“13 Reasons Why” and Girls Blaming Themselves

An extremely sad and somewhat controversial Netflix show has now become popular: “13 Reasons Why” based on the novel by Jay Asher. There is a connection between the sexual issues in The Bluest Eye and “13 Reasons Why.” In The Bluest Eye, the idea of innocence is shown by Claudia and Frieda’s shame in seeing their father naked, while In “13 Reasons Why,” the idea of the innocence is represented by the main character, Hannah’s, shame in being sexually assaulted.

 

Hannah Baker is a high school girl just trying to fit in. On a first date, a boy comes onto her at a restaurant and reaches under the table to touch her inappropriately without her consent. She tells him to stop, and he continues to touch her and tell her to stop making a scene. Eventually, she shoves him off the booth seat onto the ground. Embarrassed that his jock friends were watching, he swears and yells at her in front of the entire restaurant of people—making her look like the one at fault. He leaves abruptly and tells his friends, “let’s go guys.” Hannah sits alone and reflects on her horrible experience, and while narrating, says she feels so embarrassed and ashamed. The keyword, innocence, comes into play here. Hannah is a virgin and a more conservative type of girl. The whole show contains moments where boys at her school try to get something out of her because they know she’s pure, in a sense. In the Keyword essay “Innocence” by Marah Gubar, the author asks, “is this habit of sexualizing purity a mere quirk of our own culture[?]” (Gubar, p. 121). It makes us think about this sexualization of purity in this story. Further, Hannah is seen as a target because of her purity and innocence.

 

Something similar happens on page 71 in The Bluest Eye when Claudia describes a time when they saw their father naked in the hallway. She tells us they felt ashamed. Obviously, this isn’t a case of sexual assault like described in the show above, but it’s sad to see consistency with women feeling this shame when they are in an uncomfortable situation involving sexual confrontation. Innocence in this case is exemplified by them being exposed to adult, indecent, visuals at a young age. They essentially “lose their innocence” because they are exposed to something that isn’t considered appropriate for children to see. They lose that sense of ignorance regarding adult sexual content.

 

Overall, it’s interesting to see the overlapping shame these two different characters feel, despite being in entirely different situations. There’s something to say for the woman or girl taking the blame to herself, feeling embarrassed, and guilty, even though someone did something morally wrong to them.

6 thoughts on ““13 Reasons Why” and Girls Blaming Themselves”

  1. I like how you brought up the blame situation when dealing with sexual assault. So many times, the victims feel like they are the ones to blame–which is so far from the truth. But unfortunately, society has created a stigma around sexual assault by blaming the victim. In my Abnormal Psychology class, it became a consistent trend that society placing high expectations and unfair judgments on women has led women to lead in the prevalence of disorders such as eating disorders and major depression. I think that how society connects innocence and women is an example of society placing expectations and judgments on a group. Innocence comes with such strict standards and connotation that straying a little out of the realm of what was deemed “innocent” makes society come down hard on the person. Great post!

  2. Although I have yet to watch the show, I’ve heard so much about 13 Reasons Why that I feel I have enough information to relate the themes of sexual assault in the show to the Bluest Eye. In both stories, getting sexually assaulted has severe and life-changing effects on their victims, very similar to what occurs in everyday life. It’s insane to think how often sexual assault occurs, with it happening to 1 in 4 women on our own campus. Assaults, then, can lead to diminishing health and grades, depression, and even suicide. Additionally, with the election of “he who shall not be named,” rape culture has been even further enforced, making many view “grabbing her by the P****” as something not to be taken seriously. I just hope that this show can help society and its viewers better understand the effects of bullying and sexual assault on everyone, even if I do see some problematic issues in the show overall.

  3. I think this is a very interesting comparison to bring to light. We have talked about how many of the issues and feelings the girls felt in “The Bluest Eye” are similar to things we experience today. This comparison to “13 Reasons Why” demonstrates the similarities in a contemporary context.

  4. I am really glad that someone used “13 Reasons Why” as an example of sexuality and innocence because I think it portrays many ideas that circulate when discussing girlhood. I think that innocence is not only idolized in the show/book, but I think it makes a powerful statement about the image of innocence in real high schools today. From personal experience, innocence was definitely put on a pedestal. Although there were many guys who liked girls that were said to be “easy,” there was some weird fascination around the idea of purity and the thought of being with a girl who was “innocent” in the sense of sexuality. I don’t know how innocence became such a treasured aspect of a girl, but I definitely saw it throughout my high school dynamic; although never to the extent that “13 Reasons Why” displays it. It makes me wonder if a majority of high schools are like this, or if it is a rare occasion to see innocence as the ideal quality of young girls.

  5. I wrote about something similar in my blog post dealing with victim blaming. It’s something that occurs far too often and is often so overlooked. I really like how you picked out a piece from such a popular show right now. I think also that moment can show just how much something like that can affect a person. It’s not always just “who takes the blame” but rather who is affected by it. This changes the way people view Hannah and there are other instances seen in the show as well displaying and talking about Hannah’s dress, body, or actions as fully representative of who she was. Many of the teens also say things like “she was asking for it” or that “she brought it on herself”. Fingers shouldn’t be pointed, but everyone in society as a whole should be more mindful of circumstances and situations in which someone shouldn’t be held accountable for taking the blame.

  6. As I read this, I immediately thought of another connection between “13 Reasons Why” and “The Bluest Eye.” There is one part in “The Bluest Eye” that really stuck out to me. It was the part where people around the town where blaming Pecola for her father raping her, and how she was some how at fault for what happen. No one was feeling sorry and sympathy for her except Claudia and Frieda, and I found that so wrong. Then there was a part in “13 Reasons Why” were I know others, and not just myself, where upset and confused about. The part where the group was discussing how Bryce raped the girls, and Courtney pitches in “alleged rapist.” Many of the other group members also get made at her for not believing Hannah about what Bryce had done to her. It seems like the same problem in the two, of people still not believing and listening to the victim, but putting guilt on them, is still a big thing wrong with society today. It’s said that a victim can’t feel safe coming forward after something as tragic as that happened to them.

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