Toxic Masculinity in Stranger Things

Ok let me just say this at the top. This post is full of spoilers for the new and past seasons of Stranger Things.

I really like Stranger Things. I don’t like horror, I don’t like gore, and yet the Duffer Brothers have me at the edge of my seat begging for more. The characters are interesting and I think they have been developed very well. The structure is smart and captivating. They fall back on age old story telling tricks all the time, and that makes it good.

I binged the new season, just as I binged the previous seasons, and found it just as captivating and engaging as before. I waited until completing the whole season to form opinions or critiques or judgments, because with a show like this you never know what they are building towards.

Upon finishing this current season, I came to a conclusion: the real monster in Stranger Things has been toxic masculinity. And I believe that has been entirely the point.

There has been a lot of critique of the male characters and the problematic use of women in the show. How the women are ignored by the men, how the women mostly serve as romantic interests, how they are introduced to be romantic interests, how the men are fueled by their temper. And I don’t disagree with any of that. But I also think that it has been done on purpose.

Joyce (Winona Ryder) is defined as the “distraught mother” right at her introduction, and in season 3 she is still being disregarded as being hysterical and illogical, despite being the first to notice something was fishy each and every time. Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is pegged as naive and young, and yet she is also picking up on dangers earlier than most. It’s frustrating watching these plots play out where these women are trying to tell others “hey something is not right here” and watch them be continuously dismissed and ignored.

But I think that’s the point.

It’s not knock you over the head, overly done, in your face, “hey we are writing about the problems with toxic masculinity and the dismissal of women”, but the Duffer Brothers don’t use tropes by mistake. It may feel like a gag, or an overdone plot devise, that the women are aware that there is danger and the men ignore them, but I think that’s the point.

Unlike other stories that ignore women and just use them as plot devices, Stranger Things actually develops those women and puts them right at the heart of the action. These women don’t take no for an answer, they don’t stop because they are belittled or ignored, and the women are key in every defeat. If anything the only real plot hole here is where did Nancy learn to be such a good shot?

One of the many elements I appreciated about season 3 was how they split the characters up and each went on their own mini mystery plot line. Each group winds up investigating a component of the horror coming into town, but no one has all of the answers until they sync up in the end. And at the helm of each of these groups, you have women leading the charge, refusing to ignore what is happening, pushing to go deeper into the mystery. Joyce investigating why the magnets don’t work, Nancy chasing a lead everyone tells her is dead, Robin (Maya Thurman Hawke) translating the Russian message, all of these women drive the plot forward despite the men that ignore them.

Stranger Things also has had it’s fair share of toxic men. And this season those men were front and center. Hopper (David Harbour) is more troubled by his teenage daughter exploring her sexuality and Joyce standing him up than he is about the clues all around him. Nancy is continuously harassed and dismissed by her male bosses because they can’t fathom taking her seriously.

And then there is Billy (Dacre Mongomery). Introduced in season 2 as the vindictive and violent older brother of Max (Sadie Sink), Billy becomes the living embodiment of the villain in season 3 when the Mind Flayer takes over his body. But Billy isn’t just a mindless violent toxic man. What I appreciate about the handling of his character is that we see how he became the vindictive and violent older brother. Billy was abused by his father, both physically and verbally, and in turn became abusive himself. Has his father not been so toxically masculine and violent, perhaps Billy never would have either.

The women are ignored and dismissed all the time. Sometime most women can probably relate to. You can’t tell a story about toxic masculinity being a problem without ignoring women. While the men spend most of season 3 waffling about whether to listen to the women, it’s also the men who end up suffering as a result. And maybe if these men had listened to the women sooner, everyone would be much better off because of it.

If you are frustrated while watching all of these women being ignored GOOD! You should be! Now realize that women are being ignored in your every day life. Monsters from different dimensions may not be walking among us, but your coworkers are being ignored in meetings, passed over for promotions and raises, being dismissed because they are emotional and unstable, and finding ways to push forward anyway.

The monsters in Stranger Things may not be real, but the themes that drive the story walk among us every day.

