‘Stranger Things’ Is A Love Letter To 80s Women Who Kicked Ass
The summer of 2016 will forever be known as the summer of women kicking ass.
Whether they’re shattering glass ceilings or breaking down barriers onscreen, this is the summer of ladies doing it for themselves. But the one place I didn’t expect to find such blatant badassery is in Netflix’s new original series, “Stranger Things.”
“Stranger Things” is an eight-episode sci-fi drama that centers around a small town in Indiana. After Will Byers goes missing, his frantic mother (played brilliantly by Winona Ryder) and three best friends try to find him, only to discover a parallel world full of monsters. The series is a tip of the hat to 80’s classics like “E.T.” and “The Goonies,” a nostalgic homage to the works of Stephen King and Steven Spielberg.
The women in “Stranger Things” aren’t there to be saved—they’re there to do the saving.
As you might expect, the show is full of campy 80’s movie tropes—there’s a band of nerdy boys on an adventure, armed only with their brains and a few Walkie Talkies. There’s the conventionally attractive older sister, the parents stuck in a loveless marriage, the single mother going at it alone. And yet, the show supersedes and subverts these tropes whenever possible. The women in “Stranger Things” aren’t there to be saved—they’re there to do the saving.
The most obvious female badass on the show is Eleven. Born with telekinetic powers and raised in a laboratory with limited human contact, Eleven is a weapon—we repeatedly see her being used to spy on the Russians or to communicate with otherworldly monsters. But it’s not until she escapes the lab and meets up with the boys—Mike, Lucas and Dustin—that we experience the full extent of her powers.
It’s the boys who do all the talking, but it’s Eleven who fights their battles for them. When the school bullies come calling, it’s Eleven who chases them off. She’s the one who flips the van and vanquishes the monster. And in return, the boys teach her how to process emotion—how to trust and how to be a friend. It’s a cool, modern twist on traditional gender roles.
The relationship between Hawkins’ Police Chief, Jim Hopper, (David Harbour) and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) is similarly interesting. Hopper is the cynical, big-city cop who moved to a small town after the death of his young daughter, turning to drugs and alcohol to cope. Joyce is the single mom, just trying to get by. And even though they clearly have a romantic history together, their sexual past doesn’t inform or dictate the plot in any way. It’s nothing more than back pocket information for the viewer.
Like Eleven, Joyce is a superhero, albeit an unconventional one. Her strength lies in her complete and utter inability to give up on her son. While Hopper tries to solve the case using traditional methods, Joyce suspends disbelief and puts an axe through her front wall, trying to save her kid. When she finally reaches him, she literally breathes life back into his body.
Nancy doesn’t need—she just needs Steve to get the hell out of her way and let her work.
Even the characters who seem two-dimensional have untapped reserves of strength. Nancy, Mike’s older sister, is a perfect example: on the surface, she’s a good girl struggling to fit in with the wrong crowd. But underneath all the A-line skirts is a calm and collected warrior. When Nancy suspects something has happened to Barb, she goes looking for her alone. She’s the one who sets the bear trap and shoots the monster. Nancy doesn’t need Steve—she just needs Steve to get the hell out of her way and let her work.
It’s a great time to be a woman in the fantasy and sci-fi. For years, the women on “Game Of Thrones” have served as little more than set dressing, but this season they’ve collectively flipped the script and now, as the show sails off into the homestretch, they’re the ones leading the charge. “Stranger Things” is no different. The show may endlessly romanticize the 80’s, but when it comes to the female characters, this series clearly belongs in 2016.