Thirteen Reasons Why Review

As the entire internet has been talking about Thirteen Reasons Why, I found myself curious to watch it, despite my reservations based off the fact that I knew the book existed growing up and never really had an interest in reading it. I had always sort of figured that it would read like a teacher’s lecture about why bullying is bad and suicide is never the answer. And while I still haven’t read the book, so I can’t say if that’s the case for Jay Asher’s work, that is not what I found in the Netflix television show.

The television show discusses in close and sometimes graphic detail issues such as suicide, bullying, rape, depression, and women’s issues, and I have to admit, I really admire the show for the directions that it sometimes chose to take. I should say, right off the bat, that I really enjoyed this show and could not stop watching it – but more on that later. First, I’m going to list off the parts of the show that I really enjoyed, and the reasons why I would recommend it to others.

The show represents bullying in a very mature and realistic way. The kids who bully Hannah (for the most part) are not one-dimensional bullies who are completely irredeemable: they are either incredibly hurt people who are too busy dealing with their own problems to notice the pain they are simultaneously causing, or they are realistically dumb kids who just don’t think that this is something that can hurt someone. And the way that the show represented either end impressed me hugely: I liked that I cared about many of the bullies, but at the same time understood why they deserved the retaliation that they received. They were neither good nor evil people, they were just people. To a certain extent, even the show’s hero, Clay, is depicted as an imperfect person, as Clay contributes to some of the bullying that goes on at school, and it’s hard to say how much of the extent to which he blames the bullies for Hannah’s death is rational. And on the other spectrum, I enjoyed the way in which simple dumb kids were depicted. There are several scenes throughout the show where characters (particularly male characters) give Hannah very back-handed compliments and genuinely don’t understand when she gets offended, and this feels very realistic to me. This is something that people (women in particular) experience all the time is a society run on a limited definition of beauty, and it was nice to see this expressed in a very realistic way and to have it explained why, exactly, this isn’t okay.

And although the show has received some criticism about the fact that, while showing characters with symptoms of depression, mental illness is never explicitly discussed, I didn’t really mind the way it was portrayed. As someone who has suffered from depression in the past (and who has a tendency to go back to depressive thoughts from time to time), I found that the symptoms of depression were clear enough that I knew what they were trying to convey. And, more than that, it really reminded me of how it felt to have depression but to not realize that you do, and to not have your mental illness recognized by people around you – which, admittedly, mostly happened to me when I was a teenager. And the majority of the characters are teenagers. Teenagers who, repeatedly, have their emotions and issues belittled unintentionally by the adults around them, and the show does a very realistic job of portraying this as well.

These facts about the show has earned it a very special place in my heart, and when I was watching it, I found that I could not look away – both because I was so engrossed in what was watching and because, at some points, I just couldn’t look away. It was like stumbling upon a car crash – you just want to keep watching until you find out what the body count is and how gory they died. There are three scenes in particular that I found to be incredibly graphic – two rape scenes and a depiction of suicide. Thus far, I’ve been praising the show for how realistic their depictions have been, but these three scenes are where I wonder if a line needs to be drawn. Upon completing the show, I found myself feeling emotionally drained and very low, and these three scenes in particular are responsible for that. They are just so graphic, so intimate, and as much as I can see the benefit of that, I can also see the harm for a specific audience.

And more on that, the way that the show treated Hannah’s decision to kill herself was sometimes questionable. Clay, the show’s protagonist and the perspective through which we see most things, believes that Hannah was justifiably driven to suicide through the actions of those around her. They let her down, they are responsible – not her. We do see other perspectives from time to time, including a school councilor who assures Clay that Hannah’s suicide wasn’t his fault and a fellow student who claims that everyone deals with pain and that “suicide is for the weak,” but Clay’s perspective is the one that is given the most weight, and it’s a perspective that I don’t agree with. When someone kills themselves, it is natural to feel like you could have done something more to avoid that outcome, but it is not your fault. It is not your fault. It is not your fault. Everyone deals with pain, and everyone deals with it differently. If someone makes the choice to end their life, it is because they are dealing with overwhelming mental illness. And more than that, it is a choice that they made. It is not your fault. And the fact that they keep working under the assumption that Hannah’s suicide was the fault of anyone else but Hannah seems a little bit unfair. Yes, those who bullied and assaulted her should be held accountable, but her choice to take her own life is a separate action.

