5-ish points on the female characters of ‘Stranger Things’ Season 3 (spoilers)

  1. Maya Thurman Hawke, a gift to the world from the ‘90s gods of symmetry. Let us all worship her. May she start dating Frances Bean Cobain and make all of the dreams we didn’t know we had come true. Ok, enough projecting. The fact that her character, Robin, is queer and self-aware enough to be mildly open about it — while simultaneously shutting down high school cool guy/real-world loser Steve Harrington — is definitely a late 2010s attribute. Not likely one that would’ve actually been expressed or accepted as easily in a podunk town like Hawkins, Indiana. Not to mention that Robin, armed with only her intellect and a knowledge of Romance languages, decodes a Russian spy transmission using only a translation dictionary and a white board during one shift at Scoops Ahoy.

Sidenote: The only way Hawkins got a mall was because of their weird, otherworldly energy resource and Russian interest in it. Plus a skeezy mayor. From the looks of it, that town does not have the population or commerce to support a mall. Every person in Hawkins between the ages of 10 and 25 must’ve been at the mall every day to fill it up the way it was. We’ve all seen the size of their police department. Full disclosure: I grew up 45 minutes from the nearest mall, so there might be a little nostalgic mall envy there.

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2. Suzie and the The Never-Ending Story musical number! They sang the whole thing! They did the keychange! They reprised it! Even with the magical friendship of a wish dragon, I could not have dreamed of this wish. The joy of one of my favorite childhood movies’ ‘80s inspirational masculine-feminine harmony vocals breaking up a super intense point in an already beloved show — Aah-ah Aah-ah Aah-ah! Truly, this was my fave ‘80s reference in the entire series. And girl was like, “I haven’t heard from you in two weeks. Reconnect with me and then we can talk saving the world.” That’s how you get your needs met, people!

Fun note: Dustin’s supposedly made-up and super adorbs, nerdy night-gowned girlfriend, Suzie, was reading Ursula LeGuin when Dustybun finally made contact with her via pirate radio (or something. I’m not that kind of nerd). The internet says the title in question was The Wizards of Earthsea, which I haven’t read. But it did inspire me to pick up a used LeGuin title, Four Ways to Forgiveness, recently. 

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3. El kind of got to develop a little bit of a personality. As the most powerful being in the series, Eleven is essentially a tool for other people. Her identity is what she can do for the ragtag group of misfits, the town and the world at large. She is what other people feel about her, a powerful projection, an embodied teenage poltergeist. But she’s worked her way out of being Eggos, so that’s cool. El was raised in a fucked up environment to do others’ bidding. She doesn’t know anything else. And even as she evolves from that ingrained mindset, it lingers. Anyone who’s worked through childhood trauma and/or capitalism can probably relate. 

But! In Season 3, El declared independence from Mike and the little bro crew. (I’m wholeheartedly trying to work “I dump your ass!” into my parlance.) Max (not Maxine, ok?) introduces El — via an ‘80s-appropriate montage — to the individualism-creating power of clothes. And Wonder Woman comics. She starts to work her way out of the Born Sexy Yesterday female film trope. She’s is making out with Mike (yay, makeout!), and Hopper, a.k.a. Mr. Macho Punchy Shooty, is uncomfortable with El expressing agency to the point of sabotaging her relationship with Mike to make himself more comfortable. What an old white guy thing to do. 

Possibly an unpopular opinion, but just fuck Hopper. He’s probably still alive, but I was not sad to see him “go.” Just because he “means well,” as the outline for the conversation Joyce coached him to have with El and Mike depicted, it doesn’t excuse the fact that he manipulated children as a shortcut to benefit himself. Joe Biden means well too, but he’s still problematic af. Toxic masculinity screws everyone, but that doesn’t mean I condone it in fiction. Duffer Brothers, I can’t tell if this is another ‘80s nod or what, but I’m beyond over it. 

4. Erica is a delightful young female character who demanded what she wanted. It was ice cream. I love her style. That Rainbow Bright Star? Yet characterizing black children as precocious and more mature for their age than white children — she’s a peer to her older brother’s friends — perpetuates stereotypes that have real-world implications on vulnerable young people. 

