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

Captain Marvel’s True Villain

Warning: All the spoilers! 

“I have nothing to prove to you”.

That was the moment that Captain Marvel may have become my favorite super hero.
Captain Marvel is a story about a woman named Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) who has amnesia. She is a noble warrior hero for the Kree, and during a mission she finds herself on Earth. As she attempts to finish her mission and reunite with her crew, she discovers the truth about her past and her current circumstance.
Her mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) has been training her to be her “best” self, claiming that she must learn to control her emotions and learn to fight without her powers, otherwise the “Supreme Intelligence” will punish her.
Once on earth she learns that she received her powers during an attempt to prevent Yon-Rogg from stealing powerful technology, and that the Kree have been trying to suppress her powers ever since. Yon-Rogg has been controlling her, wanting her to stay under his power, and does so by making her question her reality and her gifts. He has her convinced that her powers are her weakness, and that if she uses her powers she will be punished.
And to anyone who has been mentally abused, this story hits a note that we can all relate to.
There are many things I enjoyed about Captain Marvel. I loved how confident and sassy Carol was. I love that the central love story was between two best friends, and that there wasn’t a trace of romance in the movie. I loved watching an alpha male (Fury) immediately trust and defer to a woman. I loved the climactic battle staged to No Doubt’s “Just a Girl”. And I loved that the true villain of the story was gaslighting.
Abuse is more than just a physical form. Many abusers use mental techniques to overpower their partners, such as gaslighting. The abuser will consistently manipulate their victim into questioning their own sanity, their own reality. And this device is extremely prevalent within the relationship between Carol and Yon-Rogg.
At the beginning of the film, we learn that Carol, known as Vers at this point, has a device implanted to her head. Yon-Rogg claims the device is giving her the powers that she has, but if she cannot learn to fight without those powers the “Supreme Intelligence” will take those powers away from her. As they train he continues to tell her that she is not strong because she cannot beat him without her powers. That her emotions are making her weak, that her desire to know about the past she has forgotten are distracting her from fulfilling her full potential.
But here is the real kicker: that device implanted on her head is actually suppressing her powers. Yon-Rogg, the Kree, the Supreme Intelligence, none of them had anything to do with giving her those powers, and have everything to do with trying to keep her from discovering them.
This is a common occurrence in mental abuse. Abusers tell their victims, “you will never be good enough” or “you are nothing without me”. Gaslighting is done to trick victims into believing they are weak and worthless, which makes the moment when Carol reclaims her power and freedom in full force a very cathartic moment.
After Carol has defeated the Kree and the battle is over, she faces Yon-Rogg one last time. And he falls back on his old tricks. He is counting on his conditioning to kick in and for her to submit to him. He demands she faces him without her powers and prove that she really is stronger than him. And she blasts him down without skipping a beat. “I have nothing to prove to you” and drags him away. No grand speeches, no huge statements. And my eyes filled with tears.
How often have women been told throughout our lives to get a grip on our emotions? How many women have been told to not act upset when they were wronged? How many women have been called “crazy” for having emotions? For centuries, the perceived unreliability of women’s emotions kept us from owning property, voting, promotions, fair wages, or having basic control of our lives. And we have internalized all of this. We believe we aren’t strong, we aren’t worthy, we aren’t good enough. We have all experienced gaslighting.
Watching Captain Marvel claim her freedom, watching her face her true enemy with a calm confidence,  was such a cathartic experience for me. She saved herself, she embraced every part of herself that she was told to suppress, and she broke free from her mental prison.
-Darci

Punching Down

Do you ever stumble upon a phrase that helps you articulate something you just couldn’t quite define and suddenly it all clicks?

That happened to me recently when I discovered the term “punching down”. I was reading a movie review for Isn’t It Romantic that compared the film to another recent rom-com starting an unconventionally attractive woman I Feel Pretty. Very similar plot lines, but this reviewer felt very differently about the films. She said Isn’t It Romantic was smart, hilarious, and most importantly it doesn’t punch down.

And as soon as I read that, it clicked. That’s what I don’t like about certain comedians, certain movies, certain television shows, certain politicians. They punch down.

