Stranger Things, Nancy Wheeler and the female hero we needed

Letícia Magalhães
Nov 2, 2017 · 6 min read

This is a guest post written by Tina Kakadelis

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Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler (Source: reproduction)

Recently, Hollywood has been making a big deal about “strong female characters” and some people, *cough JAMESCAMERON cough*, think a woman can only be strong if she’s a no-nonsense hardass. Well, Nancy Wheeler and Stranger Things season 2 arrived this weekend to prove you wrong, James Cameron.

So, as we all remember, season one saw the death of Nancy’s best friend, Barb. Now at first, it seemed like everyone took Barb’s death lightly. I’m convinced that’s the only reason my mom was invested in the show because she’s captain of the Justice for Barb campaign. However, this season Nancy is gonna give my mom a run for her money.

One of my main issues with this whole “strong woman” thing is that a lot of times writers try to take away her stereotypically feminine attributes. Meaning, they don’t let her wear dresses or have pink things or what have you. For some idiotic reason, society views feminine things as weak. Obviously, that’s not true. I know that and you know that, but the world does NOT know that. (Patty Jenkins knows that, though. Wonder Woman is a prime example of knowing that.)

Nancy Wheeler is a pretty, preppy nerd and she’s going on a monster slayin’ revenge spree all in the name of her dead best friend, Barb. Nancy doesn’t have a history in martial arts or anything remotely violent, but when it comes to her best friend, it doesn’t matter. She dives headlong into danger because she loves her best friend so much and she’s filled with so much anger that no one cared when Barb died.

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BFFs (Source: reproduction)

At every single turn, it’s Nancy who takes the lead. The boys around her are nervous and cautious and very rarely make the first move. It’s Nancy who makes the plan and pulls Jonathan along. It’s Nancy whose scar from their battle last year is bigger than the boys’. It’s Nancy who speaks up first for something as simple as getting a hotel room in the middle of the night.

Nancy is brave as hell.

Probably my favorite thing about her in season two is that she never loses her femininity. It’s not something that’s holding her back from saving the day. It’s simply a part of her. When she’s packing up her belongings to save the world, she packs a pink nightshirt as her pajamas. In a floral duffel bag. Her femininity doesn’t detract from her strength and that’s so insanely cool.

Nancy storms into PI Murray’s office, tears him apart, and figures out how to get people to give a damn about Barb. All while Jonathan and Murray kinda just stand there silently, without offering anything. But Nancy’s there, taking charge. She also chugs vodka like a CHAMP.

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Not only is Nancy Wheeler all of that, BUT she gets to have ownership over her sexuality. Her feelings for Jonathan reach a tipping point and they end up having (implied) sex in Murray’s guest room. At breakfast the next morning, Murray makes a snarky comment about the pull-put couch Jonathan insisted he sleep on, but definitely did NOT end up sleeping on. In a fun turn of events, it was Jonathan being frazzled and uncomfortable at Murray’s insinuations while Nancy sat there smugly drinking her orange juice.

When Jonathan and Nancy leave Murray’s house, he offers them a bottle of vodka and a bottle of club soda. It’s Nancy who takes the vodka and Jonathan who takes the club soda, almost implying Nancy can handle the potency of vodka while Jonathan should stick to easier things like club soda. (That’s a bit of an English class literary reach, but whatever.)

I hope Nancy Wheeler ushers in a new era of female heroes. A hero in tune with who she is. Whoever that may be. Just someone who’s confident and strong in all of their different attributes and quirks. Nancy is fearless because of her love for the friend she lost. At the end of the day, I’d be willing to say that a strong female friendship is what propels Nancy to be the warrior she is.

I don’t think that’s necessarily what the Duffer Brothers intended, but it’s the way I saw the storyline pan out. Nancy Wheeler becoming a badass monster slayer in the name of her best friend is the truest interpretation of a “ride or die” friendship. As my sister said, “Barb is already dead and Nancy is still riding.” In a way, Stranger Things season two is a love letter to the profound way friendships affect our lives.

I mean, think about who Nancy was before this all started. She was timid about sneaking around to make out with her dreamy boyfriend. And now she’s leading the charge to save the world. Ripping phones off walls. When the demo-dogs are closing in on the Byers’ house and Hopper is yelling at Jonathan asking if he knows how to use a gun, Jonathan just stutters in response. It’s Nancy who walks forward without the tiniest bit of uncertainty and answers that yeah, she knows how to use a gun. And I cannot WAIT to see the generation of girls who get to grow up watching Nancy Wheeler with a top bun catch a gun and prepare herself to unleash holy hell.

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It’s Nancy’s quick thinking that ultimately saves Will’s life.

The tape Nancy secretly records is the reason the world changes.

We’re trained to expect boys to rise to the occasion. All those movies about young kids who overcome the odds to save the world are led by boys. No matter how geeky or nerdy or implausible, no one doubts a boy’s ability to save the day. The girl is usually relegated to a tech role where she doesn’t get to see any of the action.

That could’ve very easily been the role Nancy fell into. She’s the older sister of one of the main characters. There was no reason for her to have the role she had. I’ve lost track of how many movies I’ve watched where the older sister is presented as kind of snooty and standoffish and never gets to join in on the action.

So color me 100% surprised that Nancy Wheeler gets to have a Trapper Keeper, wear a ridiculous pink nightshirt to bed, and be an integral part of saving Hawkins. And nothing makes me happier, because it totally bucks the stereotype that you have to either be pretty or strong. Nancy Wheeler is pretty, strong, and will kick your ass while chugging vodka. She’s a bona fide hero in my book.

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The actor who plays Nancy once said her dream story arc for Nancy would be that she shaves her head, dyes her hair blonde, and goes on a rampage to avenge Barb’s death. Nancy’s still a brunette, but her hair’s a little shorter and she’s most certainly avenging Barb’s death. My sister also said she’d love to see a spinoff of just Nancy’s monster-hunting escapades and I’d have to agree. Nancy Wheeler saving the day while her trophy husband, Steve Harrington, stays home and takes care of the kids. Sign me up.

In conclusion: In Nancy Wheeler We Trust.

Be sure to visit Tina’s website Burn Before Reading and follow her on Twitter: @captainameripug

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