watching this would trigger some buried emotions and trauma for me. After the first two episodes, I had an anxiety attack and couldn’t calm down. For some reason, I continued to watch it until the very end. I knew that this story was not unique. Sadly, there are many kids experiencing this level of bullying in schools and are contemplating suicide as an escape. There are also millions of women who have experienced sexual assault and are trying to recover without ending it all.
For these reasons, this show is important. It isn’t pretty. It doesn’t sugar coat the truth. This is the ugly face of life as a teenager and life as a woman/girl. We can’t brush these topics under the rug. We need to bring them to light. We live in a culture that applauds the high school athlete and excuses him for committing sexual assault. Bullying is still seen as a right of passage and oftentimes is ignored in schools until they end in suicide or school shootings. We need to take these things seriously and create school environments that create safe spaces for all students and teach young boys to not see girls as objects of their desire. Athletes can no longer be held to different standards, especially in cases of sexual assault.
I personally connected to this story and am just lucky I had a great support system at home to prevent me from taking my life. In 6th grade, my family moved from the city to the suburbs mid-school year. I was shy and a bit awkward. I had tons of friends at my school in Philadelphia, but now I had to start at a new school. Everyone already had their groups of friends. On my first day, my homeroom teacher assigned me to a student, so she could guide me around the school.
She was popular, I soon discovered, but I thought she was my friend. She invited me to sit with her and her girlfriends at lunch and they made me feel welcome. They asked me millions of questions and pretended to want to get to know me. I confided in the girl, who was my guide, about the boys I thought were cute. The next day in Art class, while the teacher was outside the room, the students wrote my name on the black board and added my crush inside a big heart. Everyone laughed at me. The boy I liked was in the class and laughed in my face. I was completely humiliated.
To make it even worse, the girl dating that boy pushed me into a locker and called me a bitch. So, I soon realized that group of friends were not real. Then the next set of girls absorbed me into their group. I only lasted a month with them, before the queen bee of the group messaged me on AIM and pretended to be someone else. She called me all kinds of things and provoked me to react, then printed out our convo and showed everyone at school.
I bounced through at least 5 groups of girls that year, each time being chewed up and spit out. I went home crying weekly from public humiliation. Finally, by the end of the school year’s camp retreat, I was bunking with all the rejects in the school. Even they didn’t want to be my friends. Then Jasmine befriended me, and I thought I was in the clear. Little did I know, she was a sociopath, pathological liar, and narcissist. She destroyed my life.
If it weren’t for meeting my best friend in 8th grade, I may have taken my life. Three years of bullying was all I could take. Then, I was invited to sit with Ronnie at lunch and we’ve been friends ever since. With her by my side, I could face the world. By high school, I ceased caring about what others thought of me. All I needed was one great friendship, the rest could come and go. I was also lucky that my mother was a Guidance Counselor, and she knew how to support me and get me to open up to her. I know that others may not be as lucky.
What I have to say to those going through the horrors of bullying right now is, this may feel like it will never end, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Middle school and high school are only a short period in your life. When you are young, they feel like the most important time, but they are far from it. Kids are cruel, but what you don’t know is that everyone, even the popular kids, are insecure. Everyone is trying to come out on top, so that they don’t have to be vulnerable. Sometimes, those who are most cruel, have the toughest home life. They are acting out in reaction to the abuse or neglect they experience at home. It makes them feel better to put others down.
You are not alone! If you open your eyes, you will realize there are many students experiencing the same thing as you. Maybe befriending those who are also feeling alone, will help you all feel less lonely. Also know that those who peak in high school, commonly never feel their life lives up to those four years in school. You, in contrast, will peak later in life and it will be even better. Most kids who struggle socially through high school, end up being very successful in life.
I never felt attractive in school, then I moved away for college, found my confidence, and had a very rich dating life. Once high school ends, your life will really blossom. You will find that the opinions of popular people don’t really matter and that it means more to have beauty on the inside than on the outside. Those people will mean nothing to you once you don’t see them everyday.
They are not worth taking your life. Your life is precious and full of promise. Gossip will fade with time, but your life will go on. You will do amazing things in this world, if you can just survive this tough time. It gets so much better. You are loved and those who love you will struggle more than you know with losing you. Don’t do it. Be strong and know that this too shall pass.
I’ve gone through some very tough periods in my life, but the good times are worth fighting through the bad times. I hated middle school and high school and you couldn’t pay me to go back, but I rarely think about them. You can survive this, because it will only serve to make you stronger and kinder. I wish that someone had told the main character, Hannah, these things so that she saw a way out of this misery.
I hope that we can prevent more young people from taking their own lives due to bullying. We also need to recognize that no school is without bullying and kids can be really cruel, so we need to educate our students and punish any bullying that occurs especially by athletes. As for sexual assault, I’ve touched on my story in the past and though it wasn’t in high school or by an acquaintance, I know how this trauma can impact your life forever. If educating boys from a young age that women do not owe them anything and unless they say, with a sound mind, that they want to have sex with you, it means no. Unless they say yes, it means no. It is not fair to just educate girls about how to protect themselves, when we really need to educate boys to not be predators and to read the signs and the response of the woman before acting.
13 Reasons Why starts the conversation, but we have a duty in this society to continue it. We should not brush this under the rug any longer. We need to prevent issues from escalating to the point of suicide. Everyone should know how precious their life is. We cannot wait until afterwards to assess what went wrong. We must be proactive. We need to think about what we can do as a society to prevent our children from feeling so lost and alone, when they are going through the toughest years of their lives. We need to pay attention and make sure they know they are loved and this is not it for them.
You will survive my dear, I promise!