Despite my problems with the show, however, I have to say that I really loved it in the end. I loved how fleshed out and realistic the characters were, I love that they took on such important issues, and I loved that they were willing to take risks and be dark when they needed to be. I don’t know if I would recommend this show to everyone, just because of how dark and how graphic it is, but if you think that you can handle it, I would definitely say that it’s worth the watch.

Why ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’ Doesn’t Work for Sexual Assault Cases

This morning, I was bumming around on the internet, looking for something that might entertain me while I fixed up my usual breakfast, and in my search I came across a vaguely titled video discussing Casey Affleck’s Oscar win, and, curious, I clicked on it.

The video’s argument was that people who condemned Affleck for the allegations of sexual assault against him are ‘morons’ (yes, this word was actually used; repeatedly) because Affleck’s case was settled outside of court, therefore we will never know if he really did it or not and all people in civilized society are innocent until proven guilty.

And on the one hand, yes, I believe in the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ mentality. This mentality helps people who are falsely accused avoid serving unjust sentences, and should be kept in the back of everyone’s mind in most court cases.

Most.

Because there’s a huge, glaring problem when it comes to sexual assault charges. In fact, there are two.

One of them is that the amount of women who falsely accuse rapists are immensely fewer than the amount of women who don’t receive justice after being raped. And this might happen in a multitude of ways: some women just don’t go to the police following a rape, because they internalize it as being their own fault, or because their rapist is someone close to them, or they worry that they won’t be believed, or they think it will only cause more trouble than its worth (and that’s only a few reasons why they wouldn’t). Some women do go to the police, but they aren’t believed, or the police tell them that it’s their own fault for dressing/acting/presenting themselves the way they did, or the police tell them that it’s her word against his and chances are she won’t see justice done. Some women get as far as the courts, and yet they still aren’t able to convince the jury that the rape actually happened, or that it wasn’t somehow her fault and she was actually ‘asking for it,’ and that all she’s trying to do is ruin this poor guy’s (cough cough rapist’s) life. And some girls actually do manage to make it to the police, to the courts, and to a place where they convince the jury to convict, and YET, the rapist’s sentence is incredibly light compared to the crime he committed (for an example of this, just look up Brock Turner).

There are multiple women I know who have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, and yet very few of those assaults are actually reported, for one reason or another. It has come to the point where I feel uncomfortable citing the statistic that ‘one in four women in Canada are raped,’ because I know that those are only reported rapes, and my lived experience tells me an entirely different story. And, meanwhile, I don’t know any women who have falsely accused someone of rape – although I’m sure it does happen, just not nearly as frequently as we think.

The problem is that, in cases such as these, the man’s word is always held in a higher place of privilege than the woman’s. The woman is always somehow at fault, somehow asking for it, while the man is always some poor, innocent victim whose life could potentially be ruined by this malicious female who is out to get him. Or, if that’s not the case, then there just isn’t enough evidence to convince the court, which brings me to the second problem with this ‘innocent until proven guilty’ mentality when it comes to sexual assault: it is very difficult to prove, beyond any semblance of doubt, that a rape actually happened.

There are cases where luck is on the victim’s side, and evidence can be found. If she gets to the hospital in time and a rape test is administered, or if there are witnesses, or if the rapist happened to make a recording of the crime, then the woman is more likely to see justice. But what about all those other woman who didn’t have that sort of good luck?

