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Stranger Things 3 Tries to Do Better by Female Characters, but Still Has a Ways to Go

Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and Max (Sadie Sink) bond over ice cream in Stranger Things 3.

Stranger Things has always had a bit of a problem with women. Eleven has had some great moments, but too often, Joyce, Nancy, and Max are treated like secondary characters by the narrative, there only to be worried mothers or love interests. Season three shakes that up a little, but we could still use some more focus on women next season beyond the constraints of their relationships to men, or women being the stars of their own narratives.

**Warning: Major spoilers for season three of Stranger Things to follow.**

The third season eschews the love triangles of season two in favor of either platonic friendships (Robin and Steve) or ladies being friends, rather than romantic rivals (Max and Eleven). Robin is a triumph for female characters on the show, spunky, fierce, and not forced into the love interest box. Similarly, Max and Eleven’s friendship allows for them to grow in a new and interesting directions, as well, beyond their boyfriends. Too often, the women of Stranger Things tend to be defined by the men around them, so to change it up and have women be defined by either their own merit or their bond with other women is a breath of fresh air that shouldn’t be coming this late in a series.

Erica, too, is excellent. Fans loved Lucas’s little sister last season, so it makes sense for her to take on a larger role in season three. Priah Ferguson is excellent, and she brought great comedic timing to the role. It was nice to have her join Team Scoops Ahoy.

Also great was Nancy getting to be a star reporter rather than stuck in a C plot, but when will she get to have more development? What is her future beyond Jonathan? Can she break up with Jonathan, because he’s not very interesting? Similarly, Joyce gets more to do, but she’s also mostly Hopper’s sidekick/love interest. Both Joyce and Nancy have the potential to be really amazing, independent characters, and I’d love it if they got a chance to stand beyond Hopper and Jonathan and be their own women; with Hopper “dead” and Jonathan moving out of town, maybe we’ll get that.

Still, this season seems very male (more so than usual). Eleven still gets her usual moments to shine, but she doesn’t leave as much of an impact this season as she had in previous ones. Also, where was her sister? Did they just scrap that entire plot? At the end of the season, Eleven is a damsel in distress in need of rescue, the complete opposite of how she’s ended both seasons before. Her powers will obviously come back, that much is certain, but to de-power and then damsel the show’s strongest female character makes no sense.

In some ways, the show has done better by the female characters with the introduction of Robin, a bigger role for Erica, and Max and Eleven being best friends, but there’s still more work to be done. The ladies of the show deserve more than to just be sidekicks in narratives that are more interesting when they’re leading them.

I’d be much more interested in Joyce taking charge with Hopper as her sidekick (and, maybe, Hopper calming down a bit). Nancy should reconcile with Steve and become friends again, and this time be friends with Robin. Eleven should grow as a person with Max, with her sister, and then possibly Mike can come hang out with her if he calms down. Erica should continue to be a part of the team, and I’d love to see her and Lucas team up sometime.

There are easy ways to fix the problems with Stranger Things. What remains to see is whether they’ll follow through.

(image: Netflix)

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Kate (she/her) says sorry a lot for someone who is not sorry about the amount of strongly held opinions she has. Raised on a steady diet of The West Wing and classic film, she is now a cosplayer who will fight you over issues of inclusion in media while also writing coffee shop AU fanfic for her favorite rare pairs.