13 Ways 'Stranger Things' Season 2 Sent Oppressive Gender Roles Back To The Upside Down
This weekend, audiences were given the gift of a second season of Stranger Things. And while the thrill of a new season was tempered by scenes that made us anxious about the Upside Down, demogorgons, and shadow monsters, there were still plenty of bright spots. Not only were fans introduced to some ridiculously memorable new friends (hello, badass Max!) and enemies (ugh, Billy) but some of our favorite characters also revealed different sides of themselves that squared less with traditional gender norms.
Spoilers for Stranger Things Season 2 ahead.
Whether they were turning over a new leaf, helping unlikely new friends they never would've previously felt responsible for, or taking control of their lives in unexpected ways, the Stranger Things gang had plenty of moments that messed with traditional concepts of gender this season. Characters like Nancy and Joyce gained agency through decisive action when they previously had remained on the sidelines, while male characters like Hopper and Steve showed some unexpected vulnerability. And of course there was Eleven, who learned to embrace femininity on her own terms.
So in honor of Netflix's second trip to Hawkins, Indiana, here are 13 empowering moments from Stranger Things 2 that will make you question your preconceived notions about gender.
1. Steve Takes Dustin Under His Wing
Though Steve's personality remains true to the character that was established last season, he's also become about a million times more lovable. This is largely thanks to actor Joe Keery, who allows Steve to endearingly toe the line between a doofy, somewhat arrogant teenage boy and a fiercely protective older brother figure to the younger boys, particularly Dustin. It's also thanks to the writers, who simply gave Steve way more to do this time around. His romance plotline with Nancy still exists this season, but it's definitely put on the back burner so he can help take care of other business, like helping Dustin find Dart, his pet-turned-demogorgon.
Dustin and Steve's friendship brings out a softer side in both of them; it was refreshing to see Steve give Dustin well-intentioned relationship advice (however flawed the actual content may have been), and it's certainly something that should be explored further next season.
2. Eleven Shows Her Vulnerable, Feminine Side
Eleven's story takes a delightful turn at the end of this season, when she wanders into the Hawkins Middle School winter dance wearing a lovely dress and with her hair all done up. It's a far cry from how we've usually seen Eleven — with a shaved head, killing squirrels in the woods, wearing dirty overalls, bleeding from her nose — and she kills it. She proves that she can be an otherworldly badass, snapping evil scientists' necks and closing tears to the Upside Down one night, and planting a smooch on Mike during a slow dance another. Eleven's been put in a box before, and she's not going to let it happen again.
3. Nancy Takes Control To Avenge Barb
Through the past two seasons, we've seen Nancy mourn her best friend Barb, battle with a love triangle she was never sure how to handle, and protect her brother and his friends. But this season, she's more decisively taking action. When Nancy and Jonathan visit the former journalist who eventually helps them take down Hawkins Lab to avenge Barb's death, Nancy has her eyes on the prize. While Jonathan is timid and unsure that they'll be able to pull it off, Nancy goes gets fully in cahoots with Murray to essentially burn that place to the ground. She throws back some vodka, plots out the perfect plan, and finally is able to avenge her friend's death. Gone is the doe-eyed, self-conscious high school girl from Season 1.
4. Hopper Sets Some Fatherly Rules
Hopper's had loss in his life. He lost a daughter to sickness, and that tragic event also contributed to the dissolution of his marriage. So it's not exactly a surprise that he's built up a gruff, ultra-masculine shell in order to protect himself from any more emotional pain. But what is a surprise this season is how much he morphs into a father figure for Eleven when she needs it most.
He's still learning, obviously — he's not father of the year just yet, but he does take the first step by setting some rules. Eleven has to eat real food before dessert. She has to make efforts to learn new words. She gets grounded when she disobeys. It's a far cry from the Hopper we first met, who was living in slovenly conditions and not caring about much else aside from his morning doughnut. Single dads aren't as common in television and film as single moms, and this was an insightful look at a character trying his best to play both roles in extreme circumstances.
5. Steve Lets Nancy Off The Hook
Steve's already been so much cooler this season by putting himself in harm's way to defend Dustin, Max, and Lucas, but another great thing he does is seemingly forgive Nancy for having feelings for Jonathan. Steve gets a rough deal with Nancy through no real fault of his own, and he handles it maturely. After Nancy drunkenly tells him that their relationship isn't what he thinks it is, she disappears with Jonathan to take care of things he's got no idea about, and she ends up sleeping with Jonathan in the meantime. Though Steve doesn't know the details of what's happened, he knows that she's not in love with him, and he tells her it's OK. Rather than try and confront Jonathan to boost his ego or assert his dominance, he simply lets her go. The ditzy, popular boy you thought you knew is definitely no more.
