Shut Your Mouth, Nancy and Go Make Us Some Coffee, Will You? : Navigating Discussions of the Glass Ceiling in Media and Life

By Micaela Freeman

In season 3 of Stranger Things, which is full of amazing representation and plot twists, it was refreshing to see the dynamic duo Nancy and Jonathan nabbing internships, proving they’re capable of more than just slaying monsters in the Down Under. A journalist-photographer couple, the two navigate the uncharted waters of a local newspaper; however, what struck an uncomfortable chord with me was that Netflix did not lie in its depiction of a mid 80’s scene where a woman was at work. Nancy, hungry and full of ambition, is ready to write headlines and even do the dirty work every journalist dreads (been there), but she is shot down every time she opens her mouth as her boyfriend dips photo paper in acid in the back. The importance of this wavering yet constant dynamic between the two does nothing but prove the gap between women and men, despite both being qualified (maybe too qualified). Now as Stranger Things climbs the ranks of binge-worthy Netflix shows, its many undertones stand clearly and loudly. 

Juxtaposing the daring psyche of Robin with Nancy, I am slightly heartbroken at Nancy’s plot early in the show. 

I also want to note that Robin and Nancy, among the other women in the show, all battle complexes that are placed on them- i.e. Joyce Byers being called “crazy” and dismissed when she was right for all of season one and Robin being Steve’s ideal girlfriend, which then leads to a rather stunning coming out scene. But, as I binged the first few episodes of season 3 because a friend told me I’d love Maya Hawke (I do, and consequently binged PBS’s Little Women on Amazon Prime because of her), I realized something that made me tilt my head. I realized that though the eighties are an “aesthetic” and are fantasized about on Pinterest, women faced these battles everyday. We see it today even. As a woman who wishes to be in the world of academia, I am often faced with loud, breathy scholars speaking above me rather than at me despite being just as qualified to stand in the same room.  We see Nancy face this in Stranger Things very early on. As the men, the writers at the newspaper we learn, belittle Nancy as Jonathon gets off free, it is concerning that we are less bothered by the blatant reality we see today on and off the tv screen. We even watch Jonathon witness his girlfriend sinking and with shallow affirmation, tells her to “buck up,” and “they’ll warm up to you.” This situation led me to try and disqualify my own thoughts, chalking it up to “internships are hard, and you will have to get coffee.” But, I don’t think that is the case here. A scene that also dug its nails in me is when Nancy pitches an idea, and is not only shot down, but also mocked by her male counterparts for voicing her own ideas. I caught the tiny mannerisms that make this scene all too familiar today. I am a small woman, and because of that, business talk is spoken above me rather than with me. It is as if we should not be bothered by what is happening in the room. 

However, we are bothered. Women are used to being automatically deemed less driven, or less excited about our careers despite college graduation rates being higher for women than for men. We, very consciously, are living in a harsh Catch-22. We see this in “scholarly” articles or articles that are supposed to crack the code with a single line of thoughts. I as a woman want to receive the same amount of applause as a man; I want to walk into a business meeting and have nothing happen. I want it known that I belong there just as much as the other grey suit beside me.  Have men, or anyone in that matter, stopped to think that maybe equality is just that? Acceptance and success without any strings? Can a woman be a CEO just like a man can be a CEO? Why is she “not successful” until she’s at the very top, where if a man even breaks into the business world, he’s Steve Jobs? And, if a woman has an idea despite her “rank” or stature, can she just be heard? In this case, can Nancy be heard? 

In “Six Hard Truths for Women Regarding the Glass Ceiling” by Forbes, women are automatically chalked up as the weaker sex despite the possible goals of the article. We see this as they explore “why” women do not smash the glass ceiling, and I felt myself get warm with frustration while reading. How am I to break through and not get pushed around like Nancy when Forbes tells me I don’t value my talents and I don’t own power? Here are the six reasons women do not smash the glass ceiling, according to Forbes: 

  1. Women don't ask for more - they don’t negotiate as well for themselves and don’t ask for extra perks.

  2. Women undervalue their talents and resist the technical stuff (the so called “hard skills”).

  3. Women don’t own their power to lead and shy away from conflict in the workplace.

  4. Women tend to need more flexibility in their schedules and spend fewer hours at work than men.

  5. Women don't pace it - they don't understand that they really can't have it all at once

As a woman who has aspirations, and has not set foot in the business world but was raised by a business woman, I am racked with confusion and worry reading this. Academia is business; it’s hungry and harsh, and the ladder to the top never ends. But men never face these issues, do they? I want to grapple with the idea that emotions do not disqualify external success, and external success does not disqualify internal success. Masculinity is not parallel to success in a board meeting and femininity does not kick you out of the meeting. I explored this issue, for it is really important to me and the women in my life, in the article, How the Baroque Movement Revolutionized My Ideal Form of Feminism and Female Sexuality. The consequential assumption of women as “fragile” is more of a crux than the glass ceiling itself, which is all-too-often talked about by men, and not us. Women can be women, and be successful at the same time. Nancy can be Nancy and be the journalist she dreams of being; her gender should not determine her success, ever.