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

Why Everyone Needs Sex Education

I know, I know, I’m still talking about the issues surrounding abortion. But it’s still consuming my brain and it’s still making me angry. My big stance is that abortion really isn’t the true issue here, that abortion is a solution to a lot of larger issues that are not being addressed. I also truly believe that everyone wants to lower the abortion rate, whether they be pro-life or pro-choice, we just have very different philosophies on how to accomplish that. I’m not really interested in debating people about when life begins, but I am interested in discussing ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies before they even happen.

This week I want to focus on one particular way I believe we can prevent unwanted pregnancies, and thus lower the abortion rate: Sex Education. Last week I talked about all of the reasons why I get to say with confidence that I would not have an abortion, and one of the big ways was that I had comprehensive sex education from sixth through ninth grade.

So this week I want to advocate for comprehensive sex education in schools. Here are my top four reasons why I believe everyone, regardless of religions beliefs or sexual intentions, should have comprehensive sexual education.

Comprehensive sex education lowers the rate of teen pregnancy.

Yes I am repeating myself, but I think it’s worth driving home. You can’t prevent pregnancy if you don’t know how. Understanding how birth control works and does not work. Knowing how to get it. Knowing how long semen lives outside the body. Know the difference between mensuration and ovulation. I learned about all of these before I even reached my teen years.

One of the many reasons I have not had an unplanned pregnancy is because I knew how not to get pregnant before I was ever having sex.

Values about sex can be taught at home, but facts should be taught in school.

As a parent you have every right to educate your children on your value system. But that doesn’t mean that you should shelter them from the facts either. And learning about safe sex and contraceptives does not mean someone is going to immediately go out and have sex. Values and facts are equally important when deciding how you want to go about your sexuality.

Even if you wait until marriage, you still need sex education.

 If you ever plan on having sex, you need sex education. Even if you are going to wait until marriage, even if you only ever have one sexual partner, even if you don’t believe in birth control and only want to have sex to have babies. You need to be sexually educated. All of that requires an education. If you are going to be sexually active at all you need to know how to not get pregnant just as much as you need to know how to get pregnant. Sexual education is not just for those who plan on having sex outside of marriage.

Sex education isn’t just about having sex.

Sex Ed is about so much more than having sex. There is so much more to learn about your body than just how to have sex with it. Health and hygiene is also a large part of sex education. How to wash, how not to wash too much, how to recognize a UTI (which you can get without ever having sex), are all important things to understand about your body even if you never plan on having sex.

Again, I’m not here to tell you when life begins. I’m not here to tell you when to or not to have sex. I am here to argue that there are ways we can lower the abortion rate, ways we can prevent unwanted pregnancies that we are not discussing. And we need to discuss them. We need to address the reasons why women get abortions rather than punishing them for not having the education, resources, and opportunities that they need to prevent an unwanted pregnancy in the first place.

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

5 Things to Stop Caring About

Life can be stressful. Life can be chaotic. Life can be hard. The biggest kicker, though, is that sometimes we make life harder on ourselves. By indulging in negative thoughts or memories, prioritizing toxic people, living in the past, we hurt ourselves in the present and delay our happiness in the future. I’ve been working a lot on reshaping how I spend my mental energy. How I talk to myself. What I am spending my time thinking about. Being intentional about catching myself in a negative spiral and changing the game. It’s not always easy. But it’s important work. I’m trying to retrain my brain to think differently. So this week I thought I would share the five things I am working on changing. Take a look:

1. Those Painfully Awkward Moments.

Remember that joke you made in a meeting that didn’t land? Or that answer you gave in class that was definitely wrong? Or that time you thought someone was waving to you but it was actually to someone behind you? Those painfully awkward little moments that your brain likes to recall as you are falling asleep or enjoying some quiet time and now suddenly your heart is racing. Those social blunders that were embarrassing in the moment but that was seven years ago and no one but you remembers them, let alone dwells on them. Even your bigger blunders are probably still only note worthy to you. It’s time to let those go. When your brain starts to remind you, catch yourself and tell your brain that happened years ago and literally no one cares any more. Take the power away from those awkward moments by reminding yourself that it wasn’t as bad as you remember and it is well in the past now.

2. What People From Your Past Are Doing.

I’ll be the first to admit that Facebook stalking is a semi regular event. Social media makes it all too easy to take a passing “hmm I wonder” and turn it into a two hour rabbit hole investigation of what people from my past have been doing. Ex’s, former friends, old coworkers, past roommates, former classmates, all people who are in my past for a reason. And yet, the curiosity gets the better of me every time. It’s natural, though very unhealthy, to look for validation through comparison. But it’s a temporary, fleeting validation that leaves us emptier than we started. It also distracts the focus on your own life. You don’t need to compare your journey, your goals, your accomplishments to anyone to be happy. And, in fact, doing so is hurting your progress. My suggestion? Block those people you find yourself checking in on. That way the next time you are tempted to see what they are up to, you can’t. Eventually you’ll break the habit of even wondering what those people are up to and you won’t be distracted by it any more.