 

-Darci

An Independence Day Full of Anger

Tomorrow is our nations biggest national holiday. The day that we are supposed to be consumed with pride for our country. We celebrate by grilling meat, baking pies, and exploding things in the sky. Objectively, it’s a pretty solid holiday.

But this year, I don’t feel particularly full of pride for my country. The state of our nation has sunk to a horrifying low point that I honestly don’t even know how to talk about some of these horrors. How can you celebrate your country, be proud of your country, when your government is actively operating concentration camps? How can we celebrate our founding values when our government has become the very thing we rebelled against? When anyone who is not a white man lives in daily fear of the next law that will serve to oppress them? When there is a real possibility that the president will actually get re-elected in 2020?

When your country is full of hate, how do you love your country? How does one reconcile that there is still an alarmingly large percentage of people who support the government and all their atrocities? The racism that fuels the treatment of immigrants, the sexism that fuels the laws being written to restrict women, and the greed behind all of the motivation. At best, there is still eighteen months left of this horror. At worst, this is only just the beginning.

I am not proud to be an American this year. I am not proud to be from a country that criminalizes the poor rather than helps them. I am not proud to be from a country that rejects or imprisons people because of the color of their skin. I am not proud to be from a country that operates concentration camps. I am not proud to be from a country that uses fear as a manipulation tool to profit from. I am not proud to be an American, and I do not love my country.

We will still grill. I will bake something with red, white, and blue. We will probably watch Captain America. I will probably even wear our country colors in one form or another tomorrow. We will enjoy our day off from work and try to find some joy in all of this mess.

But I will not forget that I am angry. That I have been angry for quite some time now. And I will not become numb to my anger. I am no where near done being angry.

 

-Darci

The Democratic Race Officially Starts Tonight

If you don’t know, tonight is night one of two of the first Democratic Debate (NBC 6pm Pacific Time). There are 20 candidates. And I’m already exhausted.

20 candidates is a lot. Like a lot a lot. How on earth are they going to make a significant splash, make themselves really stand out from one another? And why on earth does the DNC think this is a good strategy for taking back the White House next year? Samantha Bee can’t be the only one who sees that most of these candidates talents would benefit the party by running for something other than the presidency, like say the senate.

Yes, I hope that a democrat wins the presidency next year. Yes, I believe that the conversations happening are important. Yes, I think being engaged and educated with your options is wonderful. And yes, I think we have some very interesting candidates to grapple with. But I am also very jaded. 2016 still stings. And I’m not sure I am ready for the long road again.

November 2020 is a long ways a way. Tonight is just the first of many debates and conversations before we actually get to vote on anything. And while the democrats debate for final candidacy, the American Internment Camps are only getting worse. There is so much going wrong in this country, so many horrors to contend with, it’s hard to believe that all 20 of these candidates time is best spent running for president. DJT isn’t the only problem in our government right now, he is being highly supported and enabled by an entire party. So why focus on being president, when you could focus on being a senator and be a part of taking away that support system?

I will probably end up watching the debate. As much as I want to be able to tune out what is going on, at the end of the day I can’t. And these are the questions I am most interested in hearing answers for:

-Why are you the best person to beat DJT?

-How will you make your promises a reality? There are lots of nice ideas and concepts out there, lots that I would love to see implemented. But how are you actually going to make it happen?

-How will you work with conservatives to make progress and change happen? This country isn’t just divided, it’s polarized. How are you going to engage the conservative side of the country to bring about change that everyone wants?

For me, it’s not just about who has the best ideas. It’s about who is the most realistic. Who can demonstrate that they actually understand the true complexity of the issues, and that they actually have a plan to address those issues. Who get’s that it’s not just about beating DJT, it’s about beating an entire way of thinking?

The road is long, and it’s just now starting. And ya, I’m already exhausted.

 

-Darci

Let’s Talk About Low Grade Sexism

Sexism is a major topic nowadays. I talk about it here in big and small ways all the time. You see stories in the news about people coming forward and accusing major public figures and celebrities of harassment and assault. And the good news is that it is slowly starting to work. Boys will be boys is becoming an unacceptable standard, when people speak up others are starting to listen.

