When our male allies harass, assault, and abuse, feminists need to choose a side and support survivors

Al Franken, Louis C.K., Jeffrey Tambor, Charlie Rose, John Conyers, Bill Clinton.

For feminists, our male allies are so few and far between, when we discover they’ve exploited others, we don’t want that reality to be true. We know from personal experience all the good things those men did for us, for women in general, we witnessed it, experienced it, and those feminist acts are incongruous with the harassment, abuse, and assault stories. The cognitive dissonance is painful and traumatic on every level. A part of us keeps repeating: “He never did that to me.” But deep down (why does it have to be so deep down?) we know: just because it didn’t happen to me doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Here’s a post I wrote in 2010, not long after a professional mentor of mine, a talk radio host, went to prison for possession and distribution of child pornography. At some point, I’ll blog my ideas about a coherent, strategic way for feminists to move forward as the list of progressive men who abuse grows as we all know it will. For now, I want to share this record of my experience when my hero fell. Please feel free to share your stories in the comment section.

Missing Bernie Ward

Mostly, I miss Bernie Ward on Sunday mornings, when I hear “Godtalk” on KGO Radio. The first time I ever met Bernie was when he was hosting that show. I’d come to San Francisco from New York, just for the weekend. My sister was having an engagement party that I traveled to California for, and I ended up never going back home. I went to Austin for a while, as a PA on a film, and after that wrapped, I got a job working for Willie Nelson on an hour length music video. (As far as I know, that particular piece of art never made it to TV or even video.) Then I came back to San Francisco. I went to KGO to see if I could get a producer job. I’d worked in New York for Alan Colmes who had, at the time,  a radio talk show out of a network called Daynet that used ABC’s studios. KGO was also out of ABC then so it all felt familiar to me.

KGO told me I could be a fill in, an on-call producer, which would probably entail late nights– Ray Taliaferro’s shift. And the weekends, odd hours. That was fine with me. I was twenty-six years old. I had no problem staying up all night.

So there I was at 6AM, light just coming up, and Bernie walked into his studio. He sat down and played a recording of “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes. It was beautiful. I remember thinking: this is so weird. How did I get here at 6AM, listening to “Amazing Grace,” listening to this guy talk about Jesus?

My mother is Jewish, my father is Episcopalian. I didn’t grow up with any religion. I was fascinated listening to Bernie go on about God, argue with the church, speak about the real messages of Jesus’ teachings, this Jewish carpenter, Bernie called him.

Not long after I met Bernie, a producer spot opened for his night time show. It was the most fun job I’ve ever had, and Bernie, in spite of his reputation  as angry, cranky, or mean, was great to work with. He was kind, attentive, brilliant and hilarious. We had many disagreements, right from the start on the issues he discussed on air. I began working for him around the time of the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal. Bernie basically believed Hillary Clinton’s whole right wing conspiracy theory. Not that I didn’t believe that, I did. But for me, there was more to the story. I’d voted for Clinton as a young woman in my twenties, and I hated that this new kind of president, who I believed would do great things for women, had messed around with an intern. Instead of advancing powerful women, Clinton’s presidency was perpetuating antiquated sexual stereotypes that go back to biblical times i.e. a young woman’s sexuality destroys a powerful man.  I was so tired of that same old imagery and pissed off Clinton was reincarnating it again. “Imagine if Madeline Albright was considered sexy because of her brilliance, position of power and stature. Imagine that her young male interns had crushes on her. Do you see the sexism now?”

“I never thought about it that way,” Bernie said, and he put me on air for the first time. It felt great to have my ideas amplified through that microphone, wafting out over the Bay Area. Bernie essentially disagreed with me, but he was able to see my point of view and then elaborate on it. That’s a talent few people have. He encouraged me to write down my thoughts. I started publishing pieces in newspapers and magazines. Then I started getting invited on TV programs– CNN, FOX News, Good Morning America. Bernie taught me how to debate, that it was OK to interrupt, that I only needed to have three points I wanted to make and to just keep re-making those points.

