Masterpiece or Menace: Is Stranger Things full of Weak Women and Homophobia?

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The Netflix original series “Stranger Things” is a super awesome 1980’s style sci-fi horror show. It follows a small group of boys as they try to find their friend after a psychic monster abducts him and takes him to a parallel dimension that was created by the minds of humanity. (It sounds complicated, but it’s really not. They gradually introduce the audience to the concept. )

 

The entire cast is top-notch. The characters all feel like real people, and they react in ways that people normally would to strange, and horrifying situations. The kid characters are genuine and really act like kids their age would.

Even better, they use SCIENCE in their science fiction horror story, to investigate and to solve problems. Imagine that… (*cough* “Prometheus” *cough*)

Every main character has their own strengths and weaknesses. There are no perfect people in this. In fact, most of the cast is pretty plain-looking in terms of physical attributes of actors. I enjoyed that. Theses were normal people, dealing with extraordinary circumstances.

“Stranger Things” is the brainchild of the Duffer brothers (Matt and Ross Duffer). It has a Cronenberg/Stephen King vibe in terms of visual style and themes. It has a lot of nods to great 80s horror films, and fans loved it–myself included.

Aside from a small handful of people who really didn’t enjoy (or understand) the show, the craziest complaint I have come across thus far is that “Stranger Things” is sexist. It has weak women. It kills off their one gay character. (Hint: there are no gay characters in the show) It only frames women in terms of their relationship to men. Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) is weak because she needs help finding her son. Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) is only important because of her relationship to her brother. Barbara Holland (Shannon Purser) is gay and that is why she had to die.

Wait…

What?

Hold on.

Just hold the damn phone for a minute here.

You holding it?

Good.

Let’s get down to brass tacks here people.

Joyce is not a weak character.

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Joyce Byers  is played by Winona Ryder- and boy what a performance she did! I was thoroughly impressed with her acting chops in this one. Like, seriously impressed. Her emotional range is dynamic and electric.

Joyce is an incredibly strong woman. To say that she isn’t is rather mind-boggling to me. She fights for her sons, every step of the way. Hell, she even uses the scientific method to test and see if she’s actually speaking to her son Will once the lights start glowing strangely in her house. (Spoilers: She is.) She’s smart and fierce. Being a mother is important to her, thus, her main identity in the show is that of a mother fighting to protect and save her sons. What is wrong with that? Nothing.

Another bullshit off-the-wall thing that people are saying is that Joyce only got close to Eleven to try to get her son back. She used her. Um. No. Nope. Sorry.

That is false. You are incorrect sir and/or madam!

Joyce did not use Eleven to get her son back. She was the first person to show her maternal kindness. She genuinely cares for Eleven. If she hadn’t, her voice wouldn’t have been able to reach her once Eleven went into a trance and astrally projected herself into the Upside Down.

 

There’s a strong psychic theme in this one folks. If you don’t know about astral projection, MK ULTRA or telekinesis, I suggest you do some research. It’s a fascinating topic, and it is, to this day, highly controversial. And yes MK ULTRA is real. It’s a real thing that the CIA did. Deal with it.

 

The only reason they didn’t show Joyce mourning the loss of Eleven was that they didn’t have time to do so. The show was only 8 episodes long. If they had one or two follow-up episodes after the climax, I’m sure that it would’ve been shown her asking about Eleven and expressing regret about not being able to thank her for helping her find her son. Joyce isn’t one to use people like that. It doesn’t fit with her character’s actions. Hell, she threw her ex-husband out when she found out that he wanted to use their son’s “death” to get money from the quarry owners (he wanted to sue them for damages).

So no. She didn’t use Eleven. She isn’t weak. She is proactive, she uses science and all the resources available to her to find her son. She loves her children, and even as complex and flawed as she is, she still manages to kick ass. Joyce is a fantastic female lead character.

 

OK. Next up is Barb.

Oh that Barb.

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On a personal note, I swear Barb looks just like my mom did in the 80s, same hair style (my mom was a redhead), same big glasses, same horrible fashion sense. You get the drift. Totally made me do a double take when she first showed up on-screen. I’m cool with that by the way. It just made the character seem more real to me.

 

However, I’m going to burst your SJW bubble here guys….

Barb is not a gay character.

*gasp*

What?

Yep. Totally cis-gendered hetero. Deal with it.

The only reason people want to label her as gay is because Barb did not show an interest in the opposite sex. To be honest, she didn’t show an interest in sex, period. She was more concerned about her friend Nancy getting hurt by a guy whom had a bad reputation for sleeping around. She just wanted to keep her friend safe.

 

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From left to right: Psychobitch, Douchebag, Steve, Nancy and Barb.

 

To me, Barb is Barb. She is a tragic character that was lost in the chaos of what happened. She is a side character, so she didn’t get a lot of on-screen time/character exploration (i.e. we didn’t learn a lot about her before she disappears). They had a limited time to set up and tell the story. Extraneous stuff had to be omitted, unfortunately. That’s just how it is.