What about the women who didn’t go to the hospital or to the police right away, for one reason or another? Many women don’t, especially if their rapist was someone they knew, like their employer, or a family member, or a close friend, or their boyfriend, or their husband, or even just someone who seemed like a perfectly nice guy right up until the point that he forced himself on her. Or maybe he’s someone with a lot of power, a celebrity or a politician, and the woman knows she won’t be believed because of that, or that if she does go forward, she will face a constant barrage of fans who want to see the best of him and will call her a liar, a slut, a bitch, tell her that she deserves to die for what she did. For being the victim of a violent assault at the hands of someone they idolize. Maybe she doesn’t think she can handle that.

So these women hesitate before going forward, and the physical evidence fades away. Bruises heal. Semen is no longer traceable (maybe he wore a condom to begin with). And when she does reach out to someone, no one can prove anything. It’s her word against his and he’s innocent until proven guilty, so he gets off no problem, free to continue sexually assaulting women and empowered by the knowledge that no one will believe her anyway, while his victim is publicly shamed and accused of being a malicious liar.

So what’s the solution here? Should we operate under a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ mentality when it comes to sexual assault? I don’t know – I don’t think I have all the answers. But I do know that when a woman comes forth and claims that she has been sexually assaulted, I am more inclined to believe her than I am him, because I know that there are far too few people on her side.

A Letter to Donald Trump

Dear Mr. Trump,

I am not one of your people. I am a Canadian woman, who will only be affected by the laws you pass in an indirect, ripple-effect sort of way. But I have to admit, the things that you have done and the words that you have spoken have caught my attention, and they have caused me great concern, and not just for myself. I am talking for my fellow humans. For the innocent men and woman who you have intentionally attacked, and whose harm will be on your hands.

I am talking for the woman who feels like she desperately needs an abortion. I don’t know her reason for feeling that way, and really her reason doesn’t matter. All that matters is that, if she feels like she needs it bad enough, then it won’t matter if you’ve made it impossible for her to get one safely or legally. She’ll listen to the man who tells her that “he knows what he’s doing”. She might even try to do it herself. She’ll put her own health and life at risk if she feels like she needs it bad enough, and the physical and emotional damage that that woman will face will be on your hands.

I am talking for the people of colour who now fear stepping outside their own homes because you have spread your hate so widely, that there are now regular men and woman who think that that’s not only normal, but perfectly acceptable. I am talking for the innocent black man who will be beaten in the streets on his way home from a friend’s house. I am talking for the Muslim girl who will have her hijab torn from her head. I am talking for the Mexican immigrants who will have their worth and legitimacy as American citizens openly questioned by people who forget that they’re human beings too. And all of that will be done because you, as not only a public figure but a man in a position that is supposed to be respected, showed your support for it.

I am talking for the disabled people who watched you mock a reporter with arthrogryposis, and felt that all-too familiar sinking feeling in their gut as they remembered, not for the first time, that the world sees them as different. I am talking for the disabled people that now have to live in an America run by a man who has made it clear that he not only doesn’t understand them, but he laughs at them – mocks them publicly, and then doesn’t apologize for it. I am talking for the disabled people that find themselves surrounded by people who now think that it’s okay to look down on them, because their president did it, so why not them? You, Mr. Trump, are the cause for their further alienation.

And I am talking for the women who are raped or sexually violated, because the wrong man heard you say “grab them by the pussy” and saw that as an invitation. I am talking for the women whose consent doesn’t matter as much as yours does – you gave the go-ahead to touch women in any way that men want, and while not every man will hear that and agree, too many might. I am talking for the women who are frightened to exist within their own bodies because you have made it that much more difficult for them to do so.

Now that you’re officially in office and you’ve begun your promised work, I have to say that I am frightened. I am frightened for all of the people that you are going to hurt – and you are going to hurt people, Mr. Trump. You’ve already proven that simply by going after abortion. There is going to be blood and tears on your hands, and I just hope that you can live with that.

But who am I kidding? You won’t live with that. You’ll deny that you’ve caused any harm, or claim that you were rightful in doing it. After all, the damage that you’re causing is too big for one man to carry on his conscience.

No More Victim Blaming

When Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, he had 12 allegations of sexual assault against him.

When Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, he had 12 allegations of sexual assault against him.

Honestly, think about that. Think about how shocking and disgusting that is. That means that twelve women came forward and spoke up about how this man put his hands on their body without their consent, and the majority of the American people heard that and just kind of went, “yeah, whatever. That doesn’t say anything about him as a person. I’m sure he’d still make a good leader.”

That means that the majority of the American people heard these twelve women speak up against a very public figure, something that must have been incredibly difficult for them to do, and they either didn’t believe them or they didn’t care.

And you know what makes me even angrier at this whole ordeal? Imagine what it would have been like if Hilary had come forth and said that she had been sexually assaulted at some point in her life. Not by Donald Trump, just by anyone. It doesn’t even have to be recently, just at some point in her life. There would be people applauding her for her bravery, sure, but I bet you anything that there would also be those who question what sort of person that makes her. Was she drunk at the time? Was she wearing revealing clothing? Was she leading him on, like some sort of slut? Did she deserve it? Because we can’t have someone like that leading the country. Clearly, being sexually assaulted as a woman is an indication of a lapse in character.

And clearly, being responsible for sexual assault is no problem at all. It doesn’t affect the kind of person you are. It doesn’t make you any less capable of leading a country (even though half of its population consists of the very people that he’s proven he doesn’t see as people). Being a sexual predator means nothing at all.

Fuck that.

You can call me an angry feminist all you like, because you know what? I am angry.

I’m angry because when my mom was a teenager, the police advised her not to seek legal action against her rapist because it was her word against his, simultaneously robbing her of her chance at justice and entrapping some other poor girl to the same fate. The very people who were supposed to keep her safe and protected did this to her. I’m angry because that was in the 1980’s – it is now 2016, and things still aren’t any better. There are still women who are afraid to come forth about their rape.

I’m angry because of men like Brock Turner and all the pandering, misogynistic men lost in their own heads around him who excused his actions and let him get away with the violation of a human being. I’m angry because, according to the judge, it would have been unfair to give Brock Turner a long prison sentence for a crime that witnesses saw him commit – never mind how unfair it is that his victim now has to live with the resulting trauma. She isn’t an athlete or a man, after all, so that somehow makes her trauma okay.

I’m angry because the first questions that always come to the public’s mind when they hear about a rape case don’t tend to be “is she alright” or “how could he do such a thing”. No, it’s the same old bullshit about how they can somehow pin it on her, somehow make this traumatic experience her own fault. I’m angry because people so rarely blame the rapist, when he is the only one at fault.

And that’s when the woman is believed – there are so many situations where it’s just assumed that the victim is lying. Take Donald Trump for instance, or any situation where a woman (or women) come forth about being assaulted by a celebrity years after the event. “Well, if he did it,” some people say with their nose in the air and a holier-than-thou attitude, “then why didn’t she say anything earlier?” Honestly, think about that statement: you are doubting a woman for speaking up, and yet you wonder why she didn’t speak up? Not to mention: he’s a celebrity. He’s a rich and powerful figure with lawyers who could probably crush you and a fan-base determined to see him in the best light possible: why would she speak up? And this doesn’t just happen with celebrity cases, either. The idea that “the woman is lying” is so common that it’s practically become a trope, and while I have heard of cases where women have lied, I can assure you that they are such a minority that, really, it isn’t a problem. Think about it: why would a woman subject herself to all of that for a lie? Why would she allow herself to be doubted and blamed, slut-shamed and accused, for something that wasn’t real? And, more importantly, why are we doing all of these things to innocent victims of traumatic experiences!?

This needs to change. And as much as I’m encouraged by the fact that people are talking about this issue more openly lately, especially with such big cases in the news such as the Brock Turner case, it isn’t enough – and the baffling election of a sexual predator as president of the United States is proof of that. We need to do something. We need to demand a change, we need to talk about it more, we need to consider the way that we think about these things. We need to stop ignoring or putting the blame on the victim. We need to make this right.