13 Ways 'Stranger Things' Season 2 Sent Oppressive Gender Roles Back To The Upside Down

Ad failed to load

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.

Ad failed to load

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.

Ad failed to load

1Steve Takes Dustin Under His Wing

Netflix

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.

2Eleven 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.

3Nancy Takes Control To Avenge Barb

Netflix

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.

Ad failed to load

4Hopper Sets Some Fatherly Rules

Netflix

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.

5Steve Lets Nancy Off The Hook

Netflix

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.

6Joyce Gets Her Hands Dirty To Save Hopper

Netflix

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.

Ad failed to load

7Hopper 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.

8Nancy Fiercely Defends Her Friends

Netflix

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.

9Kali Takes On A Fearless Mission

Netflix

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.

Ad failed to load

10Joyce Gives Will Some Tough Love

Netflix

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.

11Lucas' Sister Steals The Show

dailystrangerthings/Tumblr

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.

12Bob 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.

Ad failed to load

13Max Doesn't Need To Be Saved

Netflix

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.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

Here's Your Horoscope For Memorial Day Weekend

We’re constantly fascinated by what our zodiac sign says about our lives, whether it's which signs are most compatible or how each sign handles conflict in relationships. That's why Bustle has enlisted Mecca Woods, a New York City-based astrologer of…
By Mecca Woods

These Are The Absolute Best Memorial Day Sales This Year

Get your credit cards ready, because this year's fashion and beauty Memorial Day sales might just be the best ones yet. There's not only major savings for the holiday, but some of the savings start days before. You know, so you can spend the entire w…
By Kali Borovic

Everything Leaving & Coming To Netflix In June To Help Get Your Summer Started

Summer is right around the corner, and so is another batch of streaming options to get excited about. On Wednesday, everything leaving and coming to Netflix in June 2018 was announced by the streaming platform. And don't worry, there's something for …
By Jamie Primeau

These Are The Beauty Products That Came Out In May That You DEFINITELY Need On Your Radar

For beauty lovers, months aren't just months: They're 28 to 31 day periods, wherein any and all product and brand launches can happen — and when they do, it feels like your birthday, no matter what time of the year you were actually born. The May 201…
By Amanda Richards

The 5 Rom-Coms You Need To Read This Summer, According To Someone Who Writes Them

'Tis the season for rom-coms. The weather is warm, the sun is shining, and everyone is rocking the flirtiest items in their wardrobe. I don't know about you, but summer always takes me back to my teenage years — and that automatically makes me want t…
By Cristina Arreola

11 Tiny Sunglasses That Will Make You Look Even Cooler Than Kylie Jenner

You know what they say — the tinier the sunglasses, the more stylish the outfit. OK, that's not really a saying, but it seems to be the case these days. Basically every celebrity, model, and It person has been spotted sporting tiny sunglasses as part…
By Sara Tan

I've Paid $18,000 To A $24,000 Student Loan, & I Still Owe $24,000

It all became real the summer before my senior year of college. It was 2010, and my home phone still had a cord, which I wrapped around my fingers as I waited not-so-patiently for the apathetic representative on the other end to tell me the bad news …
By Kaitlyn Cawley

12 Personality Quizzes That Will Help You Determine Your Exact Strengths

Learning more about yourself can be tough. It's so easy to observe others to learn what makes them tick, what areas they really excel in, and the things they could be better at. Doing that to yourself, however, is a whole different story. That's exac…
By Jessica Booth

5 Brand New Short Story Collections You Can Finish In One Sitting This Weekend

Since 2013, May has been known by book-lovers by another name: Short Story Month. If you're ready to kick off this year's celebration the right way, make sure to pick up a short story collection to read over the weekend. Modern life moves more than …
By Sadie Trombetta

I Got Styled By 'Queer Eye's Tan France & Realized I Still Have A Lot Of Fashion "Rules" To Unlearn

When I walked into a New York City Express store on May 2 to get styled by Queer Eye's Tan France, I was ready for anything. And I mean truly anything. I am such a massive fan of the show and Tan that if he had instructed me to wrap myself in tin foi…
By Olivia Muenter

It Isn’t Bad To Have A “Princess Fantasy” — Mine Made Me The Woman I Am Today

What do you want to be when you grow up? If you were anything like me as a kid, at some point, the answer to that question was "a princess." Thanks to good old-fashioned gender stereotypes, most little girls born in the '90s (and even now) grew up in…
By Nicole Pomarico

Here’s How To Get A FREE 30-Minute Facial At Sephora That Sucks Your Pores Clean

Sephora has long been a mecca for both serious and amateur beauty lovers alike, where they not only have makeup artists that help answer questions about products, but free samples to let you play with new collections. But now they have upped the ante…
By Marlen Komar

Kris Jenner Is FINALLY Launching A Makeup Line With Kylie

Maybe you don't have a favorite sister of the Kar-Jenner clan, and that's perfectly fine. The one thing you can't deny, though, is that when it comes power, no one in that family has more than the world famous momager. Now, Kris Jenner x Kylie Cosmet…
By Shea Simmons

This Kendall Jenner “Diva” Moment Is Really Being Taken Out Of Context

The fashion always takes center stage at the Met Gala, but there's usually a little drama, too. And this time, a member of the Kardashian-Jenner family is involved. People are buzzing about how Kendall Jenner shoved someone at the Met Gala, but after…
By Nicole Pomarico

Feel Like You've Seen Everything On Netflix? Add These Movies To Your Watch List

The weekend may feel too far away, but if you're lacking formal plans, a Netflix marathon session is always a good idea. If you're an avid viewer, however, you probably feel like you've seen everything the streaming platform has to offer already. In …
By Ashley Rey

Hillary Clinton Says She's Ready To Fight Like A Republican — EXCLUSIVE

Hillary Clinton Is Not Going Away Quietly. Can Hillary Clinton Please Go Quietly Into The Night? Unlike Losers Before Her, Clinton Is Not Going Gently Into the Night. These headlines, which appeared in various news outlets over the course of the last…
By Catherine Thompson and Jenny Hollander

Here's The Very Best Time To Book Your Summer Vacation If You're Trying To Save Money

Summer is a great time to travel, for obvious reasons. The weather is better. Many offices are more lax about time off. If you have kids, they’re out of school. But there’s one very important element that makes summer not a great time to travel: Cost…
By Emma McGowan
)}