So what is punching down? Punching down is when someone of a higher rank, a position of power, a person of superiority makes a joke at the expense of the less powerful or an oppressed group. You might also refer to this as cheap shots, or making someone the butt of the joke.

Or as I like to call it: mean humor.

Punching down is used to make someone or ones feel small. It’s used to downplay, to belittle, to shame, or to dismiss all disguised as humor. Basically punching down is someones way of justifying being a total asshole by claiming it’s just a joke. And quite often, it doesn’t work out so well for the joker.

Remember when Jesse Watters on The O’Reilly Factor went to New York’s Chinatown to interview Chinese-American’s and proceeded to ask horrifically racist questions (do you know karate, should I bow, can I get a foot massage, and mocked their broken english)? It was meant to be humorous, it was meant to show the apparently inherent hilarity of the Chinese culture, when really it was just blatant racism against a group of minorities.

Punching down is all over the place these days. Most women’s issues are punched down (who would want to sexually harass you), our current president does it all the time, Conservatives and Republicans think it’s a fun way to go after the Democrats. Using humor as a way to discredit real issues like sexual harassment or racism just shows that you are a sexist or a racist, not that you are funny and certainly not that these issues are real.

Things that are really funny punch up. Instead of wasting their time going after people who are typically the minority or the oppressed, they go after people with tangible power that’s being abused. A basic element of humor is that your best stuff will come from going after people that are bigger than you.

There has been a lot of critique of comedy over the last few years, claiming that we are all too sensitive and everyone gets offended too easily. What can we even joke about now? To which I say that is absolute bullshit. Making fun of the weak has never been funny.

Michelle Wolf’s White House Correspondence Dinner routine was funny because she went after a powerful establishment with meticulously researched critiques and take downs. Amy Schumer making a rape joke about Hispanics isn’t funny because there is no data to back her up, so she is just further perpetuating a false stereotype of an oppressed group.

Using comedy as a tool to abuse the already abused isn’t just deeply unfunny, it also reveals a lack of understanding of how power is structured. And that is the root of what is really being called out right now. Women and minorities face daily battles and uphill challenges, and those need to be taken seriously. And the biggest factor to be addressed is the abuse of the power structure.

Making jokes about it is not the solution.

Using humor to put people down, make people feel small, silence people, and downplay real issues isn’t funny. When you punch down, you aren’t making a joke, you are part of the problem.

 

 

-Darci

A Feminist Viewing

The big movie blitz season is upon us. Oscar buzz is wild, studios are putting their best foot forward, Christmas hype is all around. Movies are coming out for everyone! Dramas, comedies, holiday movies, action films, family films. It’s not just that there is something for everyone, there is an abundance for everyone!

And spoiler alert: these stories are probably going to be super male focused.

Media has had an over-representation issue with men for forever. And it makes sense. Men formed our laws, built our networks, and ran all the companies. So of course the creative works are going to be about them. Representing them and glorifying them.

Luckily, there are many other angry feminists in this world who came before me and have noticed  that our media isn’t overly representative of women. And they have come up with some wonderful and simple tests to determine if a film is representing women or not (again, spoiler, a lot of them don’t). These tests don’t even demand or imply that women should be the lead, just that they are being presented as actual characters with agency and participation in the story.

The hard part about these tests is that once you are aware of them, you can’t not see it. You’ll start watching movies differently, noticing if they represent women or not. Suddenly movies you have loved your whole life, genres that were always entertaining, will leave you disappointed.

So, to ruin your viewing pleasure, I give you the Feminist Viewing Requirements!

The Bechdel Test
Two or more named women talking to each other about something other than a man.

The Bechdel Test is my personal favorite. Because it’s the simplest one. Could it really be so hard to write a story that includes two named women characters having a minimum of one conversation that isn’t about a man? Yes. Apparently. This test isn’t even about women being the lead in the film. They just need to be named, interact, and talk about something other than men.

Chick flicks often fail. While these movies tend to involve a lot of female characters, the whole story revolves around romantic relationships with men. The characters aren’t developed much beyond their romantic pursuits.

