Yes, Stranger Things’ main leading character was a little girl with superpowers: Milli Bobby Brown’s Eleven. Yet the first two seasons didn’t allow any of the women in the show to take charge of their own stories. The women in the cast rarely had meaningful relationships with each other. The addition of Max (Sadie Sink) only led to jealousy from El when it could have sparked other positive emotions. Fortunately, all of that changes in Stranger Things season 3 where the main women finally got a say in how the plot moves forward.
Stranger Things season 3 has finally listened to plenty of critique on their show when it comes to how it treats its women. Apart from El, everyone was treated as a subplot so that we could focus on the boys or men of the show. Barb’s death wasn’t painted out to be a big deal as much as Will’s death was. It’s mostly because of how the show has decided on some sort of formula where each age group only gets to have one woman with a fully fleshed out personality and story line.
Let’s examine each of the women in Stranger things season 3.
Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder)
We were introduced to the anxious Joyce who was always worried about her son Will Byers. In season 1, she was worried about getting Will back and in the second she had to remove the Mind Flayer out of him.
With the second one was able to set aside her worries temporarily when she found a new love interest in Bill (Sean Astin). In season 3, we got to see Joyce more concerned about the magnets that keep falling down from the fridge. It’s good to note that her son Will is not in any grave danger right away so she can focus on other things.
Joyce finally gets her own story that is indirectly linked to what Will and her whole family had to deal with. But it was about her going on a mission with Jim Hopper ( David Harbour) to uncover the truth about the magnets. They end up kidnapping a Russian scientist , Alexei, who is treated humanely thanks to Joyce’s involvement. Her ability to piece puzzles together leads to Hopper even offering her a position of a Detective.
Eleven (Millie bobby Brown)
It was definitely not nice seeing Eleven reduced to a gendered trope where she felt jealousy when Max (Sadie Sink) arrives. The only reason she was threatened to feel replaced by Max was because the show runners relied on the social norms of the 80’s movies. Other than that, El’s personality did not have any hints of it.
But this season, the jealousy was thrown out the window and a beautiful friendship came to fill it. The two girls were seen shopping around the mall with a strong reinforcement that they did not need boys to enjoy their lives. It only took three seasons but at least they got there. El was always the main leading lady. And this time around she was given more power on what she wanted to do and what she didn’t.
Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink)
She was paired up with Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) before we even got a chance to truly know her. But slowly her personality was unveiled as she was a source of female companionship for El. Max constantly stood up for El and did not like the idea that they could not have fun on their own. This was refreshing after we kept seeing the girls revolve their whole life around the males in their lives. Max and El even go out and carry out an investigation on why Max’s brother Billy is acting odd. They relied solely on themselves. Stranger Things season 3 has women pushing the narrative forward on their own accord.
Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer)
In season 2, Nancy was given her own subplot where she strived to avenge Barb’s death. Even though the story didn’t hold any weight in the major plot of the story, it was still something. Then Nancy starts off her job at the Hawkins Post in Stranger Things season 3. We see Nancy being demeaned by her patriarchal bosses. However, despite constantly being told to not pursue a story by all the men, Nancy does it anyway
She was curious about the inexplicable rabid rats. Yet she confesses her main motivation was to prove all the men wrong. They only saw her as a secretary or an intern that brings lunch to them. She endured because there was no other choice, but she wanted to fight the system by proving it to them that the story she was pursuing was worthy enough. We also saw heartfelt moment she has with her mother where she discusses this exact problem. Fortunately, her mother nudges her to keep fighting.
Robin (Maya Hawke)
Introduced to us as Steve’s broody and sarcastic co-worker at Scoops Ahoy, Robin easily became a favorite character of the show. Her story line is interlinked with that of Steve’s, Dustin’s and Erica’s. But she’s still given a personality of her own. Robin is not simply a teenage girl added to accompany alongside Steve. Rather she’s a complex character with useful skills such as linguistic talents that helps the team crack the Russian code. She helps move the plot forward in her own way while also being a source of some great deadpan humor. Robin (Maya Hawke) coming out as gay was perfect as well because her identity isn’t a cliche caricature of a lesbian. She was a normal teenage girl that had a tough time in high school who suddenly finds herself in a new adventure where she has something valuable to give.
Karen Wheeler (Cara Buono)
Although we were not exactly rooting for Karen and Billy’s romance to take place (thankfully it didn’t), it was still interesting that the show presented secret desires within a suburban mom. She may have not gotten enough screen time in the prior seasons, but in this latest one she really did have some more depth to her character. We saw her at this state where she’s confused on staying loyal to her family or giving in to her desires for Billy. Karen does end up putting her family at first. Perhaps she will evolve a bit more in the upcoming season of Stranger Things. Cara Buono is certainly an actress with a lot of potential. Hopefully, the show runners will end up using it.
Erica Sinclair (Priah Ferguson)
We really did not see Erica Sinclair getting such a major role in Stranger Things season 3. But the show runners made a very wise decision of doing so. Of course, Erica filled in the void we felt by seeing all the children grow up into teenagers. But Erica is indeed a person of her own. She’s young and her only interest is getting ice cream. Yet even she had an important part to play in the plot of the show. She helped Dustin, Steve and Robin figure out what was hiding in those boxes that the creepy Russians were hiding. Later on we find out that it wasn’t just her petite figure that was helpful! It was also her crazy mathematical skills which were resourceful until the very last episode.
Stranger Things Season 3 was for the women as well.