Producing Bernie’s show– a liberal, no-less– I realized how many more men called up than women, eager to go on air. Also, when I invited women experts to come on the show as guests, they often refused, claiming they weren’t qualified, recommending a “better” colleague, often a male. My experience at KGO inspired me to start a non-profit that provided  professional training for women including media skills.

After seven years of producing the show, I left. That’s a pretty long time to be a producer in talk radio world. I had a baby, and initially my idea was that I would take care of the baby during the day and my husband would watch her at night. But I had no clue what being a mom was really like. I was exhausted all the time. I never saw my husband. Plus, I had my writing and the non-proft to work on by that time, and I didn’t really need KGO anymore. So I quit.

A couple years later, I got a call from Bernie. He told me that federal agents had come into his home and seized his computers; he would be charged with possession and distribution of child pornography.  He was sentenced to almost seven years in prison.

Since Bernie has been in prison, I think of him often, but I haven’t written him or visited him. I can’t reconcile in my head the Bernie I knew and the Bernie that was accused of so many things. I think seven years is a harsh sentence for someone who did not create any pornography. That said, I can’t see how Bernie could look at those kinds of images and not feel anything for those little kids.

I’ve never had something like that happen in my life, watch a good friend, a mentor, someone I idolized, have his whole life fall apart. I hope I can write him. I’d like to be able to visit him. But for now, I just miss the Bernie I knew.

Reel Girl’s List of ‘Progressive’ People Who Are Sexist: #11 Joe Biden

Dear Mr. Biden,

I see you that you’re condemning Harvey Weinstein’s chronic sexual harassment and assault of women.

I’m baffled by how today you can admire women’s courage to tell the truth, but in 1991, you were instrumental in discrediting Anita Hill, one of the first women to speak publicly about being sexually harassed in the workplace by a powerful man, Clarence Thomas.

I was 23 when I watched the Thomas confirmation hearings, and your support of him helped to convince me that women’s stories don’t matter much.

Of course, people can change, but if your views on sexual harassment are different in 2017, you need to be accountable for the major role you played in silencing women for 25 more years. Today, my three daughters are growing up in a sexist America with a president elected after he bragged about sexual assault and a supreme court justice confirmed after he was accused of sexual harassment. I hope you’re thinking about how different America would be today if back in 1991, you were the champion for women that you are now. Or maybe, you’re just a hypocrite.

Reel Girl readers, if you don’t want to watch the whole video, watch key quotes that show Biden’s hypocrisy here.

See Reel Girl’s Top 10 List Of “Progressive” People, Places and Things That Are Sexist

Reel Girl’s Top 10 List Of ‘Progressive’ People, Places and Things That Are Sexist

Because I’m so sick of the public referring to sexist people, places, and things as progressive or liberal, because sexism is everywhere and women are trapped in double-bind that is hardly acknowledged, getting little or no support from our “allies,” staying stuck in a matrix that doesn’t allow us to achieve real power, I came up with this list.

Reel Girl’s Top 10 List Of “Progressive” People, Places and Things That Are Sexist:

