In which I am a negative nellie for some reason but am actually passionate and excited!

It’s the Women Write About Comics blog carnival’s first week!

The theme, which was decided by vote, is Women In Refrigerators. Do you know what that is?

Here’s the source. It’s from 1999 and the gist is that Gail Simone (who’s now a fan-favourite comics writer) noticed that in comics, specifically, women tended to die in order for men to experience character growth or interesting plot arcs. That is, the continuation of the old old old old really old trope of “men are main, ladies are decoration” was playing out into the end game of “men live, women die”.

When I realized that it was actually harder to list major female heroes who HADN’T been sliced up somehow, I felt that I might be on to something a bit … well, creepy.

It’s named for a scene in a Green Lantern book where the male protagonist opened his fridge to see his dead girlfriend literally inside it. I don’t know whether she was folded or chopped.

That was 1999; this is 2012. In comics-time that’s could represent anything between seven and two and a half years, but in real life it’s thirteen. How do we feel about Women in Refrigerators today?

I have no reason to lie, so: when this was named as the first theme, I felt a mild chagrin.

There’s a post on scans daily from November last year that features a page and a half from the comic Generation Hope. It’s here, if you’d like to see it at the source. I’ve nicked the picture and it’s below. Of course, stupid photobucket has made it little, so you may have to squint.


There was a minor ruckus in the comments section – which isn’t as common as it was. Some people thought Hope was being ignorant, rude and arrogant. Some people (like the OP, and like myself) thought that Hope had a pretty solid point. I’ll certainly concede that she is igorant, and that her delivery is imperfect. But the basic point? Yeah.

My opinion of Women In Refrigerators is that it was absolutely necessary. Simone and team were brave and bold to publicise what they noticed and it’s a horrible, horrible (lazy)trope that needed to be identified and spoken about. It needed to become a meme or a buzzword and comic book feminism owes a lot to the.. event? as a whole.

But despite basic differences to the subjects we’re talking about, I’m with Hope. I don’t think it is, as a marching banner, overly useful right now. To me, anyway.

At this point, I think it’s too easy* to forgive a well written example for being good** and too easy to shrug off a badly written one for being just pulp trash, it probably won’t even stick as canon. I think it’s too easy to use (or just to hear) the phrase in the way that “Mary Sue” became corrupted and near-meaningless. I think we’ve just about used it up.

I think it’s too hard to count percentages and that examples are too haggle-able. I think that comic book fans are too used to giant forum threads niggling about minutiae that there’s almost no hope of getting individual cases taken seriously, and that now that WiR is established as an official thing there are so many more places to thrash out that I don’t have the will or the enegry to spend time discussing about who died for what and whether or not it was art or prejudice or why a creator probably didn’t mean to offend but just wanted to tell an affecting story.

I’m not trying to argue that people should stop noting when female or minority characters get killed or tortured in order to further a man’s journey/at a greater rate than male ones/in a sexualised fashion.

I just.. I find the idea of returning to WiR as the benchmark for ladies-in-comics-issues downhearting. Maybe no-one’s actually asking for that?

On the original site, Simone makes the point repeatedly that her list was patchy, and that the existance of the trope was a question, and that this is an amateur project about mights;

This isn’t about assessing blame about an individual story or the treatment of an individual character and it’s certainly not about personal attacks on the creators who kindly shared their thoughts on this phenomenon. It’s about the trend, its meaning and relevance, if any.

That kind of unsteady ground is too defence-based, for me. Arguing WiR I so-often feel like I’m grasping for approval. Going through the comics I own and looking at what I think are examples of a fridging, or making a point about how it’s bad for ladies to die all the time, or..? I just don’t want to do it. I want something NEW, I want to move forward, and I don’t want the first thing that people think of when it comes to gender equality and progression in superhero books to be something from THE LAST CENTURY.

I don’t feel like I have anything to add to Women In Refrigerators. It’s still relevant, and it’s still important that it happened and that everything it was remains for posterity, but I don’t think it’s the best way to continue to talk about the problem it highlighted.

Is this girl-on-girl hate? Am I disrespecting the legacy? Am i just giving up too easily? I really hope not and I don’t think so. Since it got voted up it’s clear a lot of you have something to say about where it’s gone and how it is. I’m looking forward to reading those.

I think there are enough of us being regularly vocal that establishing new outposts is more of a priority*** than making sure the old base is still shored up and expanding.

