The 1980s brought many examples of an equal rights movement throughout the United States.
In the female community, Sally Ride became the first woman in space, specific organizations were born, such as Woman Against Pornography, while a new wave of female musicians tested the playing field with their use of raunchy lyrics and scandalous attire. But in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, there were many examples exhibited in the Summer of ’85.
Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” which released its third season on July 4, and has broken a record for gaining 40.7 million views in its first four days (more than any other film or series), looks at many instances of the fight for equal liberties through several of its characters.
We see the first occurrence of female empowerment in Karen Wheeler (Cara Buono), a doting mother of three and loyal housewife to her husband and family. Karen spends her summer at the Hawkins Community Pool where she lays and sunbathes with her group of friends on sunny afternoons.
During those days at the pool, the group of mothers and wives patiently await the time when hunky, shirtless lifeguard Billy Hargrove comes on duty. The gaggle waits as he walks past, where they bat their eyelashes and make remarks about the hot weather.
But unlike her friends, Karen pulls Billy off to the side where she makes her move. Not caring about her perfect little life anymore, she entices the teen and makes arrangements to meet him that evening at an area motel where the two could have some fun.
Why should Karen have to go home and take care of her kids? Clean up after them, make dinner for them, entertain them when she has a husband who is perfectly capable of doing the same?
He is obviously not caring for her on any type of level, so Karen decided that she needed to get some care from somewhere else.
But Karen isn’t the only female in the town who is doing what she feels that she has to achieve in order to be happy.
There is Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), the main protagonist of the series, who was enslaved by the US government for the first 12 years of her life as they exploited her powers of telekinesis for their own personal gain.
Now, living free for the second year of her life, young Eleven is dealing with relationship problems as any other 14-year-old would. After getting hung up on her boyfriend, the confused teen went to seek comfort from her friend, Maxine (Max).
When Max explains how she was really being lied to by him and that he was avoiding her, the two girls decide to have their own fun and take a trip to the mall where they spend the day shopping.
But, after running into to her boyfriend there, Eleven realizes that she was actually being lied to by him. Not even giving him a chance to speak, Eleven makes up her mind right then and there and “dump[s his] ass.”
Finally, we come to Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), Karen’s eldest child, who receives a summer internship at The Hawkins Post with her boyfriend, Jonathan. Going into her internship, the two decided that she would be a reporter and he would take on photography. But when starting, Jonathan gets his desired role, while Nancy is forced to be the coffee girl for all of the male reporters in the office.
Anytime Nancy tries to pitch stories to the reporters, they laugh her out of the room while making fun of her, referring to her as “Nancy Drew.” Fed up with her treatment, Nancy takes matters into her own hands and decides that she will pursue stories on her own without the clearance from her editor.
Meanwhile, she convinces Jonathan to tag along as well, but eventually after being caught for posing as reporters, the two were fired from their internships.
On the car ride home, Jonathan asks Nancy why she couldn’t keep her mouth shut? Why she couldn’t just roll with the punches? She tries to explain to him that he doesn’t understand, but his response was that she didn’t understand the hard work he needed to do to get into college.
In this scene, we see the most prominent moment of female empowerment all season. Nancy, who has been stuffing down her feelings at her job after being treated as if she were less than everyone else, unleashes on her boyfriend. She doesn’t care that he lost his internship, she doesn’t care how it will affect their relationship – he needed to know, and UNDERSTAND, how she was treated because of her gender.
This scene not only was one of my favorites from the third season, but it also reaffirmed why Nancy Wheeler is my favorite character in the series.
All three seasons of “Stranger Things” are available to stream on Netflix now.
Ken Downey Jr. is the Features Editor for Time OFF and Packet Publications. This is a part of his series of weekly columns focusing on arts and entertainment. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.