  1. Hollywood Hopefully, the stories of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assaults will be a turning point for Hollywood and the beginning of the end of the misogyny that runs rampant in the movie industry. My blog, started in 2009, is dedicated to reporting on sexism in Hollywood with a focus on children’s media and the toys and products that come from that media. Actress Emma Thomson just did a great job summarizing the systemic misogyny in ‘liberal’ Lala Land in reference to Weinstein’s behavior.
  2. The New York Times When this publication broke the story about Harvery Weinstein’s chronic sexual harassment and assault of women, the report was illustrated with a photo of Hillary Clinton with Weinstein. That’s right, Weinstein’s behavior is Hillary’s fault. The NYT is also the publication that kept stories going about Hillary’s emails and the “corruption” of the Clinton foundation throughout Hillary’s campaign. Aside from Hillary, I’ve blogged extensively about the many instances of sexism in the stories of the NYT, from what they choose to cover to the sources they use to cover it. My complaints have been posted in Letters to the Times. Just do a search on Reel Girl to see my posts on sexism at the Times.
  3. PBS I’ve blogged on Reel Girl about the lack of female protagonists on PBS shows  for kids including the dominance of male characters on well-loved programs like “Sesame Street,” and how the “educational station” can be more sexist than the Disney channel.
  4. Gandhi Twisted views about sexuality, bodies, and menstruation led Gandhi to treat women as lower than men, including his own wife, and to put the blame on women when they were raped or assaulted. I include Gandhi in my list to emphasize how crucial it is for women (and men) to have women leaders who fight for women’s rights around the world if we want to achieve equality.
  5. Martin Luther King Jr Like Gandhi, MLK focused on the misdeeds of women when it came to men’s sexual behavior. He didn’t allow women to be real leaders in his organization.
  6. Dr. Seuss With all of Dr. Seuss’s amazing creativity, the crazy-beautiful characters he drew, the names and the entire language he came up with, his spectacular imagination failed to stretch to include gender equality. Seuss’s characters are mostly male with even his crowd illustrations rarely featuring female characters. I’ve blogged a great deal on Reel Girl about Seuss’s sexism and though my blogs have been picked up and quoted by Jezebel  (a “women’s news” site) Seuss’s sexism is rarely acknowledged. Seuss is a huge influence on childhood and it’s tragic that along with learning to read, kids are learning sexism, that it’s normal for girls to go missing. Recently children’s author Mo Willems signed a letter condemning Seuss’s racism but sexism isn’t mentioned in the letter.
  7. Rock and roll and the music industry Men dominate the songs on Billboard’s Hot 100, get paid more, get covered seriously by more media, headline more concerts, objectify and degrade women in their lyrics, get called poets instead of boy-obsessed, don’t have to appear naked to sell music, and aren’t frequently sexually assaulted. Like Hollywood, the music industry is systemically sexist and misogynistic, exposed publicly most recently when singer Kesha fought in court to break her contract with producer Dr. Luke. Kesha’s story is only the beginning of tackling the unfair treatment of women performers.
  8. College campuses Right wings think tanks were started as an alternative to “liberal” and “progressive” college campuses, but these places are dangerous for women: 1 out of 5 female students is sexually assaulted at college.
  9. Museums Art is progressive, right? Once again, creativity is limited by sexism. Male artists earn more money, have more shows in galleries, and totally dominate museum shows and the permanent collections in the “great” museums around the world. And I thought girl children were supposed to be the artsy ones!
  10. My “progressive” male friends on social media: The men of Hollywood aren’t coming out to condemn Harvey Weinstein in the numbers that they should be, but what about my own male friends? While men I know and love regularly post about racism, police violence and other issues dear to their hearts, they rarely post about sexism and misogyny. My own posts about sexism rarely receive likes or shares or retweets from my male friends. Until our male friends join the fight for gender equality, prioritize it, consider it important, take action to support it, and stop being passive bystanders, women won’t get as far as we need to go.

My list is just a beginning, hopefully to publicize the wide reach of sexism and misogyny into almost every aspect of our lives. Feel free to add in my comment section your items of “progressive” people, places and things that are actually sexist.

Update:

#11 Joe Biden

Read today’s post on Biden’s hypocrisy.

Will Reel Girl’s official list grow to Top 20? Top 30? Top 100? Ugh.

 

 

“He was alternately generous and supportive and championing, and punitive and bullying”

Gwyneth Paltrow describes the aftermath of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment to the New York Times: “He was alternately generous and supportive and championing, and punitive and bullying.”

See Reel Girl’s post from yesterday. Like most abusers, Weinstein wasn’t abusive 100% of the time . What I wrote in a nutshell: contradictory behavior is how abusers confuse victims, keeping them paralyzed, quiet, and powerless.