Not surprisingly, most action films fail. Action films tend to be heavily swayed towards a male cast, and the plot is motivated by the males, and the women are there as sexy props to elevate a man. Even from directors thought to be feminist, like Joss Whedon. His Avengers films, while having at least two named female characters, don’t actually interact with each other. However, Ant Man and the Wasp passes with flying colors! Marvel learned something over those six years.

Great films that pass the Bechdel Test: Incredibles 2, Oceans 8, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Karate Kid.

The Mako Mori
At least one female character with her own narrative arc that is not about supporting a man’s story.

Named after the character Mako Mori in the 2013 film Pacific Rim, this test focuses on the development of a female character. The Mako Mori is an alternative for the Bechdel, rather than a replacement. Mako Mori acknowledges that a film can have great female representation and development without the characters interacting. Mako Mori wants to expand what can constitute a “strong woman” in film.

Inspired because Pacific Rim did not pass the bechdel test, but had strong female characters and a diverse cast, fans felt that the definition of female representation in film needed to be expanded. Ironically, the sequel passes the Bechdel Test, but not the Mako Mori test. Joss Whedon’s Avengers films hold up pretty well to the Mako Mori test, despite failing the Bechdel Test.

Some great films that pass the Mako Mori Test: Mary Poppins, Silence of the Lambs, Titanic, and Pride & Prejudice.

The Sexy Lamp
A female character that cannot be removed from the plot and replaced with a sexy lamp without destroying the story.

The Sexy Lamp test is all about how relevant a female character is to the plot of a work, if the character has any agency or relevance to the story. Proposed by Kelly Sue DeConnick, if the female character can be removed from the story and replaced with a sexy lamp – if, that is, the female character does nothing and says nothing that is relevant to the story, with the possible exception of existing as a motivation factor or quest object – then the story fails the test.

Some films that totally fail this test: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Great Gatsby, and Blade Runner 2049.

 

 

Studios have been justifying their overt male representation for years. Claiming that people just don’t want to see films with female leads or people of color. It’s just not a good investment. Then someone takes a leap of faith and makes Wonder Woman and Coco and guess what, people actually showed up. A lot of them. Like a lot. And those silly studios who thought that people will only pay for a movie if it’s about a white man have a lot of work to do.

It’s getting better. It really is. It used to be that in order for me to enjoy a film I had to put my feminism up on a shelf during the viewing, but studios are becoming more aware that they are being watched and are responding to that with positive changes. There’s still a long ways to go, but it is getting better.

We’ve been critical, we’ve been opinionated, and we have made it clear: representation matters in film. And we are watching. So these studios better shape up.

 

 

-Darci

The Men of #MeToo Are Resurfacing

Perhaps you heard the news that Louis CK returned to the NYC stand up stage. Or that Aziz has been doing stand up since May, and Netflix says they are ready for him whenever. Apparently Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose have shows in the works.

It’s been less than a year since the #MeToo movement began. And even less time than that has past since these men and more got some very bad press. Only one has given a true apology and actually taken responsibility for his actions. The rest, well, haven’t.

And I find myself…disappointed.

How many women had to come forward with their stories of horrifying experiences for the world to even pay attention? And even then it was still dismissed, defended, downplayed. No woman’s story was horrifying enough for us to be done with these men. Even Harvey Weinstein was defended as “just being Harvey”.

And yet all it took was one man to take down Kevin Spacey. Don’t get me wrong here, what happened to Anthony Rapp was a travesty. But no one questioned his story, no one defended Kevin Spacey for just being Kevin, no one cried that what happened was too long ago to hold it against him. One man told one story, and Kevin Spacey is done for.

But Louis CK was welcomed with a standing ovation. Louis CK admitted to his crimes. And we applaud his return, as if he were the brave victim to rise from the ashes.

I’m disappointed because I thought maybe, just maybe, women were finally getting through to people that how we are treated, how we are seen, what we have to survive every day, needed to stop. That over sexualizing us, devaluing us, that assaulting us was not okay and forgetting that for even a moment has long lasting consequences.

