13 Reasons why “ripped from the headlines” clash

Still, as a viewer, I highly doubt that I was alone in hoping that Bryce would be incarcerated for raping Jessica, and Hannah, despite Jessica’s realistic, and utmost fear that being honest would have negative repercussions. His punishment would have been a win, not just for Hannah’s family and friends, and Jessica, but all female viewers who are, or have been, physically and emotionally abused by men.

In Season 1, Jessica’s trauma was visible to viewers, but not fully addressed by her in words. It was shown through behaviors such as excessive drinking and emotional outbursts. Only at the end of the season, when she was about to confide in her father, did it seem as though she would come to terms with having been raped by Bryce, and possibly fight back.

Season 2, with various narrators, Jessica being one of them, highlights the idea that women should tell their stories in hopes of seeking justice for themselves, and future victims. I watched it on its release date from start to finish, and came away devastated by the unjust outcome of Bryce’s trial, which my friend from Summer Literary Seminarssaid, “was ripped from the headlines.”

It was difficult to watch the justice system fail Jessica, and how Tyler Downs, another Season 2 narrator, was accurate in his statement, “People tell lies about you, and other people believe them.” Much like Harvey Weinstein claiming innocence in the wake of the MeToo movement, Bryce altered the story that he raped Jessica by spreading rumors around Liberty High that Jessica had cheated on her boyfriend, Justin Foley, who was Bryce’s best friend at the time, with him, and that it was consensual sex, not rape. Bryce had what Hannah’s mother, Olivia Baker, calls, “protectors and enablers,” in his coach, friends, and girlfriend, Chloe Rice.

Chloe carelessly tells Jessica what Bryce said about her, making it known that men like Bryce use their privilege and power to destroy women, quickly moving on to the next victim who buys into his speeches about loyalty, and faux earnest smiles that gain women’s trust, particularly those starting out at Liberty High with no true understanding of his sociopathic intentions. It is frightening how accurate Jessica is when she later snaps at Chloe, “You’re just as clueless as I fucking thought.”

If Hollywood actresses initially knew that Harvey Weinstein violated women he promised, or gave acting jobs to, none of them would have gone to his hotel room to meet with him about work. Had Bill Cosby’s behavior been on the table too, women would not have put themselves in vulnerable situations, such as drinking, with him. If Chloe had known Bryce, a man she said to his mother was “so sweet,” had raped her while she was stoned and allowed his friends to photograph it at a jock hideaway called “The Clubhouse,” she wouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss the idea that her boyfriend was a rapist.

Another issue that Season 2 tackles is how women respond to their abusers, and sometimes, fail to sever ties with them, or become confrontational, even when it is well deserved. At school, Bryce greets Jessica warmly, even having the nerve to touch her arm and say they should get a drink sometime, a disgusting irony that causes her to respond with, “A drink?” and an obviously painful “whatever.”

It is easy for him to pass her off as a troubled liar when he has not been held accountable for raping her, or Hannah, even though Hannah’s tapes include him saying, “Every girl at this school wants to be raped.” Victim blaming seems to be how things work at Liberty High, and in the real world, too. If a woman went to Harvey Weinstein’s hotel room, she was said to be at fault for what came afterwards.

Where 13 Reasons Why is also truthful, is that it addresses how healing from trauma is a process, not an immediate response to unforgiving circumstances. Jessica goes from freezing up in the hallway when her friend, Alex Standall, screams after Bryce, “Fuck you, you fucking rapist,” to facing him in court, addressing him directly with a speech about him raping her, and a request to the judge that can easily bring women to tears.

During the court scene, I was very angry about how unaffected the judge is when Bryce’s lawyer compares Bryce’s lost scholarships to Jessica’s lost dignity. I’d wanted so much for Bryce to be convicted, and for the smug smile he constantly wore to be permanently distinguished as he faced the judge wearing the glasses his lawyer said made him “look more empathetic.”

I have also come to (sadly) realize that Bryce being punished on a full scale would have made the story wrap up too neatly, and not in a way that represents reality. There are women who have to face their abusers daily at home, school or work, or watch them on television winning awards and acclaim from people who don’t know who they really are beyond their professional accomplishments.

And even though the 13 Reasons Why creators made Jessica face the same fate, there was something beautiful about her transformation that I hope other viewers picked up on as well; the way she’d said to Clay in Season 1, “You want me to tell the whole goddamn world what happened to me?” about Bryce raping her, as if that was a ludicrous idea because she felt so ashamed. And then, in Season 2, she did.