No human is perfect but an abuser will rarely, or have a very hard time, taking responsibility for negative behavior. Abusers rarely give sincere apologies. Abusers don’t seek the support necessary to make change because they don’t want to change. Their behavior works for them. If their behavior doesn’t work for you, that’s your problem. Abusers lack empathy. While they may have episodes of seeming to understand your feelings, it’s from a clinical perspective, there’s little or no emotional resonance. They don’t feel what you’re feeling.

When 22 year old Paltrow told her boyfriend, Brad Pitt, about Weinstein’s abuse, Pitt approached Weinstein at a premiere. He told Weinstein never to touch Paltrow again. All of Hollywood was afraid to stand up to Weinstein, but young Pitt (“Thelma and Louise” Pitt?) did the right thing. So, men of Hollywood, the year is 2017. Why do I hear crickets? Don’t you think now is the time to publicly speak out against Weisntein and in support of your colleagues, the women of Hollywood? Women, everywhere, actually. I have to say, my whole blog, Reel Girl, feels pretty pointless when I’m trying to eek out powerful stories about women from this cesspool of misogyny.

 

Like most abusers, Weinstein wasn’t abusive 100% of the time

After I blogged about Hugh Hefner’s abuse and control of women, I got many comments about the positive contributions he made to the world. Whether you believe Hefner was truly an activist for some version of sexual liberation, gay rights, free speech, African-American journalists etc (and many don’t buy that, see comments on this blog, but some do, see Reel Girl’s FB page) or not: he still abused women. While Weinstein may have catapulted the careers of some actresses without harassing them and brought some great movies to fruition, he still abused women.

Most abusers don’t abuse all the time. If abusers were consistently and purely damaging, they would be much easier for victims to identify and liberate themselves from. But their abuse is much more manipulative than that.

Most abusers provide intermittent rewards. That means if we’re in an abusive relationship, with a parent, a partner, a boss, a “friend,” once in a while we hit the target. We get their praise, their love, admiration, attention, connection. The abuser’s inconsistent behavior towards us keeps us hooked, keeps us trying. We think to ourselves: “I know there’s a good person in there so if I’m being treated badly, it must be my fault. I must have done something wrong. I must be a bad person.” This false belief is helped along by the abuser’s blameshifting and projecting, telling us: You are bad, you are at fault.

Using experiments with rats and drugs, intermittent reward has been shown to elicit the most addictive behavior. Intermittent rewards makes us prone to gaslighting (when an abuser tells us our feelings aren’t real, our experience didn’t happen or is minimized, trivialized, or mocked, all to make us doubt ourselves, feel crazy and confused, thus vulnerable to more abuse.) We go through the evidence of the good things and think we’re supposed to ignore the bad things. We try to convince ourselves, they tried their best. Even if you believe Hugh Hefner and Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby and Woody Allen tried their best, women still suffered. Parents use this excuse as well: we tried our best, but they ignore the second half of the sentence: AND we suffered. In ignoring the suffering, in minimizing it, in refusing to acknowledge it, abusers get away with more abuse.  They continue to perpetuate it, just finding new victims if we manage to escape.

You’re not a bad person for calling out abuse. In fact, if you don’t call out abuse, if you don’t, as an adult, take responsibility to look at your suffering, to use your resources to get help, you pass the abuse on to the next generation. You pass on the debt to your children and they pass it on to their children. So misogyny goes on, generation after generation.

Please don’t comment here about all the great contributions Weinstein made.

How did Hugh Hefner help to fuck up your life?

Ding, dong the sleaze is dead.

I wish all the sexism and misogyny Hugh Hefner amplified and celebrated would die with him. Turns out, Hef gets to stalk into infinity: he paid $75,000 to be buried in the plot next to Marilyn Monroe.

It disgusts me that America (the world?) is celebrating this man.

