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How “13 Reasons Why” Handled Male Sexual Assault in The Least Sensitive Way

The following is an article submitted by my good friend, DC-MarvelGirl 1997. We’d both been working on pieces about “13 Reasons Why” and she was generous enough to submit this. She tackles an issue that I was very hesitant to write about and for that, I thank you. She does great work on her website, which I encourage everyone to visit.


We live in a world filled with double standards. It’s by far one of the biggest diseases we have in society. I’m not putting this to the same standards of COVID 19, which is by far the deadliest pandemic we’ve ever faced in worldwide. Double standards are a different kind of disease, meaning they breed this false sense of contentment. And no, I’m not just referring to the Theon Greyjoy memes, which are truly sad and pathetic. I’ll admit it. When I look up those memes, I at first chuckle. But then I remember why they were made, and it is to point out that Theon no longer has his penis. Suddenly, those memes are no longer funny.

Theon

As much as I wish this article is about those Theon Greyjoy memes, it’s not. That’s what’s painful for me. This article is about the frankly piss-poor representations of male sexual assault in entertainment. And no, I am not referring to Burt Reynolds’ “Deliverance,” which was one of the first movies to put rape of a man into a scene. At least with that movie, it was done well. Even made for TV films like “The Rape of Richard Beck” did it better, because with “The Rape of Richard Beck,” now known as “Deadly Justice,” they blacked it out before the rape happened.

What I’m referring to is the rape scene from the season 2 finale of “13 Reasons Why.” It was the scene that made many people throw up watching it. For those of you who watched it, you know what I am talking about.

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Now, I’ll admit it. I never watched “13 Reasons Why,” because it was banned from my household by my mother. And after hearing about how the show got progressively worse, I’m glad I didn’t watch any other episodes beyond the pilot. It’s a show that psychiatrists cautioned teenagers from watching, because it could be triggering to those thinking about suicide. Not only does it send the contrived message that you can use suicide to get revenge, but it handled male sexual assault in one of the worst ways possible. Because I’ve never watched the show for myself, I had to do a little bit of research on the “13 Reasons Why” wiki pages, and look up articles critiquing it. The male rape scene centers around the character of Tyler, who gets sodomized with a mop handle by a character named Montgomery. Not only was the scene unnecessarily graphic, triggering, and disturbing leaving many either crying, getting sick, or feeling disgusted, but the aftermath of it all is what I’m most critical of.

I understand that “13 Reasons Why” wanted to show that men can be raped as well. But their delivery was terrible. Like I said, the scene was downright disgusting and stomach-churning. But they didn’t bother showing Tyler doing something effective to get the bullying to stop. It doesn’t help that the teachers in the show are portrayed as incompetent of seeing what’s right in front of them, giving this sense that you cannot even trust your teachers to keep you safe. But the show didn’t bother giving us scenes of Tyler handling the aftermath with maturity. They just cut to him wanting to shoot up a school dance, mirroring the Columbine massacre which is one of the most devastating tragedies in US history.

Let’s just say, I would have handled this rape scene and aftereffects a lot differently.

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If I were to write out that rape scene between Tyler and Montgomery, I would have shown the graphic violence of Tyler being drowned in the toilet and having his head slammed against the mirror. Then, I would have an extreme close-up of Montgomery’s hand reaching for the mop handle as the camera shakily backs away to display him leaning over Tyler’s back. Then, the scene would fade to black, signifying what’s to come. After that, I would have it fade into Tyler sitting on the bathroom floor with his pants down. That to me is more than enough to let the viewer know what happened, without giving you every, horrible detail of what happens. Then, there would be other scenes I’d add in.

How about having Tyler go to a hospital to be examined by a doctor? All the signs could be there, showing he’d been raped, but the doctor neglects to acknowledge this and that’s one of the things that pushes him.

How about showing Tyler being interviewed by police, but an officer telling him he was asking for it? That would also give him a reason to want revenge.

