SPOILERS FOR STRANGER THINGS 3!
YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!
Stranger Things served up quite a few things with its latest season of 80s nostalgia and creepy monster tropes, some of it good if predictable and some of it not so good.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect that was tackled in season three was Jim Hopper and how his character development dived into what toxic masculinity actually means.
So what exactly is the definition of toxic masculinity? Researchers have defined it in part as a pattern of beliefs and behaviours, such as suppressing emotions and “acting tough”, that will be harmful to others if expressed. It manifests from a place where a man is trying to overcompensate in an attempt to claw back some sense of “manliness” and/or self-worth.
Throughout season three, we see Hopper do some questionable things, like telling/threatening Mike to stop dating Eleven and getting jealous over Joyce talking to other men after trying (and failing) to ask her out before being (unintentionally) stood up at a restaurant by her. This is a pretty different side of Hopper to the ones we’ve seen and his behaviour has been called into question by some people.
These are definitely bad behaviours but they don’t quite fall into the “toxic masculinity” category. For Hopper, his behaviour has nothing to do with his “manliness” and trying to overcompensate. Rather, it’s a manifestation of all the collective trauma he’s gone through.
Hopper suffered some serious emotional turmoil when he lost both his wife and daughter before the show. Throw in a heavy dose of PTSD caused by the events of Stranger Things and it’s no surprise that he acts the way he does, especially in season three.
His most important relationships were forcibly torn away him prior to the show so it’s understandable why he is not responsive or expressive of emotion. When he manages to find proxies for his lost wife and daughter in the form of Joyce and Eleven respectively, it makes sense that he would want to hold onto them dearly out of fear of losing them, even if it means acting irrationally and questionably.
It’s difficult to process and respond to things properly let alone opening up to people when you’ve faced as much trauma as Hopper. We’re shown that he is capable of warmth and compassion, it’s just incredibly hard for him to express it though no fault of his own.
Perhaps the most important difference between what Hopper did and toxic masculinity is that he recognises what he does is wrong, how Joyce and Eleven aren’t the same as his lost family, and how his behaviour is reactionary to what he’s been through.
Most toxic men aren’t generally privy to this kind of self-awareness or self-improvement without some serious prodding but Hopper is clearly trying to understand and change his behaviour for the better.
If he were truly a toxic male, he wouldn’t have made up with Eleven and Joyce or allowed Mike to continue seeing his step-daughter by the end of season three.
We’re shown just why Hopper does what he does in season three but it doesn’t mean it’s right in any way. However, we need to be careful in how we throw about the “toxic masculinity” label without fully understanding what it actually means.
Is Jim Hopper a flawed and damaged man with some serious trauma? Absolutely. Has he done and said some bad things? 100%. Is he a toxic male? Nah, definitely not.