I mean think about it for a second.
How else do we get fragrance creators telling us what female empowerment smells like? Or articles telling us that Stranger Things is “not the feminist show of our dreams?” No duh; that’s why it’s of our dreams. And that’s all before we get into how the article slights teenage girls for making irrational decisions about dating and moms for grieving their missing kids, all the while slamming those teens for wearing makeup and yelling at the moms (cash-strapped and frantic as they are) for not.
These are the sort of ghosts of philosophies that
are haunting modern feminism discourse. There is something to be said for the fact that narratives frequently dismiss women who don’t fit a standard (attractive) archetype, or how a character who undergoes abuse is doing so because the creator framed it that way. But there’s a difference between Game of Thrones‘ quick trigger on putting any and every woman through sexual assault, and showing that sometimes teens—even teens who have sex on the regular—can be assholes about people having sex.
To flatten all feminist concepts into basic buzzwords—”slut-shaming,” “looking pretty,” “love-triangles”—ignores not just what feels fresh about shows like Stranger Things who feature an array of female characters, but tramples all over the progress that got us here. In another world Stranger Things would’ve been just about the men in Will’s orbit, finding Will by kicking ass. In Stranger Things, it’s about a community.
Shows aren’t perfect; lord knows Stranger Things wasn’t. Ideologies aren’t perfect. Neither are the people that hold them. But holding things you love to dichotomous standards of “feminist” or “not feminist” is a sure fire way to ruin things you love and feminism.
Stranger Things is the hit of the summer (if such a show can exist anymore). It’s talked about by everyone, seemingly everywhere you go—maybe even in the upside down place! But it’s also just the latest in a long line of sci-fi that perpetuates classic privilege structures.
Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed Stranger Things a lot. But it’s also one more nostalgia-laced artifact popping up in 2016. This year there’s a lot. It seems like a convenient way to get back to “the good ol’ days,” without having to say “I don’t want to take on the burden of diversity and inclusion in my pop culture.” Returning to the 80s is a prime way of achieving just that without having to explicitly not make room for more, let’s say, liberal ideals.
Paying serious homage (like Stranger Things) or rebooting shows whole brand (Boy Meets World, X-Files, Fuller House) from bygone eras in the name of nostalgia is essentially making pop culture great again—with all the baggage that phrase carries with it. The philosophy is not inherently misguided, but may and often gets a hall pass to ignore people or issues that were invisible in the 80s, 90s, and even 2000s.
It’s something that pops up a lot in science fiction: The framing of the narrative or reality of a given world is used to cut out and around marginalized people. The X-Files came out in the 90s, before modern campaigns like #OscarsSoWhite or Peak TV which have allowed for more voices on TV. But even there the show is framed so that viewers take Mulder’s less desirable traits—bullheadedness, propensity for throwing himself into danger, and (perhaps most importantly) skepticism towards Scully’s ideas and credentials—as all in the service of the greater good. The audience doesn’t have to acknowledge that Scully has been fighting this fight all her life to get preeminently educated and informed. Mulder knows about aliens! Which are real! Don’t interrogate any internalized misogyny any closer.
Two words: Really Mulder?