The reason why I put those two suggestions above, is because male rape isn’t given the same consideration as female rape. When a female is raped, it becomes a world-wide news story. When a man is raped, it’s not treated the same way. I tried to research cases of male rape in the recent years, and you wouldn’t know if there was, because the news doesn’t talk about it. Look at cases such as Corey Feldman and Brent Jeffs. Brent Jeffs I’m just mentioning, because his story is downright heartbreaking. He was raped by his own uncle, Warren Jeffs, the head of the FLDS. Jeffs’ story is one that many do not consider at all. Of course, people have the knowledge that Warren Jeffs raped and molested boys and girls alike, but they often forget to acknowledge that boys in that “church” were raped. They’re blinded by how horrifically the women and girls in that “church” are treated, that they forget about the boys. That to me is the saddest thing.

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If “13 Reasons Why” bothered displaying how the criminal justice system fails to acknowledge male rape victims, then that would have been a much more powerful impact than Tyler trying to shoot up a school.

Overall, “13 Reasons Why” failed in a major way to display consequences of male sexual assault. They neglected important details with the character of Tyler, and didn’t even bother showing Tyler going to the authorities until season 3. And the fact that Montgomery was just arrested on the spot for raping Tyler, when there’s no rape kit having been done? I don’t buy that for one second.

However, keep in mind, they did the same thing with Hannah Baker in season 1. She didn’t go to the police reporting teachers’ negligence. She didn’t go to a hospital to be examined by a doctor. She just blamed everyone for her suicide with tape recordings, claiming it to be all their fault when she didn’t bother going to higher authority for help. And the fact that they display her mother blaming everyone as well? To me, that’s even more pathetic. I understand that you are hurting because your daughter took her own life and that she was raped. But she also failed to get help beyond going to a guidance counselor, who clearly wasn’t doing his job.

Therefore, do yourself a huge favor, and do not watch “13 Reasons Why.”

DC-MarvelGirl 1997

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The (Many) Reasons Why “13 Reasons Why” Fails At Confronting Serious Issues

There’s a place for mindless, shallow, escapist entertainment in this world. I would argue that place is even greater now as we cope with a global pandemic. Sometimes, you just want to turn your brain off, watch your favorite superhero movie or Michael Bay explosion-fest, and enjoy yourself. There’s nothing wrong with that.

There’s also a place for entertainment that attempts to have a meaningful, serious conversation about a real-world issue. I’d also argue that kind of entertainment is more important now than it was last year. I know this kind of entertainment is risky, especially when it tackles taboo subject or social politics. Sometimes, that effort evokes distress, disgust, or outright hate. It’s still worth doing.

However, that kind of media can be counterproductive when it gets an issue wrong, flawed, or ass-backwards. When the conversation it attempts to have is misguided or contrived, then its effects can be outright damaging.

This is how I feel about “13 Reasons Why.” It’s one of Netflix’s most serious shows in that it attempts to confront serious, painful issues. From teen suicide to bullying to sexual assault to mental illness, this show attempts to portray these issues in a way that helps us talk about them. I respect that goal. I think the show’s creators, actors, and producers had good intentions.

I also think they failed in too many critical ways.

I don’t just say that as someone taking the time to critically analyze a show. As someone who was a miserable teenager, I really wanted this show to start this conversation. I wanted it to send a good, meaningful message through its morbid themes. After the first season, I was very disappointed and a little depressed.

The premise of the show has the right ingredients. It revolves around the suicide of Hannah Baker, a teenage girl who took her own life and left pre-recorded tapes behind for her fellow students, namely Clay Jensen, to follow. The story attempts to explore what led Hannah to this grim decision that left her family, friends, and community devastated. Unfortunately, in doing so, it starts the wrong conversation.

That’s not just my opinion. Organizations like the National Association of School Psychologists and the United States Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology have criticized the show for how it depicts suicide. It has also been linked to an uptick in suicides and suicidal ideation among teenagers. Now, that might just be an unlinked correlation, but it’s still a distressing sign.