Here’s an alumna’s comment from my fancy, I-was-so-lucky-to-attend-boarding school that many years later, was proven to be the site of numerous sexual assaults. Faulkner Fox writes:

At “Casino Night,” a required school event at St. George’s School, 14 and 15-year-old girls were asked to dress as playboy bunnies. Let’s just say it’s not one of my fondest childhood memories. All of the school’s sexism cannot be blamed on Hugh Hefner–of course not. But because of Hefner’s extraordinary cultural influence, one of the things we were asked to do–for fun–was dress as Playboy bunnies.”

Yes, we were 14 and 15. Sexism was so insidious at St. George’s and in life that all I remember caring about was how I looked in my bunny suit. I took down the yearbook pictures on Reel Girl of Casino Night and every sexist photo I had up of St. George’s that didn’t include me, because though the shame is on the school and not the girls shown, our culture is messed up and too many people don’t get that. I don’t have me in a bunny suit but I have this gem to share, a yearbook photo from St. George’s captioned: “Todd’s Toys.”

Do too many high school victims and witnesses of sexism grow up to perpetuate misogyny instead of becoming warriors for gender equality? Faulkner Fox thinks so. She wrote an open letter to another St. George’s alumn, Billy Bush, in the Providence Journal last year:

 

 Don’t worry: I don’t blame entitled guys like you for all the sexism and misogyny at St. George’s. You were young. I’m willing to give you some leeway. Plus I didn’t overlap with you at St. George’s — I am class of ’81; you are class of ’90 — so I don’t know how you actually behaved back then. Let’s say you never said or did one sexist or abusive thing before you got on that bus with Donald Trump in 2005.

What you did on that bus in talking with Donald Trump in 2005 directly relates to what happened to your St. George’s classmates. I’m talking about the creation and perpetuation of rape culture, the entrenched belief that women and girls don’t matter the way men do, that we are here to be grabbed, harassed, raped. Whatever a guy can get away with is fair game, worthy of laughter and high-fiving from other guys on the same messed-up bus.

Hugh Hefner helped to normalize and mainstream objectification of women. His vision touched us all. Got a personal story of how this “cultural icon” helped to infect your life with sexism? Please share it on Reel Girl.

To the white people waiting for the perfect protest: You’re on the wrong side of history

While teaching my three daughters about the importance of speaking out and taking action for what they believe in, most recently around the white nationalists coming to San Francisco, I’ve had to confront messages they’ve received that there’s no point to protesting. My kids learn the “I have a Dream Speech in school,” but that time had a beloved hero and was a clear case of right and wrong, while the current political situation is less noble, more unclear. I work to counter that narrative, telling them that their own seemingly small actions do have purpose and meaning, but I never made an analogy that the MLK’s time was also imperfect. I didn’t realize the same critiques from white moderates waiting on the sidelines, who agreed with the goal of equality but weren’t willing to do much yet, were just prevalent back then. I’m going to share with my kids this op-ed by clergy from the New York Times: “Waiting for a Perfect Protest? Here are some excerpts:

“Thanks to the sanitized images of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement that dominate our nation’s classrooms and our national discourse, many Americans imagine that protests organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and countless local organizations fighting for justice did not fall victim to violent outbreaks…

The reality — which is underdiscussed but essential to an understanding of our current situation — is that the civil rights work of Dr. King and other leaders was loudly opposed by overt racists and quietly sabotaged by cautious moderates. We believe that current moderates sincerely want to condemn racism and to see an end to its effects. The problem is that this desire is outweighed by the comfort of their current circumstances and a perception of themselves as above some of the messy implications of fighting for liberation. This is nothing new. In fact, Dr. King’s 1963 “Letter From Birmingham Jail” is as relevant today as it was then. He wrote in part:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action.”…

 

The civil rights movement was messy, disorderly, confrontational and yes, sometimes violent. Those standing on the sidelines of the current racial-justice movement, waiting for a pristine or flawless exercise of righteous protest, will have a long wait. They, we suspect, will be this generation’s version of the millions who claim that they were one of the thousands who marched with Dr. King. Each of us should realize that what we do now is most likely what we would have done during those celebrated protests 50 years ago. Rather than critique from afar, come out of your homes, follow those who are closest to the pain, and help us to redeem this country, and yourselves, in the process.”

