You’re just another bully. If you (yes, you) really think that making a meme out of a character that killed herself is the right way to have a laugh, then you’re completely missing the point.
“13 Reasons Why” is a novel, written by Jay Asher. Adapted into a Netflix short-series, the story features Hannah, a young girl, who tells her story through 13 tapes, directed to the individuals who contributed (no matter the size of the contribution) to her eventual suicide.
After having read the novel several years ago, I decided I would try to watch the series. As an already emotional person, I am an easy-cryer and I empathize with the characters on my screen. The first few episodes I took at a slow stride; I started to really remember the social strife of the high school environment. The storyline, as I had remembered it, had remained the same, and I was really enjoying the series.
…the last three episodes. I was devastated. Visually speaking, it was hard to watch. I cowered away from my television screen multiple times; hid under the blankets while my tears poured down my face. The rape scenes were horrifying. From all that I have learned from sexual education, rape is rape. Rape doesn’t need to be categorized or grouped into a category in which one person says “no” or “yes.” Rape is rape, regardless. Rape happens when someone does not consent; whether they explicitly say yes or no is of no interest. And, even then, consent may happen, but the person is always allowed to take that consent away, at any time. Consent cannot, and can never, happen if the person is unconscious or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. (Now, these concepts are debatable at times, depending on whether there is a steady relationship and mutual consent between two people; nonetheless, consensual sex cannot happen when under the influence, and cannot happen when one person does not consent, regardless of the words being used).
“She had it coming.”
Jessica was raped. Hannah was raped. And, by no other than Bryce, the rich jock in the popular crowd. Stereotyping aside: it really doesn’t matter who did the raping. It was rape, regardless. It’s tough to say rape out loud…but let’s be real here: on a screen, it doesn’t get any easier. Rape. There, I said it. This is no joke. This is not something we should be laughing about. Hannah was raped. She did not say “no” explicitly at the time, but she was petrified. She tried to push Bryce off of her, but with no success. She attempted to run out of the hot tub, but could not. So, she laid there: motionless, incapable of moving; her arms floated down and held on tight to the hot tub cement, unable to fight anymore.
No, my friends. These girls did not have it coming. Just because they flirt, or get drunk, or become a little too touchy, does NOT mean they deserve to be raped. And, it certainly doesn’t mean you can do anything to them if they do not consent. I have many friends who have told me horror stories about rape. I felt like my inner ear collapsed every time I heard those stories. Just like them, neither Hannah nor Jessica are at fault. The only person at fault is the one who rapes: the rapist.
I cringed during the last two episodes. I spilled tea all over my covers and tears rolled down my eyes as I watched Hannah onscreen. Alone, at 2am in the morning on a Sunday, I watched Hannah kill herself on Netflix. Needless to say I could not sleep afterwards. I watched as she pierced her skin with the razor blade and let the blood stream down her arms, slowly but surely. I watched as she cried and gasped for air. I watched as she turned pale as a ghost, and I watched while her mother ran into the bathroom and swooped her into her arms, praying for a miracle; praying for signs of life.
Visually-speaking, I almost threw up. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to watch on television or in film… and I have seen the Revenant. Regardless of the difficulty to keep my eyes pinned on Hannah, it was important to watch. It was important to not be shielded from the world and all of its stained and imperfect reality. This scenario, this suicide…these things happen, and they happen often. Bullying IS a thing. We have all experienced it in some way or another; even if you were never bullied, you have certainly seen these things happen in the hallways.
As a teacher, I recently taught my students about “power” and how it has many different interpretations. I read 85 articles, and heard about many different forms of power from my students. At least 15%, if not more, wrote about the power of bullying in social cliques. They wrote about their experiences with said power, and how it affects them daily. Bullying IS the reality of the situation.
Hannah did not kill herself because of one person. She didn’t choose to kill herself in a spur of the moment thought. She planned it. She took the time to think about what went wrong in her life. She wanted help. She asked for it. She wanted support. She wanted friends. She even went to her school counselor at the last minute, with the hope that he would help her. As a future counselor/therapist, I am in awe by the way he handled it. His phone was not turned off or on vibrate; he kept getting distracted, and would not fully pay attention to Hannah. This, in itself, angers me to no end, and it should upset you too. When we do not have the kind of support we need, and if we are struggling internally, then it is no wonder why some individuals would try to take matters into their own hands. We need a support system that helps us; not one that ignores us.
So, when we ignore Hannah’s story (fictional or not), and we make memes and pictures and quotes that might seem funny in the short-term, we ignore the bullying that happens all around us in the long-term. In accepting these “jokes,” we continue with the norm that it is “OK” to laugh at those who are in need. It is not up to us to say whether or not someone should be feeling bad. Something that may not be hurtful to you, may be hurtful to someone else; but, that does not make them “wrong” for feeling that way. We all have a right to our own emotions. We have a right to feel the way we do. And, we have a right to seek out a support system around us…one that does not shame us or make us feel worse.
So, I ask you to think twice before you post or “like” another one of the Hannah memes. When you see something like “Oh, you didn’t like me? Welcome to your tape” or “You spilled coffee on my new pants…Welcome to your tape,” avoid it. Be the kind of person who recognizes that in the long-term, if we make fun of a character like Hannah, we are also making fun of all those who are suffering. Making tapes was Hannah’s way of coping with her pain. It was not a plea for attention or a plot for revenge. It was never a vindictive act. It was an explanation: a way to show others that their words and actions mean more to someone than they may think.
We are all Hannah. We all have the capacity to feel as she felt. Let us ensure that “13 Reasons Why” does not go unnoticed. Let us try to change, one step at a time, to realize that the words that slip off our lips, and the actions from our bodies, make a difference.
Stop laughing at Hannah, because you might realize that you are laughing at yourself.