Then, there’s the plot of the show itself. This is where I felt the show really lost sight of its mission because, as a show, there’s a need for drama. Unfortunately, incorporating that drama undermines the conversation and, in some cases, turns it against itself.

Beyond the graphic depictions of Hannah’s suicide, which was received so negatively that was subsequently cut out, the whole show is built around a world of teenage caricatures that don’t exist in the real world. It portrays a world that relies heavily on stereotypes, gives little depth to characters no named Hannah or Clay, and makes every issue seem overly simplistic.

That’s good for dramatic moments and concise plots, but not for having real conversations about complicated issues. The people in Hannah’s life, from her parents to her friends, barely function as background characters. The authority figures, namely those in the school or in the police, are even worse. They’re essentially portrayed as never caring in the slightest, only seeing teenagers like Hannah as a nuisance.

For a show that wants to have a real conversation about teen issues, this is a terrible message. Teenagers already have an incomplete view of the world. Many of them already think nobody cares about them. The sequence of events in “13 Reasons Why” only confirms that. How is that supposed to help any teenager who might be contemplating suicide?

That’s still not the worst part, in my opinion. If “13 Reasons Why” has one glaring flaw, it’s how Hannah’s suicide essentially affirmed her motivations. To some extent, Hannah got exactly what she wanted when she killed herself and made those tapes. She punished the people she held responsible. Her story became the story that everyone talked about.

This isn’t just a terrible message with a depressing premise. It effectively misses the entire goddamn point in the conversation about suicide and teenage issues. In effect, Hannah doesn’t commit suicide because she’s clinically depressed or mentally ill. She does it as a very graphic “Fuck you!” to a world that didn’t listen to her.

It doesn’t just hurt her family. It doesn’t just cause more pain to her friends, some of which genuinely tried to help her. It gives the impression that suicide will make someone relevant. It’ll make everyone who didn’t care suddenly care. It ignores the pain caused by someone’s suicide and focuses on how it punishes those who wronged her.

Hannah was wronged. There’s no doubt about that. She was outright raped. She was a legitimate victim. If the show had decided to focus only on sexual assault and avoid suicide altogether, it might have sparked a more meaningful conversation.

However, the show grossly simplifies her issues, as though one egregious act is all it takes to send her overboard. People, even teenagers, tend to be more complex than that. On top of that, Hannah is shown to make bad choices and take little responsibility for her actions. We, the audience, are supposed to sympathize with her, but she makes that more difficult than it should be.

I wanted to like “13 Reasons Why.” I really did. I wanted it to further an issue that I think should be addressed. I was genuinely disappointed with how it panned out. The fact the show got multiple seasons only made it worse, rendering every serious issue as little more than a catalyst for drama. I don’t recommend this show to anyone if they want to confront issues like suicide and depression.

Ironically, if not tragically, Netflix already has a show that addresses these issues in a much more meaningful way. It even manages to do this with cartoon characters that depict humanoid horses. Yes, I’m referring to “Bojack Horseman.”

I understand it’s a cartoon. I also understand it’s a comedy that’s meant to make you laugh at times. However, the fact it still manages to depict the real struggles of depression and mental illness in a relevant only makes “13 Reasons Why” more tragic in the grand scheme of things.

These are serious issues that deserve serious conversations. If you can’t start that conversation better than a cartoon horse man, then you’re doing something very wrong.

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Why More Men Are Confiding In Sex Workers

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Where do you turn to when you need to confide in someone? Who can you trust to listen to your problems, not judge you, and show you basic human decency? Some people are lucky enough to have one or more person they can turn to during difficult times.

For me, it’s my parents. Both my mother and my father have always been there for me, no matter what I’m going through. I can tell them anything and I know they’ll listen. They won’t judge me. They won’t tell me to just suck it up. They’ve helped me through some pretty difficult times and I love them deeply for that.