3. Pleasing Everybody.

It’s a cliched lesson, but I think I will spend the rest of my life relearning it. No matter how hard you try, you will never please everyone. There will always be people who take and take and take but never give. There will always be people who are too wrapped up in themselves not noticed anyone else. There will always be people stuck in the comparison game and they will never be happy for you. It’s time to stop worrying about those people. Your life is yours and you have to live it the way you know is best. So keep focusing on your dreams and your goals, keep treating others the way you want to be treated, and when someone shows resentment or expresses grievance over you simply living your life, you now have permission to involve them in your life less. Making time for people who hurt you regularly or openly root against you is silly. It doesn’t matter if they are coworkers, friends you’ve known for years, family, or even romantic partners. Your time is valuable and your mental well being is important. So stop wasting your time trying to please people who can never be won.

4. The Worst Case Scenario Game.

I’ll be honest, I am a fan of this game. Especially when I have a lot of anxiety about a situation or feel a lot of pressure. Sometimes saying your fear out loud can take some of the power away from it. But too much of anything is a bad thing. And I realized recently that I never play the Best Case Scenario Game. My what ifs are always negative. I’m always preparing for the worst, anticipating the worst, assuming the worst. And not only is that way of thinking depressing and unhealthy, it’s exhausting. I find I am always worried, always anxious, depressed far more often. All because I am far too indulgent in my fears rather than focusing on my hopes. I used to justify this way of thinking by saying “hope for the best, prepare for the worst”. But what if by dwelling so much on the worst I make the worst inevitable? What if by spending more time focusing on the best, preparing for the best, even planning for the best, that made the best happen? So now, when I catch myself playing the Worst Case Scenario Game, I make myself stop and think about what the Best Case Scenario could be instead.

5. Where You Should Be in Life at X Age.

Again, comparison is a dangerous habit that pretty much only leads to depression. Just because you aren’t married yet, don’t have kids, haven’t gotten that degree, don’t have that professional title yet, doesn’t mean you are falling behind or failing. School was very structured, and it gave all of us this false illusion that the rest of life would be too. But there is no order of events, no timeline to follow, no progress report, no big moments you need to hit by a certain time. Plenty of people followed “the plan” of getting married young to someone they weren’t actually compatible with, had kids even though they weren’t ready to be a parent, or worked their way up the ladder for a career they didn’t want. Too many people do what they are “supposed” to do without considering if they want to do it. And too many people feel like they are failing at life because they aren’t doing what they are “supposed” to be doing right now. But the most freeing moment in life is when you realize that you get to call the shots for your life and you get to decide what path is right for you.

Why is it so easy for our brains to think negatively, to be stressed or anxious or overwhelmed, to focus on comparisons or the past, but we doing the opposite takes so much work? I’ve been wondering that a lot lately as I’ve been working on intentionally changing my patterns. When did those patterns form, I wonder. And when will they change? It’s hard work, it’s consistent work, but it’s good work. And hopefully it will stop being work someday and start being a way of life.

Darci

A Self-Care Reminder for the Holidays 

Holidays bring a lot of happy celebrations. From Christmas parties, to presents, to caroling, to the hope of snow there is a lot of joy and magic during this time of year. But the holidays can also be full of struggle. Just because there is cheer all around us doesn’t mean all of our problems disappear. The holidays also bring lots of temptations that can get in the way of our long term goals, like health and financial goals. And with the stress and the struggles can come a lot of guilt for not being cheerful enough.

So this year, amidst all the joy and holiday cheer, it’s important to be mindful and intentional about yourself. Here is a checklist to help plan your self-care:

Take Care of Yourself
With all of the holiday parties and events and family time and friend time, this time of year books up fast. Don’t forget to carve out time for you. Take your moment, your evening, your day, to just be. It’s important to decompress. Seek out a quiet space from time to time so that you can collect your thoughts and recenter yourself as you need. Take a walk around your neighborhood, enjoy a luxurious bath, find a show to enjoy. The important part is that you still get you time.

Be Mindful About Alcohol Use 
I am not someone who drinks terribly often, so the holidays hit me hard. With all of the gatherings and parties, with all of the holiday stresses, a glass of wine to take the edge off or join in the celebration is very tempting. And suddenly my one glass of wine translates into a glass of wine every day. So it’s important to be mindful and aware of your consumption during this time. Pick a personal limit, find an event to skip the drinks at, and check in with yourself before your next drink.

Practice a Healthy Relationship with Food
There are many tempting indulgences during the holiday season. From an abundance of sugar, to larger portions, to decadent meals, food can take as much a toll as alcohol and make you feel out of control. Find the balance for yourself between enjoying the special holiday food while also paying attention to your bodies needs. I love all the fun holiday food, and I only indulge in most of these things once a year. It’s not about denying or depriving, it’s about balance.For me, being hyper intentional during the work day about eating good things, and being more intentional with a healthy breakfast on the weekends can really make a big difference in my holiday relationship with food. Find your balance, and don’t forget that your body still needs some vegetables.

Remember, Holiday Stress Will Pass
Just like all things, this too shall pass. Keeping a strong sense of self during the holiday season will give you a sense of consistency and security during the ups and downs during the holidays. Focus on the things you enjoy, breathe through the things you don’t, and remember that this holiday season will eventually come to a close.

 

As always, be kind to yourself. Happy Holidays!

 

-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