I recently went through the second season of 13 Reasons Why in just 48 hours. The first thought that came to mind was that every parents should watch the show. You might find it triggering, painful to watch and controversial but it is sadly relevant. My second thought was, fathers could really benefit from the show which provides key examples and takeaways both on parenting and masculinity. Whether you are a father of a son or a daughter, the numerous insights from 13 Reasons Why will undoubtedly guide you in your parenting decisions and give you an honest assessment of the state of manhood in the United States.
Yes, the Man Box really exists
In both seasons of 13 Reasons Why, you can clearly distinguished two categories of young men: the popular ones and the outcasts. If you ever doubted the existence of the Man Box, the show should settle any hesitation. In a previous post, I referenced Keith E. Edwards’ definition of the Man Box which implies a rigid set of expectations, perceptions, and behaviors of what is “manly” behavior. Because it is a hierarchy, Hegemonic masculinity marginalizes men who do not perfectly fit the description of a “real man.” Because no man perfectly fits the description, all men are limited by hegemonic masculinity through policing of behaviors seen as “violations”.
All components of the Man Box are present in the show: violence, sexual domination, substance abuse, homophobia. The hierarchy among boys is visible and correlates with their ability to meet the criteria of the Man Box. Seeing the destructive effects of that box with such gut-wrenching storytelling will influence your parenting and may even lead you to a deep personal introspection.
The destructive nature of the “bro code”
Silence and secrecy are underlying themes of 13 Reasons Why. On one end, you have the teenagers that are reluctant to share their struggles with adults, from school or at home. On the other end, you have another layer of secrecy: the infamous “bro code”. Natural extension of the Man Box, the destructive nature of the “bro code” is portrayed perfectly by having the entire athlete community covering the darkest secrets of the team. Terms such as “brotherhood”, brothers, or “family” are used repeatedly by Bryce to maintain solidarity and secrecy afloat, but also by the coach, who do not hesitate to turn a blind eye on the team members’ criminal activities.
13 Reasons Why perfectly shows us that the “bro code” is inter-generational and that it is an integral part of the Man Box and of patriarchy at large. We see how difficult it is for “popular” men to break the code. Zach does so anonymously for a large portion of the second season admitting his cowardice for not officially breaking the code and not separating himself from the team. When it does so, we can see that another team member join the initiative which ultimately leads the arrest of Bryce. If you have a son, there is a great lesson of courage to be passed along here.
Male entitlement and (white) male privilege are real…
If (Alpha) male entitlement is clearly shown on both seasons, there is one scene that perfectly embodies that idea.
At the end of season one, when Clay confronts Bryce about raping Hannah, Bryce’s response is unequivocal:
“She wanted me. She was practically begging me to fuck her. If that’s rape, then every girl in this school wants to be raped.”
Here we can clearly see Bryce’s sense of entitlement, which he extends to all girls in school. Consent is not even considered an issue for Bryce, because in his mind, why would any girl say no to him? The entire scene is very educational as it also integrates the idea of privilege. Bryce feels so untouchable that he is confident enough to “confess” his crime while beating up his counterpart, without fear of repercussions: this is privilege 101. As Michael Kimmel said: “Privilege is invisible to those who have it.”
The climax of (white) male privilege is shown at the verdict of Bryce when the judge gives a ridiculously low sentence. According to one of 13 Reasons Why executive producers Bryan Yorkey, the nature of the verdict is nothing but realistic: “We did a tremendous amount of research into cases like this, and certainly in the case of rich, white defendants, more often than not, the sentences were much lighter than, I think, a reasonable person thought they should be.”
“We did see that in the Brock Turner case, and we’ve seen that all over the country, and that’s in cases where the police actually take the report, and where investigators actually investigated, and then prosecutors actually prosecuted, and there are no plea bargains. So we already got through all those hurdles, and then the judge, you know, just does this light, little slap on the wrist.”
Goldberg added a comment that speaks volume in terms of privilege and victim shaming:
As fathers, understanding male entitlement and male privilege is key to raise children and help them navigate life in a toxic rape culture.
Toxic masculinity kills and destroys lives
13 Reasons Why displays the disastrous ripple effects of toxic masculine behaviors. In a previous post, I have expressed my thoughts on why and how, as fathers, it was up to us to destroy toxic masculinity. While I talk about this topic at length on WokeDaddy.com, I am not a big fan of the term. I do think that, as men, naming the issue and talking about the issue is crucial in order to fight it.
However I am in total agreement with Tony Porter when he says that ALL men must include themselves as part of the issue:
“I’m supportive of those using the term because it is keeping the discussion alive and engaging people in this conversation in new ways, but I want to issue a word of caution. If we allow men to separate themselves by saying, “I’m not that bad – look at them – those guys are the ones with that ‘toxic’ behavior,” we are missing the greatest potential for change. We men have work to do. All men are socialized to view women as objects, the property of men, and of less value than men. These ideas are taught to men – sometimes unconsciously – and reinforced by society.
As fathers, we must do the work. Our own work, in order to change the culture and reflect the change in the way we parent our children.
50 shades of masculinity
There are many ways to be a man. 13 Reasons Why shows us that traditional male attributes, the ones that our culture glorifies, are not leading to an healthy school environment. Circling back to my first point, we see that the male characters who “dare to” step out of, or to live outside the Man Box end up being the most courageous ones; someone at the expense of their physical integrity. As fathers, we must embody this change of culture and encourage our sons to embrace their whole selves.
Zach is the perfect example of this idea. He is showing us that, it is never too late to change, to step out of the man box, to be vulnerable and to speak out for what is right.
There are many other themes in 13 Reasons Why that I have not talked about: suicide, mental health, gun violence. The show is rich and relevant in a sad way. I highly encourage every parents of children of any age to watch it.