Beware of flattery, it’s probably manipulation

Hi Reel Girl fans,

You haven’t heard from me for a while. That’s because when I went back and read the draft of my middle grade fantasy-adventure novel, I realized I’ve become a much better writer. The good news is I’m a better writer! The bad news is I’ve had to rewrite the beginning of the book. While I’ve written for my whole life, I’ve never done this genre before, and I’ve gotten pretty good at pacing. While my earlier draft was bloated, so far, I’ve shaved 50 pages off of Part One.

Whatever happens with this book, writing it has changed my life. I’ve learned so much. Now, I understand optimism is essential to creating art for me. While this lesson contradicts the stereotype of the suffering artist, I’ve run into plot hole after plot hole, and now I see that with creativity, I can find solutions to my problems. I think this process may also involve what people call “grit” or just plain resilience.

Here’s another big lesson I’ve learned that has rippled into every aspect of my life. Beware of flattery. I’m not talking about being suspicious if someone gives you a compliment, but if someone compliments you repeatedly for specific character traits, how great you are at something and how essential you are in their life, how special, how necessary, how important, how amazing you are, it’s likely you’re not being loved; you’re being used. I’ve learned that this type of flattery keeps you locked in a role that you’re performing for someone else. Flattery such as this is the enemy of growth and growth is essential to making art.

One example of how “flattery” can facilitate confinement is how women are “flattered” for being “beautiful.” We get to be on covers of magazines if we’re “pretty,” but often what’s really happening is our lives are being limited to serve others. We’re being kept small.

To write this novel, I’ve had to risk doing things I didn’t feel I was good at, to fall on my face and get up again. I hope I’m still doing that when I’m an old, old lady.

I can’t wait to share my book with you!

Margot

 

‘Riverdale’ BFFs Betty and Veronica defy sexist stereotypes about female friendship

Though I was an avid Archie reader as a child, I steered my 3 daughters away from the stories every time we went to the comic book store. I didn’t want my kids’ vivid imaginations colonized by the sexist, superficial, and endlessly repetitive dualism of dark-haired bad girl Veronica versus blonde, super-kind Betty, both competing over Archie, world class total goof. Even as a 10 year old, I never got what Betty and Veronica saw in that guy. He was such a bore. But when I watched the marketing for new Netflix series ‘Riverdale,’ the moody Gothic tone hooked me, from the  juxtaposition of the show’s title written in classic Varsity letter font, letters glowing blue, floating over ominous, looming pine trees, the tips lit by moonlight.

 

 

 

 

Then there was the picture of Betty sitting in a booth (obviously Pop’s diner) and instead of smiling, she’s looking at the camera like she has no trust at all for whomever is watching her. Next to Betty (next to Betty) is Veronica, arms crossed, her direct stare tells the camera: this show you’re about to see is my story. Across from them, Archie casually leans back, confirming Veronica’s message: he’s comfortable in his supporting role. His hair is no longer nerd orange but devil red.

Then I read ‘Riverdale’ described as ‘Twin Peaks’ meets ‘Gossip Girl’ and my family had a show to see. Last night, the 5 of us watched the finale of season one and ‘Riverdale’ lived up to my expectations which were not super-high but hopeful and intrigued. Throughout the series, Archie remains a factor in Betty and Veronica’s friendship, but the two girls deal with the complicated issue with honesty and respect and I was happy my kids (ages 8, 10, and 13) saw this depiction of navigating relationships through challenges. In the final episode, when Veronica talked through the Archie issue, she said to Betty something like: “At the risk of failing the Bechdel test, we have to talk about this.” If you read Reel Girl, you probably know, Veronica is referring to writer Alison Bechdel’s criteria for feminist fiction: the work must have (1) at least two women (2) who talk to each other (3) about something other than a man. ‘Riverdale’ passes with flying colors, and there are constant ironic, meta allusions to feminism and feminist media, mostly by Veronica.

