Op-ed: Is There a Hannah Baker at Hebrew Academy?

Everyone’s watching it, everyone’s talking about it. The newest Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, is suddenly everyone’s favorite late night binge. But in the middle of our escape, do we ever stop reaching for our popcorn to think that maybe this show could relate to our own school?  

If you haven’t seen 13 Reasons Why (based on the novel by Jay Asher), it tells the story of a high school girl, Hannah Baker, and the bullying, objectification, and sexual harassment she endures that ultimately leads her to take her own life. Before Hannah dies, she records 13 tapes of herself speaking. Each tape includes one of the 13 reasons why she decided to commit suicide. She passes the tapes along to each of the 13 people who were the perpetrators of her death.

Two initial events happened to Hannah that would eventually lead to her taking her own life. Her journey all started when a boy took an upskirt picture of her sliding down the slide at the park. Although nothing happened beyond them sharing a kiss, the boy allowed the picture to circulate around school, and allowed male students to form their own opinions about Hannah. From that point forward, Hannah was known as “easy,” all because a boy took a picture of her doing something as innocent as sliding at a park.

Some may say that this is unrealistic, or couldn’t affect someone’s reputation. But last year, in my friend’s school in New Jersey, a boy took an upskirt picture of a girl walking up the stairs to class. Hundreds of male students in the school saw the picture as it traveled throughout the student body, being sent to group chats, and showed from the original phone.  And for the most part, the male students were oblivious to how the girl must feel about this picture being taken and shared; they never took her feelings into account. Not one of the boys who looked at the picture brought it forward to the administration. Eventually, the girl summoned the courage to bring this issue to her principals, and the boy was suspended.

The second pivotal event in Hannah’s story was the “Hot or Not List.” One boy in her school created a list that divided which girls had the hottest assets, and which girls did not. Hannah was labeled “best a**.” Because a boy objectified and publicized her body in this way, the male students now thought it was okay to touch her, talk about her, and sexually harass her. She did nothing to attract this attention, except exist.

In my Sophomore year, a student at Hebrew Academy, who is no longer at the school, claimed that the boys in our class would verbally and physically shame her. According to this student, the school did not do enough to stop the issue, and ultimately she left. Although it has never been confirmed whether or not this students’ claims were in fact valid, I worry that we as a school did not do enough to listen to her concerns.

Even after this occurrence, I felt the culture in our school did not change. Another student, who is no longer at the school,  was treated similarly last year. On more than one occasion, I witnessed boys grab or slap her in the hallway. Although she may have not objected to it, it could have been because she felt peer pressure to be accepted, which, as teenagers, is something we all can relate to. It’s awful and unhealthy that this is the route she had to take to feel secure and confident in herself. But it’s even worse that the boys at the school felt that this was an acceptable way to treat another human being.   

There are many problems with 13 Reasons Why, but it highlights the important theme of respect. Although our school tells us to respect one another and have derech eretz, the environment can often be one of disrespect.

Students spend more conscious hours in school than they do at home. In most ways, our school is our home. Because of this, it is our school’s responsibility to DO something about this prevailing issue. The school needs to bring in speakers who are victims of sexual harassment or rape, or create engaging activities that educate students on the proper way to approach, treat, and respect a woman. 

High school prepares you for the real world. Let’s give our students some real world lessons on what it means to be a decent human being.

By: Aliza Posner (12th Grade)

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