Hello, fellow Stranger Things fan. Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of the Netflix genre blockbuster’s sophomore year, I would like to say this season is so good it made me angry I had to sleep. And, I really, really love sleep. Since Stranger Things 2, as its streaming giant home keeps referring to the new season, is so compelling, it’s easier to notice little trends one might not see with larger gaps between viewings. Yet, because I watched this new batch of episodes over a matter of days — and the final four episodes over one very uncool Friday night — I realized there’s a weird sexist theme taking over the town of Hawkins, Indiana, where our heroes reside: men tend to think of parenting as a Woman’s Thing, while women do not at all.
The first time I noticed this Stranger habit is in “Dig Dug” when when Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) hops in a truck driven by a stranger who happens to be man. Considering traditional (read: conservative) societal rules, a young girl’s father would likely be the person who would be most upset about their daughter alone in a car with a trucker. It’s the same reason older men cloak their transphobia by claiming they’re afraid of “men” being in the same unmonitored bathrooms as their daughters, when they’re actually talking about trans women trying to relieve themselves. While these dads are completely wrong in situations like that, society puts an inappropriate level of responsibility on men when it comes to protecting their daughter’s so-called “honor.” So, a young girl traveling alone with a random old guy is probably a dad’s worst fear in 1984.
Yet, when Eleven goes to leave the truck, her new friend (Ben Taylor) tells her, “Hey, you apologize to your momma, yeah? Must be scared half to death.” It takes two to tango, and make a baby, so couldn’t Eleven’s father also be terrified halfway to the grave? Apparently not.
We see the trucker’s theory on parenting come alive with Ted Wheeler (Joe Chrest), the father of Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard). At this point, the father of three — remember little Holly (the freshly-recast Anniston Price) always — seems willfully ignorant instead of haplessly in the dark about family matters. At another point in “Dig Dug,” the lovable Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), shows up at the Wheeler home looking for Mike. Ted is able to confirm Mike isn’t home, but has no idea where he might be. “Karen, where’s our son?” he bellows into the house. Wheeler mom Karen (Cara Buono) answers, “Will's!” Her tone makes it clear this is a fact Ted was told, but refused to remember. It’s seems evident that’s because Ted believes knowing where his offspring are is Karen’s job, while his own duty is to try to fall asleep on his recliner.
To further prove this point, Ted also has no idea where his oldest daughter is. “Karen, where’s Nancy?” Ted screams into the house again. “Ally’s!” is the answer he gets. Ted can’t even be bothered to care why Dustin is desperately seeking any of his children who don’t need adult supervision to go potty, as he asks the young boy, “Am I done here?”
Yet, on the other hand, the women of Stranger Things don’t look at parenting as such a one-sided deal. In “The Pollywog,” Eleven comes upon a loving mom (Bethany DeZelle) pushing her child on a swing. Hypothetically, this would be a good place in terms of moving the story forward for the woman to ask Eleven, “Where is your mother?” The question could easily push the tween into another emotional flashback about wanting to know who her mother is, and where she is, as a huge chunk of this season, and the installment specifically, is dedicated to solving that mystery for Eleven. Still, the mom doesn’t utter the word “mother” at all. Rather, she politely asks the telekinetic badass, who would just look like a lost little girl to anyone who doesn’t know her, “Sweetie … where are your parents?” Even this mom understands other mothers aren’t the only people who care about their kids.
Eleven has a similar experience during her big solo episode, “The Lost Sister,” where she leaves Hawkins, and even her mother Terry Ives (Aimee Mullins), to find her “sister,” Kali (Linnea Berthelsen). The pair go on a near-murderous adventure together, which ends up showing Eleven the much darker path available to her if she didn’t have the love and support of her Hawkins family. So, Eleven chooses to leave Kali and return “home” to save her surrogate father Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour), the always-in-trouble Will Byer (Noah Schnapp), and, of course, her favorite person, Mike. While sitting on a Greyhound bus driving for Indiana, a random older woman (Avis-Marie Barnes) on the bus asks Eleven, “So, where you headed? To your parents I hope?” While both this woman and the trucker meet Eleven in almost identical situations, they have wildly different ideas about where she should be headed. One imagines a loving set of parents, while the later sees a single hysterical mother.
It’s easy to chalk these kind of stark differences between the sexes as, “That’s what 1984 was,” but, Stranger Things isn’t a documentary. It’s a story written by the purposeful siblings Matt and Ross Duffer, so all of this means something. And, considering the fact Ted looks like the biggest fool in Hawkins by finale “The Gate,” it's safe to assume Mr. Wheeler isn't the one in the right when it comes to parenting philosophy.
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