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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

7 Signs Your Partner Is "The One," Even If They Have Commitment Issues

There's nothing better than finding that one person you could actually see yourself spending the rest of your life with. However, realizing that your partner has commitment issues can put a damper on things. It may even have you questioning whether o…
By Kristine Fellizar

Bustle's Editors On Jennifer Aniston + Adam Rippon

We've made it to Friday! It's been a pretty hectic week, and the news that Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux are splitting up might have put a damper on your weekend. But, if like many people you have Monday off, hopefully you can sit back and enjo…
By Rachel Simon

Here's Where Your Next Trip Should Be, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

If you've been craving a vacation, now is a good time to take the plunge. According to data collected by travel site Expedia, late winters and early spring are pretty much the best times of the year to go on vacation. Based on average airfare ticket …
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

How This Quadriplegic Beauty Lover Beat Cancer & Became A Professional Makeup Artist

In 2010, one day before she was supposed to start cosmetology school, Steph Aiello was involved in a car crash that left her paralyzed from the waist down with limited ability to move her hands and one of her closest friends dead. She would spend the…
By Sara Tan

7 Common Marriage Rules That Aren't Good For Relationships

When it comes to marriage, everyone loves to give their two cents, and with all the warnings and advice floating around out there, no wonder people find marriage intimidating. Luckily, you don't always have to play by the rules, and there's some bad …
By Carina Wolff

The Infuriating Way Hollywood Movie Sets Are Designed To Make Life Harder For Women

Whitney Cummings is fed up — with the way Hollywood treats women, and in particular, the way the it treats female directors who have children. While the entertainment industry may be working hard to get more women behind the camera, Cummings wants to…
By Casey Cipriani

19 Things Your Parents Told You Were Illegal In The '90s

Kids say — and think — the darnedest things. We have overactive imaginations, adults like to mess with us, and we don't always understand everything we hear. That's why some kids call strawberries "straw babies" — a boo-boo so adorable, you don't eve…
By Megan Grant

Why Uggs Are Never Going Away, Whether You Like Them Or Not

Uggs. The word alone can conjure up memories of teenage years, regrettable outfits, and undeniable comfort. But if, like me, you thought that you've already said goodbye to those fleece-lined tan boots, you can think again. It seems fashion has adopt…
By Lauren Sharkey

I Never Want To Write This Essay Again

I don't know where you were when you heard about Wednesday's high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. I don't know what you were doing, or how you tried to process the news. I do know this: you thought to yourself, not again. And yet, again. Of cou…
By Jenny Hollander

Netflix's New Romantic Movie Will Have You Crying Like It's 'The Fault In Our Stars'

Cancer movies are a heartbreaking staple of Hollywood and have been for decades. It's almost a law of nature: new year, new cancer movie. This year, it's Netflix's Irreplaceable You, a heartbreaking original about a longtime couple who get thrown for…
By Olivia Truffaut-Wong

Here Are All The Terms You Need To Know If You’re Watching Olympic Ski Events Right Now

Every four years the Winter Olympics rolls around to remind me that A) there are so many important Winter Olympic sports, and B) I know virtually nothing any of them. And I know for a fact, I'm not alone, I bet most people don't know what the differe…
By Danielle Colin-Thome

Kate Middleton Made Sales Of This $1 Secret Accessory Spike & She'll Turn You Into A Believer

There's a royal epidemic going on, people. It's one that causes any and everyone to obsess over the royal family's wardrobe and beauty routines, even if it means breaking the bank to look like them. So a frenzy was expected when Kate Middleton report…
By Summer Arlexis

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu Have Matching Tattoos & The Story Is So Cute

Olympic season gives people the feels. From those shipping Canadian ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to Shaun White's gold medal win on Tuesday, the feels are real. Now, there's another reason to get all up in your emotions. Adam Rippon a…
By Shea Simmons

A New Study Says Being In A Relationship Could Change Your Taste In Wine — Here's How

I’d be willing to bet that for many of you, a nice bottle of wine is awaiting you in your near future — and if you’re planning on sharing that bottle with a partner, there might be more to your choice than meets the eye: According to recent research,…
By Lucia Peters

Carrie Brownstein On Why Even The Obama Era Should Have Enraged You

An icy January morning soon after Hollywood's show of solidarity for the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes and almost exactly one year into the Trump Administration feels like a momentous time to be sitting across from Carrie Brownstein. The Sleat…
By Samantha Rollins

Here’s What The Upcoming Year Of The Dog Means For Your Chinese Zodiac Sign

On Feb. 16 the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year, welcoming the Year of the Dog in like the good doggo it is — we hope. A new year means new zodiac predictions for the 365 days ahead. So, what does the Year of the Dog mean for your Chinese zo…
By Brittany Bennett

7 Signs You're Ready To Get Into A Relationship, According To Experts

It can be difficult to tell when you're ready to start dating again. Maybe you're coming off of a bad breakup, maybe you've just been focused on other things. And, ironically, one of the signs that you're ready to be in a relationship is that you're …
By Lea Rose Emery

I Got A Breast Reduction & It Was About So Much More Than The Size Of My Boobs

As a young teenager, I pretty much reached peak physical maturity overnight. One day I was wearing my first training bra a la Lizzie McGuire, and the next I was sweatily fumbling around a Victoria’s Secret with 32DD boobs, trying to summon up the cou…
By Sierra Taylor Horton

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
via Romper

The 15 Best Fiction Books Of February Feature Tons Of Extraordinary Women

When the cold winds of February blow in, there's nothing I want more than to hide under my covers with a good book. Luckily, there's more than a few fantastic new fiction books coming out this month, so the only tough decision you'll have to make is …
By Melissa Ragsdale

17 Moms Reveal The Most Disgusting Part Of Their Pregnancy

Pregnant bodies do weird-ass things. Weird-ass, gross things. I mean, my pregnant body did (twice), and I have long-suspected I'm not alone. So I asked other moms to share the most disgusting part of their pregnancy and I learned that, not only am I …
via Romper