What is so wrong with being done with these men? What is so wrong with saying that treating another human in a certain way means you no longer get to be rich and famous? Why is our moral standard so much more concerned with forgiving these men than valuing the women they exploited and abused? And what’s the worst that will happen if we are done with these men: we make room for new people. New people who don’t have a history of assault or abuse. And we set a standard that says if you treat people this way you are done, so people will stop treating others that way.

When we forgive, excuse, and downplay what these men have done, when we applaud their return, we are telling the world that this behavior is ok. That nothing truly bad will happen to you, that there aren’t really any consequences. And so more men will behave this way, more women will be assaulted and abused, and less women will come forward because they see how pointless and humiliating it is to seek justice.

I’m disappointed, because for a moment there I really thought change was happening.

 

-Darci

At What Point Do We Allow Someone to Grow?

James Gunn was fired from Guardians of the Galaxy 3 recently after old tweets were brought to light of him making inappropriate jokes involving pedophilia. A small but loud crowd were in outrage over these old but still horrific jokes, and Disney reacted quickly and swiftly. In the aftermath, it seems that perhaps hardcore right-wingers are going through outspoken liberals Twitters and exploiting old inappropriate jokes to crucify them in this post-#MeToo world. And Disney took the bait.

Ok. So it’s a lot. And I’ve been processing it all. And I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

My first gut reaction: I loved Guardians 2. It’s easily my favorite of the Marvel films. I was not expecting a super hero movie to be so genuine and relatable, especially when the story involves a baby tree that dances and a talking foul mouth raccoon, all while flying through space. But damnit that movie got real, and I was calling my therapist when it was over, and it was perfect for all of the right reasons. Seriously. I was in tears by the end of that film. And so I am sad that he will not be involved in the next film.

But then I started to wonder, is this justified or not? Is this part of the over correction and exploration of the #MeToo movement, or is this just the next phase of cleaning house? Overcorrection is going to happen. Everything offends someone, and now there seems to be a sounding board to scream about it all, and the higher up powers are finally afraid of the masses. But is this necessary or is this going to far?

So here is my long winded opinion.

I’ve never been a fan of Twitter. Free speech is wonderful, and having zero censorship is a privilege we should always value. But just because you can, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. And most people who use Twitter seem to think I can, so why not? Twitter is not censored or regulated like other social media platforms, which has lead many (not just celebrities) to say whatever crass, offensive, or shocking thing they want, simply because they can. And until very recently, no one was overly worried if there would ever be consequences.

Many times now celebrities have tweeted things that got them heat – and that was the point. They wanted the attention (all press is good press). But they didn’t get fired. Because we weren’t taking them seriously. Before  #MeToo no one has notably lost work due to something they tweeted, past or present. Now, full television shows are canceled, directors are being taken off big projects, actors or dropping out of films before they even start shooting.

And again, none of this is happening because of the crimes or bad choices they are making. Just like when #MeToo started, those men weren’t losing their jobs because people were trying to do right by the women coming forward, they were losing their jobs because overnight they became suddenly not marketable.

Now they are firing people and canceling full projects because of the feared fallout. For marketing. For profit. For bottom line.

James Gunn wrote and published those tweets almost ten years ago. Long before Disney hired him. They knew they were there, and they weren’t concerned about them then. They are only concerned about them now. Because the small group of loud shouting people have become a feared mob.

But here is my real rub. James Gunn apologized. Honestly, earnestly, apologized. He owned up to his mistakes, took responsibility for them, and agreed they were in poor taste at best. That is not who he is any more, and he hopes we will all let his work speak for itself.

And we aren’t.

So are people allowed to grow and change? What mistakes are forgivable? What actions make up for those mistakes? When is an apology sufficient?

Here’s where I may get some heat. Of all of the celebrity fall outs from #MeToo, I am willing to forgive Louis CK. I may even be willing to watch his future projects. And here is why: he owned it, he fully apologized, he didn’t make excuses, deny it, attack the women who came forward. He took full responsibly, he seems to understand the long reach of his actions, and he seems to genuinely understand he needs to learn and grow. And that’s why I can make my peace with him (does my opinion matter, no; does my forgiveness matter, absolutely not).