But what about the smaller moments? The moments that aren’t really worthy of going to HR about, but are definitely still a part of the problem. Moments that are the pre-requisites for the big moments later on. Maybe your uncle isn’t a full blown misogynist, but his views are definitely sexist. Maybe your boss isn’t harassing you, but his behavior is still problematic. These little comments or actions that don’t seem worth calling out in the moment, but are definitely reinforcing a world where women are devalued. They aren’t crimes, they aren’t harassment, they might not even be aggressive. But they still are not right.

Here are some examples of low grade sexism in our daily lives.

Low Grade Sexism at Work
Again, I am not talking about the big HR stuff. I’m not talking about inappropriate comments or touching or power plays. I’m talking about those small socialized moments that aren’t quite worth talking to HR about, but are definitely creating sexism in the work place.

Delegation – studies have shown that women are the most likely to do non-promotion worthy work in the office. Take notes during meetings, supply runs, small office tidying. And it perpetuates this idea that women are homemakers and caregivers first, that they should be the ones taking care of an environment and the people in it. But men of similar levels are not expected or even asked to make the coffee for the meeting or run to staples for office supplies. There are tasks that are seen as “women’s work” and there is an unspoken expectation that women will just take care of those things but men should never be expected to let alone asked.

Nicknames – the fact that anyone would dare call a women sweetheart in a professional setting any more still baffles me, and yet I have experienced it both on the superior side of things and the client side of things. Endearing pet names for women you work with is anything but.

Working Moms – women still get promoted less, women still get paid less, and having children is still a negative impact to a lot of professional women. A lot of women are forced to choose between being a mom and being a successful career woman still. But men still do not have to make this choice. No one hesitates to hire a man with children, but it is assumed a woman with children will not work as hard and require more time off.

Low Grade Sexism at Home
I think even the most well intending feminist of men will fall into this trap. Even through the progress of women in the work place over the last century, the home front has probably seen the least amount of change.

Chores – again, a lot of cleaning and care work for an environment is seen as women’s work. Cooking, cleaning, planning most often falls to the woman. It is often an unspoken assumption that women will just manage the home. I am baffled by how many couples I know where the man never cooks and doesn’t even know how, and therefore the woman is cooking and prepping meals for the entire family all week long. I’ve talked a lot about emotional labor before, and most emotional labor falls to the woman.

Parenting – I do think this is getting better, but still slowly. The idea that dads babysit their children when left alone with them.

Low Grade Sexism in Our Views of Women
And of course, our day to day views and perceptions of women. Comments, expectations, views. All of these socialized and unconscious thoughts that are really just meant to put women down and keep men on top.

She’s too pretty to be smart – this idea that the greatest currency a woman has to offer is beauty, and therefore it must be the only thing she should really want. That if a woman is beautiful she has no need for ambition or aspirations, and if a woman is not beautiful then she better have something else to offer.

You only got that because you are pretty – the other side of the coin. Resenting accomplishments of women and belittling their achievements.

Sluts – the endless double standard. An independent woman who is confident in her sexuality must be shamed. But the judgment of a sexual woman is more about the fear of her rejection.

Low grade sexism is definitely part of the problem. It perpetuates socialized ideas that women are here for the benefit and service of men and when they challenge that role and expectation they must be shamed or belittled or bullied. Low grade sexism in our daily lives leads to major sexism being socially acceptable later on.

Darci

Letting Go of Being Perfect

Perfectionism is a dangerous pitfall. To some extent, I really do believe everybody struggles with living up to their own high expectations. For some, that leads to over working ourselves. For others, it leads to procrastination and underachievement. But I really do believe we all suffer from the disparity of our expectations for ourselves. Have this job title, earn this salary, cook these meals, keep things constantly clean, have successful hobbies, raise my kids right.

