5 Reasons Why I, a 43-Year-Old Woman, Binge Watched ’13 Reasons Why’


Over the recent spring break, I binge watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, based on Jay Asher’s book of the same title. I am not the target audience for this work, but I could not stop watching this story about adolescence, sexual assault, and teenage suicide. The following is a list of five reasons why I, a middle-aged woman, was enthralled with the story:

1. I teach high school social studies

When I returned to work on Monday, I felt myself scanning the faces of the adolescents that I teach in a large suburban high school north of Syracuse, NY. As I was getting through a lesson on the cold war, I began to wonder how many of my students sitting before me had watched the series? At least half of my class? What were their takeaways? Which character(s) were they most like? Which part of the story resonated with them? Who among these classes was suicidal? Were my students like me, did they continue to live with the characters like I was?

Occasionally a film or a book will strike a chord with my students. I had previously heard students discuss Jay Asher’s novel, but I think the movie will have a deeper impact on adolescents — a group that is tremendously visual. The story is slick, a California cool. If a tired old lady like myself felt compelled to binge watch this movie, adolescents will watch this on repeat. A myriad of conversation topics arise from this story — sex, alcohol, drugs, parents, school, sports, cliques — it covers the spectrum of the high school experience.

2. I have had students attempt suicide

Almost every year I hear about a student attempting suicide. Thankfully, I have not known a student to be successful, but every year at least one student whom I have taught attempts to kill them self. The school I teach in has wonderful social workers, counselors, and teachers, but schools are not equipped for mental health issues.

As a classroom teacher, I hear about the suicide attempts with a statement of confidentially. Teachers get bits and pieces of a student’s story. We hear things like: “Jimmy took a shotgun to the gut last night.” “Nicole took a lot of pills.” These students are absent for a time period. They return, and I am supposed to act like nothing occurred. My job is to teach facts, not to counsel. I am completely useless when it comes to my student’s mental health.

As I watched 13 Reasons Why I searched for signs that might be apparent to me in the reality of my teaching. The main character, Hannah Baker, continually showed me that she was so normal. She was interacting in a typical high school. The actress told the audience that there were no signs. There was only silence. Silence is the enemy.

3. I am raising two daughters

The stupid internet went out two nights in a row during the time when I could watch the series without my daughters’ awareness. So, I found myself hiding in my bedroom, the door shut, trying to keep my daughters away, as I finished watching the series. My twelve-year-old daughter was my biggest concern. She had caught me earlier and commented that her fifteen-year-old cousin was watching this. I said, rather abruptly: “You can’t watch this.” I said it so quickly. I had to protect my daughter. It wasn’t just the sex, it was the entire story that made me pucker. I just don’t think she is ready. I am not ready for her to see rape.

“You can’t watch this.”

However, it is not the sexual aspects of the story that bother me as much as the mental health issues. Two students in the story kill themselves and others locate weapons or escape with substances. As I watched the anguish of Hannah Baker’s parents in the film, I connected with their struggles. They were having financial difficulties and marriage problems. They were not “seeing” their daughter. I worried about my own parenting. Am I missing my daughters, especially the oldest? She is entering adolescence. I want to give her freedom. I want her to be independent and competent. I also want to be the wall that she swims to — I want to give her a safe place to rest and restore herself from a hurtful world.

If you are interested in exploring the parental side of this issue, Ijeoma Oluo, in her piece ’13 Reasons Why’ Scared The Shit Out Of Me — And It Should Scare You Too, does a fantastic job of explaining every parent’s worst nightmare.

4. I wanted to compare

I was curious to see if my own high school experience compared to the one portrayed in 13 Reasons Why. It held up. Although I graduated over twenty years ago, the setting of the story is iconic: the American High School. I also remember watching teenage movies in my youth. 13 Reasons Why was reminiscent of Pretty in Pink’s images of rich and poor kids. There were The Breakfast Club similarities with the cliques and the social outcasts. There were also times that I thought about the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, especially in terms of the pressure of sexual interaction.

However, my generation did not have fucking social media, and cell phones equipped with cameras that could instantly message the entire school. Images of our worst choices were not permanently stored for continual humiliation. My generation could escape school. We could go home. Adolescents today are tethered to their phones and are bombarded by drama, images, and a fake sense of intimacy.

5. I am Hannah Baker

And so is every girl. The female teenage body is the most objectified and fantasized image in the world. Every time the picture of Hannah Baker’s underwear peeking out of her skirt was passed around we understand why women are not yet equal. It is portrayed as “boys being boys.” When her ass is grabbed in public and rated the “best” rear end at her high school, nothing about her intellect is celebrated. When the student president reaches up her skirt as she drinks her milkshake, we witness the constant assault to her innocence — any ownership of her sexuality is eroded away. Her vulnerability is so raw that by the time she is raped it almost feels inevitable. As the crime is committed, the camera lingers on her expression — one of complete frozen resignation. Her soul is depleted and the sexual act evokes a scene of a veteran prostitute.


