By: Mary Beth McAndrews
Being a kid can be terrifying. Your body is changing, your emotions are running wild, you start having romantic “feelings” for other classmates and you just want to keep yourself afloat. Not to mention the psychological torment experienced at the hands of other kids, especially if you’re labelled as a “freak” or a “nerd.” In many films, these freaks and nerds band together to find comfort and support. Horror films are no exception, though along with human bullies, there is something much more sinister threatening the lives of protagonists. These groups of outsiders must unite against both the human and the supernatural. In the case of recent hits “It” and “Stranger Things,” those groups of outsiders are comprised of all boys and a lone girl.
The girl in this group of outsiders, such as Beverly from “It” and Eleven from “Stranger Things,” is even more isolated within her group of friends. These girls become a warped form of the Final Girl, the last surviving female character in a horror film. No, these girls do not watch their friends die one by one and no, they are not the final survivors. But, they do embody several characteristics of the Final Girl trope, such as experiencing trauma and being set apart from the rest of their group of friends. They are “not like other girls”—a phrase many nonfictional nerd girls have probably heard. Beverly and Eleven become Manic Pixie Dream Final Girls, characters who are markedly different, have experienced trauma, and yet are still lusted after by their male friends. They are another trope of female characters in horror who are written to be strong, young women but they are still vehicles to prove male strength. In the eyes of men, these Manic Pixie Dream Final Girls are a prize to be won to prove their own masculine power.
In Beverly’s case, she is idealized and put on a pedestal, almost deified by this group of nerds. She is openly ogled by the group of boys while the camera pans down her body, proving that she is an object to be desired. This is supported even more as two boys, Bill, the group’s leader, and Ben, fight for her affection throughout the film. From their perspective, she is an outsider, just like them, so she must understand their struggles. Since she understands their struggles, she must want to fall in love with them. If she falls in love with them, that proves they aren’t totally undesirable. These boys take advantage of her lack of friends and the relentless teasing she faces to make themselves feel less like outsiders. Bill even tells Beverly that he never believed the rumors he heard about her, trying to make himself look better in her eyes. Bill does eventually win the girl, which reinforces his role as the leader; he gets the girl, so he must be “better” than the rest of the group.
Like Beverly, Eleven from Stranger Things is an outsider who becomes a part of a group of boys. However, unlike Beverly, Eleven is a product of experimentation resulting in superhuman abilities. Despite being an outsider in more ways than one, Eleven still becomes an object of desire for Mike, the leader of the misfits. Eleven is an unknown force with superhuman powers, yet Mike still wants her as his girlfriend to prove not only that he can get a girl, but to make her seem more human and less of a threat. He also tries to take care of her to make himself seem like the hero. He is willing to put his life on the line for this girl, and prove to her that he is strong enough to love her when no one else will.
However, Eleven has very limited emotional development due to her time as a science experiment. She can barely speak and has very limited understand of social interactions, which is made obvious. Yet Mike stills attempts to woo her even after seeing that Eleven cannot function as a normal human being. He takes advantage of her naïveté to make himself feel desirable and reinforce his own masculinity.
Beverly and Eleven are also objects to their father figures, who are additional sources of their trauma. It is heavily implied that Beverly is sexually abused on a regular basis by her father. Her father enforces control and manipulation on Beverly to make himself appear more powerful. Like Beverly, Eleven is also a prize to her “father,” Dr. Martin Brenner. While she seeks love and affection from this pseudo-father, he is using her desire to manufacture her into a weapon. He is using her body to become more powerful. These father figures are attempting a similar form of control to what the boy leaders use over these girls. The boy leaders’ control seems less harmful because they are young and attempting to “save” Beverly and Eleven, while the father figures are actively attempting harm. But in the end, both groups wish to use Beverly and Eleven to assert their own masculinity.
These girls are outsiders in more ways than one, especially as they have faced trauma that their male friends couldn’t believe. I believe both of these characters illustrate how sexualization of women’s bodies seems to come first, regardless of trauma. They are young girls and yet they are still representative of how women are used by men as objects that can be rescued to prove male strength and achieve goals of power. The Manic Pixie Dream Final Girl can face a monster down but in the end, all that matters is how she reinforces the alpha male's masculinity.