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5. Everyone else. Nancy “Drew” is a 21st-century take on the white male fantasty lead that we’re all supposed to want to be or want to fuck. She followed her intuition and got on the trail of the Mind Flayer. She shot a gun a few times. Perhaps a subtle nod to Linda Hamilton in a series that’s just bobbing and bobbing its head at ‘80s cinema? Nancy just doesn’t stand out much due to to lack of character development. You don’t get to be the perfect popular girl and then become a feminist heroine overnight. Not even if you start slumming it with the misfit kid you trauma-bonded with. Joyce has to be overly emotional-intuitive — in that special Winona Ryder voice-wavery way — to counterbalance Hopper’s Rambo-ape mode. Mike’s mom , Karen Wheeler, couldn’t get herself to sleep with an overly confident teenage boy. I have the feeling she would have been let down, had the deed not been derailed by conscience and mind-flaying. She did encourage her daughter to follow her gut and, in effect, defy old white men, which was empoweringly instrumental to the plot. I had high hopes for Max, but her character didn’t have an independent storyline and probably won’t ever. Nonetheless, Maya Hawke, ladies and gentlemen! 

As free as the wind blows

There’s a moment of giddy hesitation before I strip off my red and black bikini on a shady block of Few Street. I did this last year. There are already dozens of nude and semi-nude folks with bikes spilling out of the parking lot behind the Social Justice Center. I’m surrounded by a handful of my closest, cutest friends. But being naked in public is generally frowned upon. Read more at Isthmus.com.

Live from east Madison

Only those on the lookout would notice a pale pink balloon, swaying in the breeze, tied to a neon orange traffic barrier. Beyond 50 yards of rain-soaked construction gravel and cracked cement, Madison rock-pop quartet BingBong is feeling the pressure. They are simultaneously preparing for a live show, a recording session and a video shoot while also hosting an event. Read more at Isthmus.com.

‘Thunder Thighs’ creator hits Madison

Miss Eaves shakes out her smart, body-positive club music at North Street Cabaret

Miss Eaves — the “femcee” persona of hip-hop/electronic artist Shanthony Exum — is stopping at the North Street Cabaret on April 14 on her “Unapologetic AF Tour.” The Brooklyn-based multimedia artist creates smart, catchy feminist club bangers, which play well on Madison’s increasingly inclusive dance floors. Read more at Isthmus.com.

Radical vision

Sonya Renee Taylor visits with a message and a plan

Nine Madison College faculty and staff sit in a circle in a Truax Building classroom, discussing how culture creates and enforces insecurities. One woman shares how she was relieved to take a singing class because there it was acceptable to breathe and have a “big” stomach. She also recalls being astonished when a Chinese student told her that in China, where thin legs are considered ideal, some considered Beyonce ugly and called her “Hippo.” Read more at Isthmus.com.

Moving on

After a diving accident, Max Rammer forges a music career

Max Rammer had to make a life-altering decision after a 2017 diving accident left his arms and legs paralyzed: the Janesville teen could slip into hopeless depression or muster the grit to live with his new condition. Read more at isthmus.com.

Election Season in Hell: How to deal

In my relatively nascent understanding of Buddhism as a Westerner, this is hell. We’re living in a hell realm. The United States is in utter chaos and its residents live in fear and disharmony. You never realize how good you had it until it’s very obviously not good. What’s more: the biennial national agony is upon us — election season. And I happen to be working — and moderating social media — for a political campaign.

This hits my own special snowflake self in at a particularly brutal angle because I’m an empath (a person who is sensitive to others’ energy to the point that it feels like their own). An empath who has degrees in political science, international relations and works in journalism. Color me livid. I’m reminded of the week in 2008 when I was working as a financial journalist in New York City and a major bank failed overnight every day for a week. People were still hurrying along the sidewalks to work, ordering coffee and typing furiously into their Blackberries. Do they not understand? I wondered, with my mid-20s mind. Shit is falling apart and the general public is barely responding!? Before too long, I realized that macroeconomics and fiscal policy were beyond the grasp of most Americans, especially those in the legislature trying to create emergency policy around it.

But this time around, things are different. People understand. It’s hitting home. We’re seeing — literally — our loved ones attacked for simply being who or where they are. We’re seeing years and decades of institutional protection for marginalized groups and the environment disbanded for little to no conscienable purpose. And we’re all connected in a digital world where voices and opinions outnumber original, useful thoughts and ideas. In addition, this digital world can function as a distraction from the real, tangible world in front of us.