A good friend of mine is very crafty. She is always carrying around some project she is working on. This past weekend she was doing just that, and she knew it was just not quite right. She had messed up a stitch or two, that to her were painfully obvious. But instead of obsessing about it, instead of pulling it apart and redoing it, instead of throwing the whole thing away, she chose to be alright with it not being perfect. In fact, she plans on hanging it in her home for everyone to see. She told me this was her exercise in being ok with not being perfect. Because in the past she knows she would have been very frustrated and probably considered the whole thing a waste. But when she accepted that it would not be perfect, she realized that she actually still really liked it; and more importantly that she was the only one who could see this tiny mistake.

And to be completely honest, I don’t think I’m there yet. I have given up many crafty hobbies because I was not good enough fast enough. I still obsessively clean my home daily and that’s a whole other blog series in and of itself. I don’t go after things I want because I know others are better than I am.

I’ve been thinking about how perfectionism is holding me back. Not necessarily from a job title or a salary, but from happiness. After all, none of us actually art perfect, so at best we are just creating a good illusion of perfectionism. And most of the things we feel we are failing at is really just perceived imperfections. What if I could learn to be a little easier on myself? What if I could let go of my need for perfection and just learn to live my life the best I can? And what if I could even be happy with that?

Here are some things I am working on to help me let go of my need for perfectionism:

Be Kind to Yourself
It may start to feel like my blog has a theme this year outside of angry feminist. 2019 is my year of Self Love, and all the ways that shakes out. So of course the first step in learning to be ok with not being perfect, is to be kind to yourself. Change the dialogue. Instead of getting dragged down by your list of ways you don’t stack up, make a list of affirmation and things you like about yourself. Focus on your personality qualities that you like about yourself, rewarding relationships in your life, meaningful experiences.

It’s Not All or Nothing
When you feel the need to beat yourself up for your perceived imperfections, remember that life is not an all or nothing deal.  You don’t need to be the best at everything to be loved and respected. You are good enough as is. Full stop.

Be Less Critical of Others
A bad habit we are all guilty of is comparing ourselves to others. Sometimes we do this and it leads to us feeling inadequate, and sometimes we do this as a way to inflate our ego. Either way it’s not doing you any good. Focus on being patient, kind, and compassionate with others.

Surround Yourself with Good People
Have you heard that you are most like the five people you spend the most time with? Who you spend your time with has significant impact on your personality and your perspective. So surround yourself with people who have qualities you want in yourself. People who are smart, people who are generous, people who are gracious, people who can help you grow.

 

The reality is that no one is or ever will be perfect. But maybe we can work to be a little happier instead.

 

-Darci

Burning Out

We all have bad days, even bad weeks. But at what point does it cross over from a bad day to a full on burnout in life? At what point do you accept that this fatigue and apathy is long term and needs to be addressed?

Burnout is not simply a result of long hours or being over worked. It stems from a lack of control in life. Maybe the place that you work is being mismanaged and you are helpless to change it. Maybe you feel your work has no meaning. Maybe you don’t have a hobby or project that brings you joy outside of your work. Maybe you are so focused on helping others that you have no time or energy left for yourself.

I’ve come to realize that I need to be much more focused on myself. I need to prioritize not just taking care of myself but nourishing myself. I need to not only find my boundaries but stick to them. And I need to be more intentional of listening to my instincts. By getting stuck in my routine and focused on the go go go part of life, I wound up incredibly depressed and burnt out.

By the time I realized how burnt out I was, I didn’t just need a break I needed a full life shake up. I was in a job that was demanding and unfulfilling, working for people that are cold and incompetent. I was far more concerned with others needs than I was with my own. And all my free time was spent focused on others. I wasn’t sleeping, my skin was a mess, and the very concept of leaving my house became so overwhelming my whole body would feel like wet sandbags.

I didn’t need a break or a vacation, I needed a complete re-evaluation.

But the real kicker is that there were warning signs that I ignored. Red flag decisions at work that the ship was sinking. Demanding patterns from friendships that I know how to recognize but ignored. Small breakouts in my skin that I know how to deal with but didn’t make the time for.

