Season 2 of 13 Reasons Why has been out for less than a month, and despite the backlash it’s receiving, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t done plenty right. This important show tackles some incredibly heavy themes, many of which are aimed not at teen viewers but at adults (and especially parents of teens). That said, there are numerous scenes sprinkled throughout the show that give a heavy nod to feminism—ones which I believe older teens would definitely benefit from seeing. From two character’s mutual virginity losses to the #MeToo-inspired montage in the final episode, here are some of the most empowering feminist moments of the season.
Warning: There are plenty of spoilers below. Please proceed with caution.
Justin calling Clay out on his slut-shaming.
One of the major things to come to light in this season, is the fact that Hannah was sexually active. In season one, we are left with the assumption that Hannah was a virgin until Bryce raped her. However, we later find that Hannah did have sex—with Zach. The show continuously depicts how women (of all ages) are dragged whenever they show a potential sign of having had any kind of sex life. It also shows how you’ll still be dragged, even if you never did anything with anyone. When Clay finds out about Hannah’s past, he begins to feel differently about her, as though she’d committed a crime. In one scene, he talks to Justin about how he’s feeling and Justin lays it out for him. He explains that as a male, he’s been applauded for sleeping with several girls and that he thinks it’s ridiculous to judge Hannah for having slept with one person and essentially calls Clay a “dumbass.” Truer words were never spoken.
Courtney’s Queer Happy Ending.
If you’re familiar with TV tropes, you might know about the Bury Your Gays trope, which essentially tells audiences that queer folks don’t have happy endings (they either die or have some other unpleasant finale). Fortunately, none of the characters succumb to it. In this season, we get to hear from Courtney just what happened between her and Hannah. We see Hannah reject her, but also show her some kindness. We also see Courtney bravely come out on the stand. More importantly, by the end we find Courtney comfortable in her sexuality—attending the dance with her date. Tony also makes strides in his relationship with his boxing instructor, whom he also attends the dance with (though he does have to drive a getaway car later—so maybe it wasn’t as happy an ending for him).
Zach And Hannah’s Virginity Pact.
Virginity loss is often depicted in two ways in popular culture: Usually, we see a group of boys trying their damndest to “get laid”or else we might see an awkward kinda fumble into it. Rarely, do we find characters discussing it in the way Zach and Hannah do, which is entirely refreshing. Nothing is left up to interpretation. Hannah tells Zach she wants to lose her virginity to someone she cares about, and so they decide, together, to have sex for the first time with one another. It’s an extremely healthy depiction of first-time sexual activity, one where all characters are in control.
And Hannah Trying To Figure Out “What She Likes.”
Shortly after Hannah and Zach have sex, Hannah decides she needs to figure out what she enjoys sexually. In one scene, she tells Zach that she’s been “practicing” to find out what that is exactly. Masturbation is something that we still don’t talk enough about, in or out of teen-centric television. There’s so much shame and stigma still attached, so it’s incredible to see a female character talk about using it as a tool to explore her sexuality. Hannah was 100% in tune with her body, and it’s an important lesson to put out to other teens that they have nothing to feel ashamed about in that respect.
Jessica Empowering Herself By Owning Her Story.
Throughout this season, Jessica struggles with whether or not she should tell anyone about her rape. We learn with each episode, all the reasons why someone would or wouldn’t tell their story. Jessica sees how Hannah is put through the ringer even after she’s dead. Her fears of backlash are legitimate. Not wanting to have to retell such a traumatic event is another good reason why she chooses silence for so long. She also gets upset with Alex, when he decides to use her story to call out Bryce. While it’s something we would all want to do, Jessica makes it clear that it is not Alex’s story to tell, but her own. Eventually, Jessica opts to press charges against Bryce. Even though he doesn’t get much of a sentence, Jessica is able to stand with her head held high and explains that she feels much better now that she’s been able to tell the world the truth about Bryce. The show doesn’t shame survivors for not wanting to tell their story and it doesn’t sugarcoat what the reality of calling out and/or pressing charges against a rapist looks like especially considering, only 6 of every 1,000 individuals who are reported for committing sexual assault will go free. It’s important to discuss this because it’s the only way we’ll be able to start changing the laws to make it harder for rapists to get away with their crimes.
Alex And Zach’s Friendship.
It’s important to show male friendships on television that are not toxic. That is, friendships where two guys can actually talk honestly and not have it all be about trying to have sex with women, or superficial things like “who won the game.” Zach and Alex manage to build a friendship throughout the season, with Zach helping Alex through physical therapy (and eventually, helping Alex, Clay, and the others with evidence to build a case against Bryce). There’s a scene where Alex and Zach are fighting and Alex gets an erection and figures out his penis is working again, but Zach never acts repulsed or angry at this perfectly normal bodily reaction. Zach also teaches Alex how to dance before the prom, and there’s never any “no homo” proclamations from either. At a time when we’re hearing so much about the cost of loneliness (especially prevalent among men), it’s great to have examples for young men to look to on how to maintain healthy friendships with other men.
Bryce’s Mother Confronting Her Son.
Nora Walker (played by Brenda Strong) plays an important role in season 2 as Bryce’s mother. While Bryce’s parents seem to be busy jet-setters, who don’t seem to know who their son is, we see Nora slowly come to the realization that her son is indeed a monster. This cannot be an easy thing for any mom to realize or accept. After Nora receives a visit from the school counselor, we begin to notice a shift in her behavior towards her son. With every passing episode, you see her suspicions grow deeper, until she decides to confront her son and ask him flat out about what happened with Hannah. It’s a cringe-worthy scene for sure, as Bryce acts as spoiled and entitled as ever. While Nora does slap her son, it’s a letdown that she doesn’t do more to make sure he’s never able to hurt another person again. At some point, we also see the dynamic between Bryce and his father and how the father doesn’t seem to care one way or the other about his son’s behavior. Still, it’s a feminist moment in that she’s willing to challenge even her own son because she recognizes he’s a threat to women.
The #MeToo Ending
In the final episode, during Bryce’s trial we not only hear Jessica’s testimony, but the testimonies of many other female characters on the show. Hannah’s ghost speaks out, as does Courtney, Sheri, Olivia (Hannah’s mom), Lainie (Clay’s mom), and others. They talk about everything from groping and harassment to assault and full on rape. They tell their stories directly to the camera, because for a moment, we’re not watching 13 Reasons Why. For a moment, it takes you out of the fiction and into the reality many of us face. It’s a powerful scene (which was almost cut, but fortunately wasn’t), and definitely a feminist highlight of the season.