Look past Bryce’s storyline for a moment and you’ll see the really terrifying thing 13 Reasons Why teaches us about rape culture
What you may have missed on your emotional binge watch
Since 13 Reasons Why – the Netflix adaptation of Jay Asher’s 2007 book – dropped earlier this week, there have been thousands of words online dedicated to how amazing it is, how much it does justice to the original source material and how well it handles issues of bullying, suicide, grief, and rape.
The series, which follows high school junior Clay after Hannah Baker’s suicide, has been critically acclaimed across the board, and not just because of how watchable it is as a mystery that unfolds over 13 episodes, but as a didactic tool for people struggling with mental health issues. 13 Reasons Why has 93 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes – but it also helped encourage a 100 per cent increase in calls to a suicide hotline in Brazil.
It’s been praised most perhaps, for its depiction of rapist Bryce Walker, who attacks a sleeping Jessica at a house party, before raping Hannah shortly before she commits suicide. Bryce’s characterisation is striking because it’s so realistic – he’s a popular, arrogant, wealthy, athletic student, so his crimes and behaviour are kept largely under the rug. It’s what happened in Steubenville, it’s what happened in Stanford, it’s just how things are.
In an article for Bustle Samantha Rullo writes how it’s Bryce’s relatability which makes him so terrifying – “Bryce is the captain of a game-winning football team. He is a good friend to Justin. He is the guy you rolled your eyes at when he yelled something obscene at you in high school.
“And he is a rapist. The Bryces of the world are all over the place.”
But it’s not Bryce’s character which stuck with me watching the series – it was what happened afterwards, and how depressingly realistic that could be too. After being attacked by Bryce Hannah makes her 13 tapes and talks about the catharsis of the experience. She gives herself a second chance on life, and goes to see Mr Porter, the school counsellor, to talk about her problems. It’s the step that everyone is advised to do, but it’s what ultimately convinces Hannah to give up.
Porter asks Hannah the questions countless women have been asked while reporting an assault – “did you fight back”, “did you tell him no”. Ultimately unconvinced by her responses, Porter convinces Hannah that convicting Bryce of the crime would be near-impossible, and advises that she basically just moves on with her life, something she feels completely unable to do.
If Bryce represents the Brock Turners of the world, the assaulters protected by their social standing and reputation, then Mr Porter represents our reaction, still, to women who report rape. To question and pry and respond with cynicism, rather than support.
Up to 80 per cent of women still don’t report sexual assault and rape, for fear of that very thing happening to them, a fear of being judged and not believed. Until we change that, there will unfortunately always be Hannahs in real life, just like there are Bryces.