Ultimately, I will watch this movie with my daughters. I am confident that this story will come up in conversations with my students. The degree to which I am disturbed by this work is a positive force for my teaching and parenting. It is a wake-up call for me to see my students and my children in the world in which they need to navigate. Maybe I was not the target audience, but I urge anyone who loves an adolescent to watch this series.

Here is another article about ways teachers can discuss 13 Reasons Why: https://www.weareteachers.com/discussion-questions-13-reasons-why/

This piece on medium.com:  https://medium.com/@brownberryfarm/5-reasons-why-i-a-43-year-old-woman-binged-watched-13-reasons-why-5c1ca46f1cbb

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mommabrown'sblog

I write from where I am--a veteran public school teacher, a co-owner of a small business with my mechanic husband, and a mother of two busy daughters.

9 thoughts on “5 Reasons Why I, a 43-Year-Old Woman, Binge Watched ’13 Reasons Why’”

  1. I also binge watched, and when I read your reasons, I connected as follows:
    I’m also a teacher, and a parent (My kids are your age.)
    I have had both elementary and secondary students threaten to commit suicide. One kid, a kindergartener i was helping explained his picture to me…high building…he was on the edge. He was hospitalized that night.
    I have a twelve year old granddaughter in middle school.
    I remember suicides and attempted suicides during my kids’ high school years, two of their classmates.
    Your comment, “I am Hannah Baker” should resonate with all, women and men.

    Like

  2. We have a mutual friend and your blog was shared with me. I’m glad it was.

    Your blog is a good read. A few things jumped at me…

    1 – The actress told the audience that there were no signs. There was only silence. Silence is the enemy.

    (Silence is the enemy, INDEED. The things we see and feel, and do not say, these things eat at us, they are corrosive. We are pack animals, we need to talk, share, cry. If we hold onto our shit, we die, sometimes slow, sometimes fast. Either way, crying alone in the dark = death.)

    2 – You told one daughter: “You can’t watch this. I said it so quickly. I had to protect my daughter.”

    I’m glad to read that later you said: “Ultimately, I will watch this movie with my daughters.”

    I’m not an expert, but my gut says, watch it with your child (sitting by your side) and don’t delay. Because she (sure as shit) WILL watch it. And if she watches it without you, her peers get to answer her questions and not you.

    3 – You said: “My generation did not have fucking social media, and cell phones. My generation could escape school / fake sense of intimacy.”

    That’s a poignant observation. It’s a different world. We have to acknowledge changes in our societies, cultures, technology and put ourselves in these kids shoes. We can’t know what it was like to be their age in their time any more than they can know what it was like for us in our.

    Don’t tell them to suck it up. We’re the adults. Not only do we need to teach. We need to watch and listen. We need to learn from them. Our learning is not (better not be) done.

    4 – “Fake sense of intimacy.” I heard phrase in regards to social media before. It’s so true. I’m drawn to social media for same reasons as kids, as everyone. We are (all) separated in many ways and want to feel connected, but social media falls short and leaves us feeling a bit empty and disappointed. I get that. I feel it too. I look for more. I want better / more in exchange for my time / life.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am also a 43 year old woman who hid from my kids to watch this season. I have also been a psychiatric nurse on an inpatient unit for 8 years. My daughters are 11,12 and 15. I heard from some parents that this show was horrific and that they would never let their teenagers watch it. I know some parents are letting their kids watch it at will. I am not judging either as parenting is subjective. I thought this show was very well written. It definitely held my attention. As for letting my kids watch, maybe eventually if I watch with them and skip over the extremely graphic parts with a brief explanation from me. I will say that most of the series only involves language and activities that our kids are exposed to every day at high school. The graphic scenes are too much in my opinion. Suicide and suicidal ideation are much more common than people realize. I would say that this is was a large majority of my patients are hospitalized for. I think many people believe that talking about suicide will “put the thought in our children’s heads.” There have many studies that say this is just not true. Opening up a dialogue about suicide with teens or adults can help them to feel open to talking to someone if they ever are having these types of thoughts. Maybe it will save someone from being the next Hannah .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Michele, thank you for your reply. I agree wholeheartedly with your statement: “Opening up a dialogue about suicide with teens or adults can help them to feel open to talking to someone if they ever are having these types of thoughts. Maybe it will save someone from being the next Hannah.”

      Like

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