It’s almost like people can’t handle tragic characters, or horrible things happening to them. But that’s life. It happens all the time. Life is a tragedy. The sooner you accept that, the easier it will be for you to cope with bad shit when it happens to you. And it will happen. Oh yes it will. Because that is just the way things are. Think that you are immune to the Universe looking down at you and saying “You! You’re happy! Enough of that.” and then hitting you with the finger of ill fate and striking you with bad luck, and awful experiences?

No. No one is immune from that. If it hasn’t happened already, it will. It’s just a matter of time.

Mainly, Barb’s disappearance got swept aside because 1. she was a minor character and 2. her disappearance was a minor event compared to the conspiracy that the Sheriff was tracking down. She was an after-thought. But, she was important enough to not be cut from the show. Her disappearance was Nancy’s main impetus to get involved in dealing with the monster, and that’s why it happened.

In terms of story telling, it was smart. It made the events personal to Nancy. She had to act. She had to find her friend. It made her a proactive character, and not one sitting around crying and demanding that her boyfriend help her because she can’t do anything by herself.

 

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Nancy in Upside Down, looking for Barb. By HERSELF!

 

Nancy is not defined by her relationships with men.

Seriously. Nancy is a great person. She is a good influence on her boyfriend Steve. Her interactions with him show him that his best friend(s) are assholes and he eventually gets rid of them, and works hard to apologize to her and makes up for being a total dick to Jonathan in the process. (Thanks Steve!)

If anything, Nancy is defined by her relationship with Barb. Her best friend, who happens to be a young woman.

Yup. That’s right. Her most important relationship is with Barb, not Steve or Jonathan.

Why? Because Nancy actively works to find Barb. She is a proactive character. Everything she does after Barb’s disappearance is directly related to finding out what happened to her and then trying to save her life. Nancy gets involved with Will’s brother Jonathan in order to figure out how to stop the monster from the Upside Down. She works with him and helps him come up with a plan to draw it out, and kill it.

Nancy says, multiple times mind you, that she is not romantically interested in Jonathan. “Oh, no. It’s not like that.” When the character says it the way she does, it’s the truth. She meant it. She said it.  End of story.

People read far too much into it.

Yes, Jonathan is interested in her, but he knows that she is with Steve. He wants to protect her and find his brother, more than anything else.

Nancy is great at making friends with loners. She understands people. She’s a normal teenage girl, exploring her sexuality and her personal boundaries. She sneaks out of the house at night, she lies to her parents, she works hard at getting good grades in school. You know, like normal girls? (Wait, you mean that a lot of teenage girls do things like that? Even if they appear to be Miss Perfect? Yes. Yes they do.) She knows what is right and what is wrong, and stands her ground. She does not let people tell her what to do. She does things when she is ready to do them.

She is just as strong as her mother, Karen. She stands her ground.

 

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Nancy knows how to shoot. Jonathan does not. She’s more dangerous with a gun than he is. Fancy that.

 

I think it’s not only very unfair, it’s also incredibly false to say that her character is solely defined by her romantic interest, and that the only reason she matters is because she is Mike’s sister. Nancy has personal reasons for getting involved, and she tries to save her friend, but she couldn’t; mainly because Barb didn’t have the mental defenses to survive the psychic hell that is the Upside Down, and died rather quickly once she was exposed to it.

 

Which makes a ton of sense. Most teenage girls don’t have a lot of mental defenses. They are full of doubt, self loathing, and anxiety. So, it’s easy to see why a loner like Barb would succumb rather quickly to the negative energies of the psychic plane.

 

Joyce’s son Will survived because he had stronger mental defenses. He used his memories of his protective, caring brother and mother to try to stave off the monster, but like all people, he eventually gave in to the constant deluge of negative energy.

Curiously though, he was not eaten by the monster. He was taken to its den. (In the library. Where people think the most…get it? That was the area with the highest concentration of psychic energy, hence why a psychic monster would build a nest there.) The last episode hints at what the creature was doing with him. But I won’t spoil it. You have to see it for yourself.

Eleven

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The strongest, and most powerful character in the show, Eleven is also the most vulnerable.  She has great psychic powers, but no social skills. She was isolated and grew up in a lab. She was treated like nothing more than a smart monkey by the scientists. Her name is her lab subject number, it is tattooed on her arm, like they do with the animals they are doing tests on.

 

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The head scientist made her call him “Papa”. Eleven does not understand interpersonal relationships. She can remote view people, listen in on conversations, and kill things with the power of her mind. She can not read minds. She can not understand how people are feeling. But she does care about people.

