We Need to Talk about Hannah Baker

Netflix “13 Reasons Why”

Just a quick recap for those lucky enough not to be embroiled in the increasingly difficult life of a teenager in today’s world, either by being one, teaching one or parenting one. Hannah Baker is the main character of Netflix’s latest teen drama “13 Reasons Why.” She is also a dead girl. Spoiler Alert. In “13 Reasons Why” Hannah Baker commits suicide and leaves behind a box of thirteen cassette tapes, yes cassette tapes, explaining why she killed herself. Each tape stars a schoolmate that was in Hannah’s mind some way responsible for her decision to kill herself. Okay, now that we are all up to date things are about to get annoying.

We are to believe that Hannah Baker is the typical high school girl and this is why we desperately need to talk about Hannah Baker. Hannah is the new girl, she is somewhat shy, but not cripplingly shy. She has one friend who invites her to a back to school party and shows her the ropes, she has a job at the local movie theater and overall seems to be well liked. So far the hollywood version of the typical high school student. Unfortunately this is where things go terribly wrong. She goes on a date with a popular guy and all seems great in high school land, but the next day he shows his friends some photos of her that seem lewd but are really just out of context and then the lies begin. He claims that he and Hannah did “things.” His friend texts the photo to the whole school along with the lie and false claims and bing, bang, boom, a slut is born.

Many schools across the country have banned discussions and mention of the series in school either out of fear of copycat suicides or fear that the schools and their administrators will be brought to task for inadequate bullying prevention programs. This is a colossal mistake. This series should be TAUGHT in schools episode by episode. It provides perfect teachable moments not only focused on teenage suicide, rape and bullying, but simply on “what would you do differently” scenarios. Each episode provides multiple examples of how our message and attempts to empower our teenage daughters have failed. If we are to believe that Hannah Baker is a typical teenage girl, then where have we gone wrong? As parents? As teachers? As a society?

In the same episode Hannah learns of the photo and false claims while in class with Justin, her date from the night before, instead of standing up and calling him a liar to his face, right there in front of everyone, she hides in shame and embarrassment. This is a reocurring theme throughout the series. Often Hannah states that she couldn’t speak or couldn’t move and just did nothing. This inability to stand up for herself is frustrating and concerning considering that as parents and teachers we have been striving to empower young women to stand up for themselves and not to take crap from anyone.

This is only one reason why we need to talk about Hannah Baker. I fear, that contrary to our own beliefs that we have succeeded in empowering our daughters to speak out, that there are too many Hannah Bakers’ out there and that our message hasn’t been reaching young women like we thought it was. We need to continue our efforts to spread this message, but more importantly we need to open a dialogue to discuss what more can be done and why this message isn’t being received, because we cannot allow Hannah Baker to be the average high school girl. We really need to talk about Hannah Baker.

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