And that’s why I am ok with James Gunn. He’s not shouting from the roof tops defending his actions, he is not displacing the blame onto others or drugs, or justifying his wrong doing because others did it too. He knows what he did, he stopped doing it long before the internet decided to charge him for his crimes, and he hasn’t been that person for years.

I believe in repentance and forgiveness, blame my Christian upbringing. If James Gunn made those jokes today, that would be an issue. If he were to dismiss his actions or displace the responsibly on something stupid like medication or culture or someone else did it too so it’s fine, that would also be an issue. But these were past mistakes that he has already repented for. And so I believe he deserves forgiveness. And I don’t think he deserved to be fired, or have his career impacted at all.

We all have our dumb moments, we all have our blind spots, we all need to learn and grow. Making mistakes is inevitable, but owning up to them and apologizing for them is rare. We have to allow people to learn and grow from their mistakes. And we have to accept their honest repentance.

 

-Darci

Henry Cavill: A Case and Point Study

Welp. It happened again. Another Man in Hollywood fails to understand the basic point of #MeToo and, of course, his only real concern is how it affects Him.

Let’s let Henry Cavill speak for himself, and then I will break it down for you:

“Stuff has to change, absolutely….”

-Let’s pause. Every Man in Hollywood who has said “Yes, but…” when discussing the #MeToo movement fails to understand the actual issue at hand. They go on to downplay what is happening, what has been happening, and are only focused on how it affects them. And to prove my point:

“It’s important to also retain the good things, which were a quality of the past, and get rid of the bad things. There’s something wonderful about a man chasing a woman. There’s a traditional approach to that, which is nice….It’s very difficult to do that if there are certain rules in place. Because then it’s like: ‘Well, I don’t want to go up and talk to her because I’m going to be called a rapist or something’. So you’re like, ‘Forget it, I’m going to call an ex-girlfriend instead, and then just go back to a relationship, which never really worked’. But it’s way safer than casting myself into the first of hell because I’m someone in the public eye, and if I go and flirt with someone, then who knows what’s going to happen? Now? Now you really can’t pursue someone further than, ‘No”. It’s like ‘Ok, cool’. But then there’s the ‘Oh why’d you give up?’ And it’s like, ‘Well, because I didn’t want to go to jail?’”

-I have discussed this concept a few times already, but clearly it needs to be repeated again and again until Men get it: harassment and flirting are completely different things, women know the difference, and if you don’t then you definitely should not be talking to women.

-To be clear: these “Old Fashioned” and “Traditional” approaches that he is talking about, those are just fancy words for socially acceptable harassment. And there is nothing Good about harassment. They are part of the Bad that needs to go.

-“Wooing” and “Chasing” women is not “Old Fashioned” or even remotely flirtatious, it is harassment. It always has been, it always will be. Refusing to take “No” for an answer is harassment, not flirting. And while you Men may be lamenting the days when you could push for what you wanted until you got it, us Women are pretty excited and empowered to see those days come to an end. If making women feel uncomfortable at best and unsafe at minimum is considered acceptable to you, then you should not be talking to women any more.

-Regardless as to how “difficult” these “new rules” are for you Men, get over it. Women have spent centuries suffering under the “Old Fashioned rules” and #TimesUp.

-Some of you Men may be afraid to talk to new women in this post-me-too era for fear of being mistaken or confused for harassment. This is not an excuse to go harass women from you past. Those Women already suffered enough under your company, don’t make them suffer any more. Again, if you are struggling with the difference between flirting and harassment, just don’t talk to any women, new or old.

-Superman is the most boring Superhero and everyone knows it (ya, I said it, fight me).

-Perhaps most importantly: you should never pursue someone after they tell you “No”. That is the end of the pursuit. If you continue beyond that, you are no longer flirting, you are harassing. And yes, the worst case scenario for you could be that you end up in jail for it.

-Fear of jail should not be the only reason you listen when someone says “No”. You should listen because you have basic human decency. Jail should not be the only downfall that results in basic respect.

-And finally, Men, this isn’t about you. It’s about protecting Women, finally. Stop making this about you. It’s your time to listen and learn, not speak.

 

That is all for this week, class. Let me know if you have any comments or questions about another idiot Man who care more about himself than anyone else!

 

-Darci