Some people aren’t as lucky. They don’t have close friends or family members they feel they can turn to. This is especially true for those with poor social skills or severe social anxieties. These issues affect everyone, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. However, in recent years, the impact on men has been more pronounced.

As a result, some of those men have been turning to an unexpected source when they need to confide in someone. It’s not friends, family members, or licensed therapists. It’s sex workers. While there are plenty of ugly politics surrounding sex work, some of which I’ve discussed, this unusual phenomenon makes sense, albeit for tragic reasons.

Rather than speculate on those reasons, I’ll let Nicole Emma share the distressing details from her recent Ted Talk. While I strongly recommend everyone to listen to the full lecture, this one anecdote she shared nicely sums up the issue.

“Yesterday, a miracle happened. Since my wife passed, I’ve been very lonely. I haven’t so much as been hugged in over two years. I’m not handsome. I’m not rich. I don’t know how to talk to women, but you held me. You rubbed my back. You listened to me vent about my grief. This might just be a job for you, but today you saved my life.”

Think about this aside from the fact that a man hired a sex worker. This man was lonely, having lost his wife and not experienced much physical intimacy since then. He’s not some charismatic character from a beer commercial. He’s just an ordinary man with the same basic needs as everyone else. He felt like he couldn’t meet those needs so he turned to a sex worker.

Why he felt this way is difficult to surmise, but as a man, I can make a few educated guesses. Like it or not, there’s a stigma associated with men who share their insecurities. I learned that first-hand last year when I dealt with the death of someone very close to me. Even though I was comfortable confiding in my parents, I still felt inclined to hold back.

I know I’m not the only man who has felt this and there are people far smarter than me who have studied this. There are many factors behind this taboo. Some will blame “toxic masculinity,” a flawed concept at best. Others will attribute it to certain expectations about men that we simply don’t scrutinize as much as we should.

Regardless of the cause, the issue comes back to having few outlets for their feelings. Not everyone can afford a therapist and some are even reluctant to share these sentiments online. Given the prevalence of trolling these days, I can’t say I blame them. In that context, a sex worker is in a perfect position to help these men.

Yes, I’m aware that may be a poor choice of words.

Logistically, it provides them with something clear and transparent. The man knows what the woman wants. The woman knows what the man wants. The price is clear and predetermined. There’s no uncertainty or mixed messages.

Beyond the logistics, the exchange fulfills some of basic of needs. There’s actual, physical intimacy. There’s no screen between the man and the sex worker. There’s real human contact and that, in and of itself, provides significant health benefits. Add the inherent health benefits of orgasms and the impact of a sex worker can be more therapeutic than any therapist.

Even without the sex, a sex worker offers the man something that’s difficult to find, even in today’s hyper-connected world. For once, they’re with someone who will listen to them in a way that’s objective, unbiased, and free of judgment. A sex worker may see them as a client, but part of their work involves providing intimacy. Oftentimes, the line between physical and emotional intimacy isn’t clear.

Ms. Emma, having been a sex worker for years, understood that and, based on her personal testimony, she did her job very well. That man she referenced benefited from having that kind of intimacy. Unlike a therapist or a counselor, she didn’t treat him as someone who was sick or in need of medication. She just treated him as a lonely man who needed some intimacy.

I think many men can empathize with that situation. I doubt don’t that women can empathize with it as well. Sometimes, you don’t want therapy and you don’t want the complexities of other social interactions. You just want someone who provides a service that allows you to feel some basic level of emotional and physical intimacy.

Regardless of how you feel about the legality of prostitution or the men who hire sex workers, there’s no denying that this sort of intimacy is a fundamental need. We’ve seen what happens when people don’t get it. In recent years, we’ve seen it get downright ugly and hateful.

People need emotional and physical outlets, regardless of gender. The fact that sex workers are the primary outlet for some men is emblematic of a much larger problem. Beyond the taboos, stigmas, and misguided gender politics, we’re still human. We all still seek intimate connections. Without it, people will suffer and ignoring that suffering will only make it worse.

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