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

The Economics of Relationships: When to De-Invest

A good friend of mine is a counselor. He is also a drinking buddy. Many a time he has graciously talked me through some difficult times while out for a drink, and his words always stick with me. I will find myself mulling over his insights for days, weeks, even months.

Recently, I asked him what was the right thing to do. Would this be wrong, would this make me a bad person? And his response was not what I expected. He started talking about economics. About cost-benefit analysis, this idea that you make decisions by comparing the cost of doing something with it’s benefits. As he went on, he explained that it wasn’t so much about whether it was right or wrong for me to do or not do something, but rather would it cause me more pain to do it vs not do it.

And I have been thinking about this a lot. It has totally reframed how I approach my relationships. How I view conflict, tension, and pain. It’s changed how I view my responsibility in my relationships, particularly those that have become unhealthy for me. So rather than wondering what is right or wrong, I am wondering if it will hurt me more to do it rather than not. Rather than wondering who is the villain or the victim, I wonder about the investment value.

So this week, I wanted to share my reasons for de-investing in relationships.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words
You’ve heard the saying before, “Actions speak louder than words”. And it’s true. People will say things and make promises that they have no intention of keeping. You can tell someone that you love them a thousand times, but until your behavior matches that, it’s just words. Love is sustained by action, a pattern of devotion in the things we do for each other every day. Promises are nothing, words are nothing, without the action. We can apologize for our mistakes over and over, but if our actions do not change, the words become meaningless.

People may not tell you how they feel about you, but they will always show you. Pay attention. If their actions are telling a very different story than their words, and that story is hurting you, it’s time to start listening to the story their actions are telling you, and re-evaluate your investment.

You’re Constantly Defending Them
If you often find yourself in a position where you  need to defend someone, chances are there’s a consistently unacceptable behavior you are trying to justify.

A friend of mine was with a guy who was, to put it bluntly, an asshole. He was very rude to her in public, very rude to her friends, and very difficult in social situations. And she would constantly defend him. Explain that he was just insecure in social situations, that he had a rough childhood, that he just had some quirks.

As kind as she was, as compassionate as she was, as patient as she was, by defending him she communicated that his actions were also okay. And so they never changed. In fact, they only got worse. When we defend and excuse our loved ones bad behavior, we give them permission to continue that behavior. And more so, they have no motivation to ever work on that behavior.

Loving and understanding someones pain is a wonderful quality. But we need to be compassionate with ourselves first. And that means setting respectable standards for how we are treated.

They Constantly Blame You for Their Behavior
It can be quite difficult to recognize unacceptable behaviors from your loved ones when you are convinced that you are somehow responsible for those behaviors. You might tell yourself they don’t reach out to you because they are busy, or because they don’t want to be a bother. Or that those jabs and put downs are just jokes, that teasing is their love language. Or that they don’t take your emotions seriously because when you were a kid you threw a lot of temper tantrums, so they have conditioned themselves to shut you down.

In other words, you justify their mistreatment of you because they have convinced you that you are the “wrong one” or the “crazy one”. You defend their actions, because those actions aren’t changing, and so you must be the cause.

But there comes a point when you realize that people who truly respected you and cared about you would encourage you to grow, not resent you for your accomplishments. They would support you when you struggle, not use your past as a way to intimidate or disparage you. They would build you up, not tear you down. And when you told them you were hurt, they would want to change that.

 

 

Relationships are hard. All relationships. The longer the relationship, the more work they are going to take. And over time you may have to re-evaluate your cost-benefit analysis. Are you investing more than you are getting back? Is your participation hurting your bottom line? Has the relationship lost its value? Or do you just need to step back and take a break while you re-evaluate?

And then you need to decide, what hurts you more: leaving, or staying?

My final thought for you is this: Go where the love is.

 

-Darci