For me, self care is vital. After the Supreme Court hearings and the brave testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, I had to tune out for my health. I felt myself slipping down that dark slope of depression in light of the ongoing dehumanization of women. It felt like a loved one had died, when it was actually the expiration of my illusion. Still, I clocked out of news and social media for a few weeks — a luxury, I’m well aware — until this week, when I heard 45 was attacking trans people. So I tiptoed back into social media, largely to show my support for trans folks and reach out to my trans/non-gender-conforming/non-binary friends. I also caught part of a news brief on the car radio yesterday and after about 15 seconds, changed the channel because the sound of 45’s voice and the evil drivel it emitted sent a wave of dread through my being. I still feel a little sick from it. It can’t be just me. So, here are some self-care thoughts and tips for navigating this hell realm. They’re nothing new, but a little reminder can go a long way.

Also! If you’re not inspired to do this on your own behalf, maybe doing it for the benefit of others will motivate you. Sometimes, that’s what it takes for me to be good to myself. Bad vibes spread easily, so keeping yourself in a good state is a contribution to your community and the world. Hugs!

GET TF OFF OF SOCIAL
Even for awhile. Like a day, a week, etc. We’re so connected to this never-ending news cycle of shit and badness that our psyches start to crave it. This is not healthy. Please step away from the screen in general. You’ll feel the difference.

GO OUTSIDE
Be around trees and birds and squirrels, if you can. Walk, run, jog, bike. Gaze at the leaves on that tree and the flowers in those gardens.

TAKE A BATH
You stink! Well, maybe. Stink vibes? A warm (not hot!) bath with 2 cups of Epsom salts (which is actually magnesium, which relaxes your muscles), 1 cup of baking soda and a few drops of a relaxing essential oil like lavender can be very helpful. I like to listen to a guided meditation or practice mindful breathing in the tub. If I’m not too distracted by my gushing bathroom radiator.

MEDITATE
You don’t have to sit in lotus position and chant OM to meditate. You can sit or lie down and simply notice your breath and your body as it breathes. Following this action rather than your normal, crazy monkey brain is super relaxing for your mind and body. Do it for one minute, 10 minutes or an hour. But definitely don’t stress about it. Your mind’s function is to wander. To be mindful is to notice it wondering and say, “Hey buddy, wanna come back here and hang out with me?”

GUIDED MEDITATION
Maybe you need more than a few deep breaths. Someone guiding your mind to a chiller space can go a long way. I like the Insight Meditation App. There are meditations for any outcome your heart desires. Insight also has talks and cool, chill music. The variety is astounding.

FOCUS ON YOUR HEART
This is a big one for me. When I get anxious, I notice that a lot of energy is swirling around in my head and my brain goes into overdrive. When I notice this happening, I try to take a few deep breaths with my hands over my heart. This is where I want my energy to be centered — in love. When I think and act from my heart, I know I’m coming from the right place.

DANCE!
“Free your ass and your mind will follow” is a quote I’ve heard attributed to George Clinton himself. And I concur. Shake your groove thing in your kitchen, living room, local club, park or, if you’re lucky enough to have one, local ecstatic dance group.

YOGA
If you’re super stressed, check out some yin yoga practice, which is meant to calm the parasympathetic nervous system that’s responsible for the fight-flight-or-freeze response. Find some on YouTube, at a local studio or on subscription yoga-streaming services like YogaGlo.

GET ARTY
You know you wanna pull out some scissors and magazines and create a collage! Or dust off that easel and paint it up. Art puts your brain in a different state. Try to do it for at least 45 minutes for max results. You’re an artiste!

CHILL TUNES
I know all to well the realness of the temptation to just blare Pantera’s “The Great Southern Trendkill” and rage out at this bullshit going on. (And now, I’m questioning the counter-ideological implications of that record choice.) But guess what? That’s just a feedback look of aggression. Try some chill, ambient vibes or nature sounds. Spotify has a ton of cool “Mood” channels to fit your fancy, even it’s just old Weezer or something upbeat. I like Ambient Chill. *Avoid excessive minor keys and distortion* I know it can be hard, but your brain will thank you.