I was just so stuck in my routine and my think positive attitude that my whole life had to be up in flames before I realized I needed to do something about it.

2019 is my year to focus on me. By the end of last year I was so low, so depressed, so burnt out, I knew I had to finally address it. It hasn’t happened over night but I have already come a long way.

I found a new job. Unfortunately not all work situations can be improved. Sometimes you just have to move on. I’ve learned a lot in my twenties about what I need from my job. And more importantly, I know what I am not looking for anymore. I found the next chapter and am taking all the lessons learned and putting them to good use.

I’m learning to say No. Perhaps my biggest hurdle. I don’t like saying No. I think a part of me has a fundamental belief that a person shouldn’t say No. But I am working on it.

I am working on boundaries. Both personally and professionally. Work-life balance, investing in friendships that are fulfilling and reciprocal and letting one sided friendships go, and listening to my inner voice. She often knows what’s up.

Change is hard. Growing is painful. Depression sucks. And burn out is awful. But all of these things are necessary. All of these things have a light at the end of the tunnel. And all of these things lead to better things. If you let them.

Darci

Sometimes You Have to Fail

You’ve heard it a thousand times: failure is a part of life. It’s a theoretical we all know. There are thousands of movies romanticizing the journey of failure. But when it actually happens to you it sucks. Sure there is a light at the end of the tunnel, sure you are going to grow and find something better and feel like this all happened for a reason and that timing is everything, sure it’s not the end of everything it’s just a bump in the road. But it sucks.

Without failure we couldn’t become the person we need to become. But becoming is painful. It’s not glamorous. There aren’t actually make overs or meet cutes with Chris Evans or constant hangouts at bars with your friends, and there are actually budgets and bills and stress acne. The world keeps spinning and life moves on even though your world is falling apart.

But despite the pain, despite the grief, despite the anger, despite the struggle, failure really is an ok thing. It’s an important part of life. And yes, it really does make you better in the end.

So. What good comes from failure? Here are some reasons why failure is actually ok.

We All Fail

It happens to everyone. People lose out on jobs they wanted, get dumped, don’t get that promotion, get fired, lose that race, and more every day. Failure is embarrassing but it’s the most relatable thing. It’s hard to see in the moment, but we all fail at something in life. Everyone has experienced failure, you are not alone.

Failure is a Good Time for Self Reflection

It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. It’s about self discovery and finding the meaning in your life. Failing sheds light on the places you can grow. By allowing failure to dig deep into your character, you come through with a better understanding of who you are and where you want to go.

Failure Makes You Stronger

Without failure, there is no progress. There are countless famous success stories of how failure lead to the ultimate success. JK Rowling, Oprah, Bill Gates, and Walt Disney to name a few. And sure, we probably won’t all become successful billionaires because of our failures. But we can learn a similar lesson: failure can be emboldening. It teaches you how to keep going and fight for what really matters to you.

Failure Leads to New Things

New jobs, new relationships, new hobbies. Endings lead to beginnings. Meet new people, try new things, explore new paths. You finally have nothing holding you back from pursuing that career, going on that date, trying that new recipe. Before you had nothing pushing you to try something new, now you have nothing holding you back.

Failure Teaches You Empathy

Life experience changes your perspective of the world. Things become less black and white, right or wrong, and you realize that life has no one path to take. Through your own struggles you become more empathetic to the struggles of others. You can be more present with others, more vulnerable, more genuine. Failure makes you a better friend.

You Learn That Failure Doesn’t Kill You

Yes, it sucks to fail. It sucks to lose out on jobs or relationships or things that were really important to you. When it happens you can feel like your whole life is crashing down, your self esteem plummets. But eventually you realize something: you survived. You find a new job, a new relationship, a new hobby, your life goes on and you may actually end up being happier because of it. And once you learn that failure doesn’t kill you, you may actually start taking more risks in life.

Failure sucks. But sometimes you have to fail to get to the next chapter. And sometimes, you may even be better off because of it.

 

Darci