6. Joyce Gets Her Hands Dirty To Save Hopper
A lot of last season featured Joyce sadly sitting by the phone or staring at Christmas lights, having absolutely no idea what in hell was going on — but this season she dives headfirst into danger way more than you might have expected. When Hopper gets stuck in the horrifying, viney tunnels that run below the town, she doesn't hesitate for a second before asking Bob to help her get down there to find him. She's definitely not helpless anymore.
7. Hopper Lets His Emotion Shine Through
Even though Hopper has the structure of fatherhood relatively down, he's not so great with the feelings part, at least in the beginning. At first, he responds to conflict with Eleven a lot more with anger, seemingly because he's not sure how else to express himself. What's amazing, though, is that by the end, he's not afraid to show emotion and apologize. We've seen this guy handle a plethora of weapons, take down countless enemies, and generally exist as a huge, protective bear of a man, but now we've also seen him cry. On the radio with Eleven, he tells her he doesn't want to lose her, and he's not mad at her, he's just sorry. This doesn't exactly go along with his crabby, hardened persona that he's had all series. Though it sounds cliche, it's true — Hopper shows that being emotional doesn't make a man any less strong.
8. Nancy Fiercely Defends Her Friends
Not only does Nancy help mastermind the plot to take down Hawkins Lab, she also exhibits her fearlessness when she and her friends are in harm's way near the end of the season. The moment Hopper asks Steve if he can handle a gun against a demogorgon, Nancy jumps in with an "I can," fully solidifying that she can be both a high school girl concerned with her image and a badass ready to unleash fire onto monsters from another dimension who are threatening her friends.
9. Kali Takes On A Fearless Mission
Disclaimer: roaming the country committing murder is not something I'm endorsing, even if those being murdered are former evil scientists who ruined the lives of children. But, Eleven's adoptive sister Kali, who also originated from Hawkins Lab, still defies the odds. No one expected that the small, evidently harmless girl being held and tested upon would eventually use her powers to escape and seek revenge upon those who wronged her. Hawkins Lab obviously underestimated both Eleven and Kali, and it was ultimately to their own demise.
10. Joyce Gives Will Some Tough Love
Any mother would be horrified if their child was going through something like what Will does, and Joyce is no exception. Seeing a child suffering — particularly due to an otherworldly presence inhabiting his body — is enough to make any parent hysterical. And Joyce has had her hysterical moments, to be sure. But this season, she defied those expectations. Not only did she stick a needle in Will to sedate him every time that monster got a little too out of hand, but she also cranked up the heat to expel the "virus," even when Will was crying out in pain, proving she can finally take matters into her own hands.
11. Lucas' Sister Steals The Show
Somewhat of an honorable mention here: Lucas's little sister, Erica, is hilarious and self-confident in a way that not many of us would expect from a young girl who has so little actual screen time. Rather than Lucas wreaking havoc on her like the older brother typically does, Erica turns the tables and becomes his worst nightmare. She makes fun of his friends, steals his dolls, and teases him as he's about to go on a date. It's harmless sibling rivalry, but it's a twist on what's typically seen, and it makes for some of the best laughs of the season.
12. Bob Proves Himself In The Bravest Way
Bob was a lovely addition this season, and his heartbreaking death resulted in a lot of screaming at the TV. He's the dorky boyfriend who wants to please his girlfriend's kids, but he doesn't really get it. He's a little nerdy, a little out of touch, but has the biggest heart. He dies a true hero's death after shocking the rest of the crew when he risks his life to hack into Hawkins Lab computers so Joyce, Hopper, and the kids can escape. He does this, I might add, literally within 24 hours of even learning about all this madness Will has been dealing with. He proves that even the most seemingly mundane and geeky guy can be a makeshift superhero.
13. Max Doesn't Need To Be Saved
Max's brother Billy is just the worst. He terrorizes her, controls her, and screams at her every single chance he gets. He's much older, and he's downright frightening, which would likely deter most middle schoolers from pushing back on him. But even though Max gets some help from Steve with taking Billy down a notch, it's Max who truly puts the nail in the coffin. While Billy beats the snot out of Steve, Max comes up behind him, stabs him with a syringe, and proceeds to threaten his very existence with a nail-adorned baseball bat unless Billy leaves her and her friends alone. She easily could've told an adult or relied on the boys to stand up for her, but Max proved she can take care of herself. It's a triumphant moment that proves that even middle-school girls are up to the task of doing what it takes to survive encroaching evil forces.