‘Riverdale’ is far from perfect, it’s no feminist utopia. All the girls and their mothers share a body type. But the boys and their fathers are just as cut with Luke Perry of ‘90210’ fame playing Archie’s dad (dad!) and Skeet Ulrich rounding out the hunk factor as Jughead’s father. For me, the constant references to Archie’s 6 pack abs helped to justify why Betty and Veronica are so entranced while no reason was given or shown for their devotion in the comics of my childhood. Modern Archie is also a musician. Not only is the cast mostly thin, it’s mostly white. Josie and the Pussycats are African-American as are Josie’s parents. Robin Givens play Josie’s mom. Riverdale’s principal is African-American, but clearly, in ‘Riverdale’ white characters are front and center.

The best thing about the show is the friendship between Betty and Veronica. They support and admire each other, their characters are complex and dynamic. Also, Betty is actually BFFs with Archie as well, which, though it’s a complicated relationship, male-female friendship is not something my kids get to see much of in the media. Not only is the narrative is entertaining, it’s beautifully shot. My husband watches it with us too. Need one more reason to check it out? Molly Ringwald plays Archie’s mom.

Reel Girl rates ‘Riverdale’ ********HH*********

 

Why ’13 Reasons Why’ is Vital to a Teenage Girl

Clarissa Bird is a high school junior from Austin, Texas who is frustrated by the lack of female protagonists in the media and annoyed by the negative reaction from teens and adults to ’13 Reasons Why.’ She wrote this post defending the show for Reel Girl.

It’s not hard to find a reason to hate the show “13 Reasons Why.” I’ve gotten lengthy emails from my school principal and counselor on how dangerous the show is without proper adult supervision. I’ve had a friend tell me her parents wouldn’t let her watch the show after reading an article on how it glamorizes and simplifies suicide. I’ve seen the headlines on how the show neglects the underlying causes of self-harm and how the entire plot is driven by petty teen drama. And to an extent, all of these reactions are valid. The show has major faults ranging from the over-the-top stunning actors who are just a little too hunky to play teenagers to the unbelievable teen fantasy of getting a new car for homecoming to more serious issues like subtle victim shaming and simplification of a female protagonist.


But for all of its missteps, there is something about watching one of the main characters, Clay, roll around on his crummy bike trying to uncover Hannah’s story that had my eyes glued to the screen. There was some innate pleasure I took from watching this tragic, teenage girl’s life spiral out of control as love interests and friends continually pulled the rug out from under her. In fact I liked it so much I watched all 13 episodes.

But, upon hearing people in my math class condemn the show and all those who enjoyed it, I seriously started to wonder what the heck was wrong with me for watching it. I never even seriously considered how horrible the show was before hearing classmates rail on it. Am I a terrible, selfish, psychopath because I liked this show about teen suicide? Was I really that ignorant about mental health and suicide that I thought this girl’s actions weren’t so irrational? What made this show that turned my once down to earth, sensible, classmates into condescending, drama critics so addicting to me?

13 REASONS WHY

 

Hannah Baker’s relationship with her parents

Although the show is criticized for the fact that Hannah’s parents seem to be completely out of touch with their own daughter’s mental state, I found their relationship to be refreshingly relatable and not too far off base. One of my friends said that her main problem with their relationship was that the parents weren’t supportive enough, but it’s hard to support someone when they’re not really telling the whole truth. In “13 Reasons Why,” Hannah faces the familiar question of how much she’s really supposed to be sharing with her parents. Most high schoolers, including myself, tend to bend the truth or offer vague explanations in an attempt to satisfy the endless stream of parental inquiries. It’s a natural part of growing up to become more independent and this includes becoming more secretive and maybe not telling my parents exactly where I was last Saturday night or why I spend so much time “out with friends”.