So when she runs into a boy her age that is kind and caring, and nurturing (generally considered FEMALE traits SJWs…I think you forgot to mention that too), he starts to teach her about friendship and how families work. She does her best to help out, but she has a limited vocabulary (due to being treated like a lab rat and not taught properly), and is not very vocal. She internalizes everything.  But, her guilt over everything that happens, drives her, more than anything else, to help the main characters (Dustin, Mike and Luke) find their friend Will.

 

From Right to Left: Lucas, Mike, Eleven, Dustin

 

Mike may have been romantically interested in her, but that was only after he took her in and got to know her. It was an innocent puppy love that only a middle schooler can experience. (Ah, those were the days!) He didn’t treat Eleven like she was a freak, and she bonded with him. It was a friendship that could have been something more if they had been given the chance to grow up together. But, alas, it was not meant to be.

Does that mean that Eleven is defined by her relationship with Mike? No. No it does not. They are important to each other, but that’s it. Eleven, even though she is an experiment subject, viciously carves her own path with her insanely strong telekinetic abilities. She chooses to save Mike when the school bullies attack him and Dustin by the quarry where Will’s body was found. She attacks said bullies to drives them off and scares them away when nothing else would work. She is proactive, she is stronger than any of the boys in the story, and she knows it.

 

Also: Eleven DID NOT create the monster. All she did was draw its attention. Once it saw that it could come over into our plane of existence to feed, it did what any predator would do and hopped on over for a meal. Those things were always there. They didn’t know anything about our side, until Eleven approached one and it tried to eat her.

 

If anything, “Stranger Things” has an extremely well-rounded cast. There are no clichéd stereotypes. There are no weak women begging men to hold them and fix their problems.  All of the characters have their own strengths and weaknesses, and they play off of each other in a balanced, smart way.

Face it kids, this show is as good as it gets in terms of women being portrayed accurately. If you can’t accept that, or just want to nit-pick and try to find a fault in it, that’s your problem. Me? I can’t wait for season 2!

 

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Me and my Eggos be chillin’

 

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About Cassie Carnage

Horror connoisseur. She who types too fast. Lover of cats and monsters. You can find her debut horror novel, WE ARE ALL MONSTERS here: bit.ly/waam11

Her upcoming vampire novel series, Addicted to the Abyss Volumes 1 and 2 will be out late 2017.

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7 Comments

  1. I got the impression that Barb just thought the popular kids were douchebags. Not wanting to have sex with the guys amongst them isn’t a sign of homosexuality. My sister, also a red head, had some interesting hair styles going on in the 80s, and we all had awful clothes. I related to many aspects of the kids and their culture and surroundings.

    • I found the kids to be very relatable as well. Like, I would’ve been friends with them if I were their age, because they’re my kind of people. Also, if I was a bit older back then, I too would have personally chosen poorly in the fashion department in the 80s. lol.

      I think the biggest problem is that there are a lot of people out there that want to shoe-horn and label characters as things they are not, in order for them to fit into their narrative of identity politics. It’s the oh that character must be a gay/straight/unicorn/special snowflake kind of thing. Not everyone fits that narrative, and not everyone belongs in a tiny little box like that. Sometimes, a character isn’t interested in sex, because they aren’t interested in any of the other characters in the show. (They’re not their type. Shocking…right?)

  2. It’s common knowledge that if a woman has short hair, she is gay. It’s a fact carved into granite after years and years of research.

  3. How can you definitively say that Barb’s any more straight than she is gay if we don’t see anything about her sexual preferences?

    (That’s a rhetorical question. You can’t. Maybe there’s a reason gay people are identifying with her – even if it’s just feeling like the odd one out while you friends are all getting intimate with their boyfriends/girlfriends but you can’t for whatever reason. Especially given the context that she disappears while her friend is absorbed in her own sexual awakening. Characters can have symbolic significance even if they’re not explicitly made representative.)

    • True. However, there is a difference between identifying with a character, and imposing your own sexual identity (and politics) onto them. Do all of my favorite characters that I identify with have to be straight? No. And I don’t expect them to be, nor do I insist on a gay character being straight in my own head canon of a story.

      In this case, it is a matter of observing a trend, and shedding light on it. Barb is just one example in current pop culture where people superimpose their own sexual identity politics onto a character. Barb’s purpose isn’t to be the gay girl that becomes the third wheel when her best friend decides to date a guy of questionable character. Her purpose is to show Nancy that her selfish actions have permanent consequences. Her best friend is kidnapped while she is busy with Steve and then dies in the Upside Down, and no amount of guilt or attempting to rescue her from it will save her from that fate.

      I really don’t think that there is any deeper symbolism going on here. I’m pretty darned good at spotting that sort of thing.

      Barb is a tragic character, but not a romantic tragic character. A lot of people have a strong desire (for some reason) to make tragic characters into romantically tragic ones, and it’s cool and hip and whatever those crazy kids call awesome nowadays to make those types of characters gay. That’s all there is to it.

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