Stranger Hate: In Defense of Nancy Wheeler

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few months, you’ve heard of a little Netflix original called Stranger Things that became an instant smash hit. You’ve probably also heard about breakout actors Millie Bobby Brown and Gaten Matarazzo, not to mention the unexpected fan-favorite character Barb.  Best described as “E.T. meets The Goonies meets Twin Peaks,” the show features every 1980s movie trope to campy sci-fi perfection and has spawned countless memes, merchandise, and possibly the most beloved group of child actors since Harry Potter.

Somewhere in all of this love, however, one character seems to fallen on the wayside (or rather, the Upside Down): Nancy Wheeler. Played by the flawless Natalia Dyer, Nancy hasn’t gotten half the positive attention that other female characters have gotten, such as the aforementioned Barb and Eleven. In fact, she appears to have been interpreted as a kind of foil to them. The phrase “in a world full of Nancys, be a Barb” has appeared on Twitter as well as stickers and other merchandise.

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Other than some body-shaming criticisms about the actress being “too thin,” most of this hate can be traced to her actions in the second episode, “Chapter Two: The Weirdo on Maple Street.” In this episode, Nancy does a Bad Thing: ditching her BFF Barb so she can hook up with the popular Steve Harrington. Choosing a boy over your friends is definitely not cool, but you know what it also is? A foolish coming-of-age mistake almost every teenage girl is guilty of making at one point, and learns from. I did it once in high school, and I’m sure many of you are hardly so immaculate. In Nancy’s defense, this social faux pas doesn’t usually result in said friend being killed by the Demogorgon, and can be easily mended with a phone call and some groveling.

So Nancy succumbed to peer pressure and made a questionable decision in the heat of the moment: what teenager hasn’t? It becomes clear soon after that she regrets this behavior, and spends the remainder of the season redeeming the hell out of herself. She is literally the only person in Hawkins to give two flying Eggos that Barb has gone missing, and even teams up with Jonathan Byers to venture into the Upside Down for their respective siblings. It’s called character development.

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She isn’t perfect, she makes mistakes, she likes traditionally feminine things: are we really so harsh we cannot forgive a female character those offenses? To quote Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal, “the world can forgive a man a thousand infidelities, but they cannot forgive a woman even one.” Are we really unable to stand the idea of a flawed, imperfect female character?

As one of the few pro-Nancy articles I have seen puts it; By the end of season 1, Nancy is a completely different character than who she appeared to be when she leaves poor Barb poolside to follow her sexual instincts in an early episode. And by the way, that is something that women are regularly far more shamed over than men.”

So to all you Nancy haters, I say sit down, have a beer with Chief Hopper, and lighten up. Instead of “in a world full of Nancys, be a Barb,” I suggest you all try to stop being such Tommy H’s and Carols.

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