They are all innocent until proven guilty. But not me. I am a liar until I am proven honest.
~Louise O’Neill, Asking For It
[This was originally written for my the readers of my weekly newsletter in May 2017. I have edited it for publication here.]
For the first time ever I am putting a Content Warning here. In the paragraphs that follow I will be discussing rape and rape culture and some of my personal and professional reactions to the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why (Season 1) as well as some of my reactions to the criticism I have read about the show.
I understand and know personally how difficult the topics of rape, rape culture and suicide are for many of us. If they are difficult topics for you and/or if you are in a sensitive space today, I invite you to close his essay go give yourself some self care instead of continue reading.
Also please know that I believe you. 100,000%. Always.
If you would like to continue reading, scroll down a bit. If you don’t want to, please close this and go on about your day. (Note there are a couple spoilers to Season 1 below.)
I’ve read many criticisms of the graphic portrayal of suicide in the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. I’ve seen posts and articles railing against the “irresponsibility” of Netflix to “glorify” suicide and countless comments from mental health professionals (i.e. my colleagues) going on and on about how now there will be an epidemic of suicides across the country and how the show doesn’t once mention mental illness as the “real” cause of suicide, etc, etc, etc.
With every criticism, particularly from therapists and psychologists, I became more and more irritated. I disagree with their stance and opinions, yes, but my reaction was more visceral, more intense than a simple professional contradictory opinion. I was pissed. I was rolling my eyes. And at one point with one discussion I was literally shaking.
It took a conversation with my own therapist, or rather me being in a space to simply talk without interruption or needing to defend my opinion and reaction, to understand why so much rage was coming up with these comments and “professional statements”.
Where I came to was this:: Not a SINGLE therapist or counselor mentioned in any way, shape, or form the depiction of rape culture and how it contributed to Hannah’s suicide.
As I continued talking I realized how I feel many mental health professionals miss the mark when it comes to talking about topics like anxiety, depression, and even suicide. How they ignore the impacts living in this culture has on all of us. How living in a culture where women and girls are only seen as valuable when it comes to the male gaze. How sexual assault and harassment take their toll on our mental and physical health – DAILY. How witnessing rape and or being raped impact us to the point of considering and for some attempting suicide (According to the National Center for PTSD, it’s estimated that one in three women who have been raped contemplate suicide, and one in 10 victims attempt it.) How culturally it is more important to us to protect rapists than the person who was raped. (Remember how Brock Turner received an incredibly lenient sentence because the (white male) judge didn’t want to impact Brock’s precious future? Or more recently the backlash against Dr. Ford in her testimony against Brett Kavanaugh?)
These are not discussions we have historically had within the mental health community. It is only in recent years that any discussion of how our greater environment (including our culture) impacts our mental health. We, therapists and psychologists, seem to want to pretend that a person lives in a vacuum and that our mental health has nothing to do with our daily lives. And while there is acknowledgement that childhood experiences can and do impact our mental health, we don’t talk about the systems that create and allow those experiences to exist. (This is beginning to change, thankfully.)
I’ve said it before and will say it many times more:: We live in a culture that hates women.
And frankly the professional “outcry” about this Netflix series only emphasizes this truth.
If we (mental health professionals) think for one moment that living in a world where we (women) are considered less than human, where we are unable to earn an equal wage, where what we wear and where we choose to walk or socialize are up for dissection when we are assaulted or raped… if we think for one moment that none of this impacts our mental (and physical) health, then we should absolutely give up our licenses and find another line of work.
Because if we don’t believe these things impact us, we are doing far more harm than good.
Because if we don’t believe these things impact us, we are being complicit to a culture that causes great harm.
Because if we don’t believe these things impact us, we are being compliant and doing harm to our clients, friends, and family members ourselves under the guise of being “professionals” and “authorities”.
Rape culture is real. It is part of this world each of us lives in. It impacts all of us, in varying degrees. It causes harm. It can cause depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and attempts.
These are facts.
Those who experience rape and sexual assault (in any or all its forms) are not the only ones who are victimized by this culture either.
The people who perpetrate the rapes and assaults are victims too.
Because they are given the message, over and over and over again, that it is acceptable to objectify women and girls. Because they are given the message over and over and over again that no doesn’t really mean no. Because they are given the message over and over and over again that it is perfectly acceptable to take what they want, no matter what. Because they are given the message over and over and over again that they will not be punished for their crimes. Because toxic masculinity goes hand in hand with rape culture.
I am not saying that rapists and abusers are not responsible for their actions. They absolutely are. AND. They are also pawns in a system that subjugates women to a role of only being as valuable as the male we are attached to.
Bryce (the rapist in the series for those of you who have not watched it) is a victim. Not in the oh-the-poor-boy-and-his-future-Brock-Turner way. Rather in the way that he lives in a world that says there is nothing wrong with what he has done or continues to do. Because he was not taught about consent and boundaries from an early age. Because he was not taught that silence DOES NOT MEAN COMPLIANCE. Yes, he is responsible for his actions, as is every rapist and abuser, and we are responsible, due to our own compliance and complicity in this culture, for his actions too.
I am irritated (again) with my profession. I am irritated with the “outcry” they have against this show (and also the lack of outcry). I am irritated at my profession for historically not addressing rape culture. I am irritated at the world for not supporting victims and instead re-victimizing and victim-blaming them over and over and over again.
She shouldn’t have gone to that party.
She shouldn’t have gotten in the hot tub in her underwear.
She shouldn’t have drank so much.
She shouldn’t have worn that.
She shouldn’t have had her hair that way.
She shouldn’t have talked to him.
She shouldn’t have expected to NOT be raped.
She shouldn’t have expected anyone to stand up and speak up for her.
She had mental health issues.
It was all her own fault.
It was meant as a compliment.
She’s being too sensitive.
What a bitch.
She was asking for it.
Fuck. All. Of. That.
It is time that we as a culture start to name these attitudes. It is time that we stop victim blaming. It is time that we stop avoiding difficult conversations, including our own compliance and complicity in a culture that harms other humans.
It is time my profession pull its collective head out of its collective ass. (I am happy to be able to say that since the original publication of this essay, change has begun. And more change needs to happen still.)
It is time we begin to understand how living in this culture impacts us. It is time we stop blaming victims. It is time we begin to understand how deep the wounds and scars of cultural and ancestral trauma run.
It is time we stop causing the harm ourselves.
If you would like to read more essays like this one, you can subscribe to my weekly newsletter by filling out the form on this page.