A girl’s reality

“13 Reasons Why” does a great job of exposing all too common high school boy’s behaviors such as sharing non-consensual photos, objectifying girls through “best” and “worst” lists, and harassing and sometimes even assaulting girls. I loved watching it for this exact reason and from the moment I heard about the show I was excited to finally have a complicated, raw view of the teenage girl. As an audience we feel bad for Hannah when Justin shares intimate photos leading students to believe he had sex with her. We feel worse for Hannah when she kisses her friend on a dare and the rumor spreads she’s bisexual. We feel the deepest, gut-wrenching pain for Hannah when she’s raped. However, the show also reveals its moral universe as somewhere that Hannah’s rape can be labelled “worse” than her friend’s rape by the same boy, because in Hannah’s case she wasn’t drinking, smoking or flirting with the guy. And although I enjoyed the realistic portrait of a girl who can’t and won’t be pinned down or labelled as one thing, I was frustrated by Clay’s simplification of Hannah. He ultimately sees her as the victim of the school’s jocks, stalkers and petty girls and continually boxes her into the wholesome, girl-next-door character trope.

Inseparable from own life

One thing this show does painstakingly well is define a clear chain of events that leads to Hannah Baker taking her own life. From the first episode of the show, Hannah is portrayed as a normal, highschool girl who just wants to fit in at a new school. Although I knew the show ended with her suicide, I couldn’t help but root for Hannah hoping that maybe there was a twist ending and she was somehow alive. But, by the final episode I was in the same mental state as Hannah which I think is the major red flag for most people because the show seems to simplify suicide and blame other people for an ultimately self-inflicted act. I understood why Hannah couldn’t see a way to keep going. I could trace back all the horrible things that had contributed to Hannah’s current state from her being called the school slut, to her friends deserting her, to her going to a party and seeing her friend get raped, and later being raped herself. If this could all happen to the sweet, naive, painfully trusting girl then it could really happen to anyone. This contradicts the standard that only mentally ill people commit suicide and instead offers up the idea that maybe our own actions have a long-lasting result on other people’s mental state.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clay’s revenge

In “13 Reasons Why” we hear Hannah’s thirteen tapes through her charmingly innocent friend and love interest, Clay. Devastated, confused and overwhelmed by Hannah’s suicide, Clay listens to each tape and stews in the wrongdoings of his classmates. His anger gets the best of him in several scenes, like when he confronts Hannah’s stalker and when he gets in fights with the school jocks for tormenting and harassing Hannah. I couldn’t help but cheer as Clay brought justice to each perpetrator and I completely lost it when Clay went to Bryce’s (Hannah’s rapist) house to sneakily work a confession out of him. Episode to episode I couldn’t wait to see what Clay did next to somehow try and avenge Hannah’s death.

Answers

Ultimately, the main reason anyone picks up the show is try to figure why this girl killed herself. This show attempts to answer a question that may be impossible to answer over why anyone commits suicide. “13 Reasons Why” does this to the best of it abilities and although it has caused mass controversy, the show answers the burning question. Similar to murder mysteries like “Twin Peaks,” each episode clues the audience in on what really happened to Laura Palmer or in “13 Reasons Why,” why Hannah kills herself. While there’s a million problems with how the show portrays mental illness, female protagonists and suicide, I’ve got to admit every episode left me on the edge of my seat wanting more. It tells us that all these moments of Hannah finding out she has a stalker to being deserted by her best friends to being labelled as “easy” by every guy in school have led to her final decision to end her life. The show sucks you in by promising a concrete cause for suicide but the answer it gives seems simplistic, threatening and too widely applicable. Probably the biggest reason people have gotten so up in arms against the show is due the fact that they couldn’t help but watch the entire thing. I may be a drama-hungry teenager obsessed with answering every question I can, but it seems to me so is everyone else who watched the show no matter if they loved or hated it.