Why Joyce Byers from Stranger Things is a Strong Female Character

Aug 22, 2016

Hi friends! You may have noticed that things have been a little quiet around here, which totally sucks. I'm going through some tough family stuff, but luckily I'm part of an amazing online community full of talented women willing to help me pick up the slack. One of my favorite gals, Kay, offered to write up a guest post about, Stranger Things, one of my latest TV obsessions! I'm sure you'll love her post as much as I do, so without further ado, take it away Kay!

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Hey there! I'm Kay and I blog over at My Open Sketchbook, but today I popped into Ashlee's awesome blog to talk about Stranger Things! If for some reason you haven't seen it yet, A) Stop and go do that ASAP and B) pretty big spoilers ahead. You've been warned.

Like pretty much everyone I know both online and off, I became completely obsessed with Stranger Things. I binge watched it in two days with my partner, and it was glorious basically from start to finish. I think they did an amazing job on both characters and plot, while paying brilliant homage to so many classic 80s films. In fact, I found this to be one of the best examples of homage I've seen. They paid tribute to so many films (The Goonies, ET, Alien, and many more!) without ever directly copying anything; they simply provided the same look and feel of certain movies. THAT is how homage should be done. I was so impressed.

I was even more impressed with the writing of the characters and how the writers often set things up to have a very cliche/trope feel, only to blow the tropes out of the water and do something different. I very much appreciated that. One of the most impressive characters to me was Joyce Byers. I've read quite a few articles describing her as a weak character, or a badly written female character, and I think that is utterly ridiculous!

 First off, let's address some (ridiculous) stereotypes that often accompany the label of Strong Female Character. A big one is that Strong Female Characters have to be emotionless. Or at the very least, they can't show sadness or vulnerability. They must be rocks; solid, tough, who can kick-ass! Bullshit. Having emotions does not make a character (male OR female) weak! It makes them human. And physical strength most certainly doesn't make a character 'strong' all around. The second stereotype I see a lot of people complain about that really just steams my beans is that a woman who is a mother doesn't count as a Strong Female Character because she's just playing into 'society's role for women'. Um, also bullshit. Having & wanting children in no way makes a woman weak. Or a man for that matter. It's a personal choice. Some people want kids, some people don't. End of story.

So now that those two stereotypes are out of the way, let's take a look at Joyce Byers who is both emotional, physically weak, AND a mother. And still definitely a Strong Female Character. Right off the bat, we can see that Joyce is someone who is a bit high strung. She clearly struggles to make ends meet and puts a lot of responsibility on her oldest son. I can understand that early on you may worry she's going to be the stereotypical frazzled mom who falls into typical cliches.

 But as soon as Will goes missing, we see the strength kick in. First, she gets right up in the chief's face about the fact that the police aren't doing enough. She advocates for her missing son in the best way she can. She doesn't back down. And then, when things really start getting weird, she shows immense strength in sticking to her guns. She doesn't just sit and cry and do nothing, or fall into booze or drugs. She keeps going, despite seeming and acting absolutely insane. She keeps at it because she knows it is all she can do for her son. If that isn't strength, then I don't know what is.

When Lonnie (aka Dead Beat Dad) shows up, I got really worried. I was terrified the writers were going to make her into a typical female cliche who goes crawling back to the abusive ex seeking comfort in his arms. I was prepared to be furious, because that is so often done, and it would have made such little sense for Joyce's character. But instead she kicks him out quite spectacularly, and I could have cheered with joy!

In one of her biggest acts of strength, when the time came to enter the Upside Down to try and retrieve Will, Joyce, as usual, refused to back down. She knew she most likely wasn't mentally or physically equipped to deal with whatever the Upside Down brought, but there was no way she wasn't going in there. This was her SON. SHE was going in, and SHE was going to find him. And that's exactly what she did.

So how exactly is she not a Strong Female Character? Most of the complaints I heard were due to her crying a lot and being hysterical.


Ummm, HER SON IS MISSING!!! And if that weren't enough, HE IS COMMUNICATING VIA LIGHTS AND THERE ARE APPARENTLY MONSTERS AFTER HIM!! How calm would you be?! How would you not sound insane explaining that? I have noticed that many of the articles I've seen claiming that Joyce isn't strong were written by women who aren't parents. And I truly think that makes a huge difference. The love a parent has for a child goes so far beyond rationality. And despite her hysterics, she remained focused, 100% of the time, on the idea of finding Will. She never gave up. She never backed down. She did every possible thing she could, and she got her son home. She is, most certainly, a Strong Female Character.

Over to you, what did you think of Stranger Things?
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