By: Diana Richtman
Entertainment Section Writer
If you’re anything like me, then you were probably extremely excited to see more female representation in “Stranger Things 2.” Among the young people in the first season of “Stranger Things” the ratio of girls to boys was two (Eleven and Nancy) to six (Mike, Will, Lucas, Dustin, Steve and Jonathan). This imbalanced ratio is common in television, and it is especially common in science fiction and fantasy series. Women are often underrepresented or unwelcome in genres such as these.
This season of “Stranger Things” primarily introduced two new girls to the cast, Max and Kali. When I first saw that there would be more girls in the show, I was excited to see more people like me getting to participate in a tv show that infamously received criticism for its lack of representation, both for minorities and women. However, it’s worth discussing how the original and new female characters are portrayed in this series.
It’s no secret that Eleven doesn’t like the newest eighth-grade girl at Hawkins Middle School, Max Mayfield. This seems mostly motivated by Eleven’s false perception of Max and Mike’s relationship and then later by Eleven’s jealousy that she is no longer the only girl in the group. It is not a completely inconceivable plot point for Eleven. After all, in season 2 Eleven more violent even with people she deeply loves and trusts. However, this is a plot point so overused in television that it shifted from not only being boring but also being frustrating to watch.
On the other hand, viewers saw another interesting relationship unfold in season 2. Eleven reunites with a young woman named Kali who was also a part of Dr. Brenner’s experiment. It was thrilling and empowering to see these two women share their powers with one another. Yet it still ends with them separating. Every female connection Eleven makes in this season ends with her leaving them. So much focus of Eleven’s development is on her relationship with men (major examples would be Dr. Brenner, Mike and Hopper), and even with this season’s best effort, not enough screen time was devoted to Eleven experiencing lasting relationships with other women.
Everything down to Max’s name, which is shortened from Maxine, is supposed to represent her disdain for traditional femininity. She loves skateboarding and sets the high score at the arcade. She’s a spunky outsider, but Max is also a cliche and not revolutionary. What would be? If she could simply be friends with the boys without ultimately having a romantic plot line. If Max being a “tomboy” wasn’t the very thing that attracted Lucas and Dustin to her in the first place. If being different from “other girls” wasn’t what made her worthy.
Finally, perhaps the most concerning female portrayal of the season comes from our beloved Nancy Wheeler. Nancy’s plotline for season 2 is supposed to be about getting justice for Barb, but it is overshadowed by the love triangle between her, Steve and Jonathan. Everyone is entertained by a good love triangle, but the problem with love triangles is they are so rarely good. I felt it when I saw Nancy with Steve at the end of season 1, and I felt it again when I watched her get together with Jonathan in season 2. Nancy shouldn’t be with either boy. The narrative this season is that Nancy is too good for Steve, and she’s always really loved Jonathan, but neither are true. How can she be too good for Steve when she spends the whole season falling in love instead of having a more active role in the fight against the Upside Down which is the very thing she criticizes Steve for? How could she have always loved Jonathan when she only bothers to hang out with him “when the world is ending?” But enough about a rather messed up love triangle, why is Nancy, a brilliant badass, suddenly a stagnant character? The truth is Steve was given the development Nancy deserved this season. Viewers never see her forming a relationship with her brother Mike or anyone else in the original cast, let alone a woman.
The world of sci-fi and fantasy is an adventure that so many women want to see themselves in, but the Duffer Brothers have created a world where women are few and so rarely get to interact with each other in real, nuanced ways. So why don’t we get more dynamic female stories? Why don’t the women of “Stranger Things” get to team up more? It’s my hope that in the coming seasons that’s exactly what viewers will get to see. Let’s leave the Upside Down. It’s time to go back to the real world.
Photo by Netflix