To finish, massive thanks and general admirations to Lady In Chief on this carnival, she oft known as the Megs Benedict, found here on twitter. Looking forward to future go-arounds! Sorry to be such a bummer on this one..

* For feminist commentator or non-feminist audience member
** Such as, for example, the treatment of Alice in Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. This is a novel rather than a book, but: excellent story, shat all over female character. It worked, but daaaaaarn. Which do I pick? I could’t decide, so I didn’t talk about it.
*** This is not, I hope, one of those “why make a fuss about x when y is so much more of a core issue??” shamefests. :/

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About Claire Napier

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This entry was posted in activism, admiration, anachronisms that are, bitterness, bodies, characters, collaboration, comics, complimenting the professionals, feminism, history, insulting the professionals, STRONG OPINIONS, things to change, why do you do this DC, why do you do this marvel and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to In which I am a negative nellie for some reason but am actually passionate and excited!

  1. Pingback: Our first roundup post! | women write about comics

  2. phmrel says:

    Fridging, I think, is just a historical artifact, the result of a bunch of factors in comics coming together to produce dead girlfriends. I don’t know that it’s the best frame for discussion anymore either, it’s more just a symptom of a larger problem.

    Or, it’s not just the death of women that’s frustrating, it’s their treatment in every other way. But I don’t know if there’s as punchy a phrase for that as “fridging.”

    • illusclaire says:

      I dunno, I think it’s both. Like, if we had gender equality irl but then in fiction suddenly all the girlfriends died, we’d give it the side-eye.

      But you’re right, it’s more that JUST the dying, and it’s more than just comics. One of my biggest pet peeved in film is the way Marty McFly just leaves Jennifer in a dangerous timeline he’s about to either erase or leave. And what do the guys in charge say? That their one regret from the end of back to the future was that they “wouldn’t have put the girlfriend in the car”. Because they couldn’t be fucked to do anything interesting with her. “The girlfriend”, geez.

  3. Pingback: Master Post: Women In Refrigerators 13 Years Later | women write about comics

  4. Kelly says:

    Alright, I’m going to correct you on a couple of things. The first & most powerful is that WIR is bullshit. Yes I am a long time comic book reader (more DC then Marvel, but frankly the new reboot is annoying me so I’m dropping a lot of titles) & yes I am incidentally female, but most importantly I’m aware of critical thought & that’s why I know for a fact WIR is sexism.

    WIR is the perfect storm of Cognitive Bias & reporting bias, feeding into Expectation Bias. WIR is neither correlative nor causative as a list, it exists just to try and shame writers who are predominately male into giving female characters “Plot Immunity.” now having said that a lot of people will disagree & start pointing to the WIR list as evidence… Its not evidence of anything but bad things having happened in comics to female characters.

    However if we actually look at the list it includes such “fridgings” as
    – Jocasta (deactivated – more than once)
    – Betty Banner (abused, changed into a harpy, multiple miscarriages, dead)
    – Shrinking Violet (lost a leg in Giffen’s Legion)
    – Snowbird (child and husband murdered, insane, dead)
    – Wildcat II (dead)

    These are some of my favourites because they best encapsulate the subjective nature of the list & at the same time show cases the sexism of the list. Jocasta has been deactivated more then once, that’s good so has the vision.

    Betty Banner became the Harpy & then died, that’s a shame Bruce Banner was just beaten as a child, grew up emotionally stunted, became multiple different versions of the hulk was separated from the hulk, shot to another planet where he was depowered by a degree & then came back to earth as a monster & oh his wife died, came back & then wanted nothing to do with him.

    Shrinking Violet lost her Leg in Giffens Legion? That’s nice Lightning Lad loses his arm, has it replaced, then in Legion Lost he is killed in a bloody fashion & then inhabits the body of a dead teammate who himself had become the very villain who killed Lightning Lad.

    Wildcat 2 died… That’s nice how many Dr Fates died from that same Era? What about Northwind becoming a bestial monster incapable of thought or compassion? What about Starman going bonkers, or any of the other mishaps of that eras JSA related characters?

    Last but not least, Snowbird: Child and husband murder? So it’s a travesty for women when a female character is killed to motivate a male character, but it’s also a travesty for women when male characters are killed to motivate a female character? Heck if that’s a qualifier for fridging, then Spiderman was fridged by the death of Gwen Stacy & Kyle Rayner was fridged by the murder of his GF.

    Do you see how stupidly reactive & intellectually dishonest this list is. If I built a list using exactly the same evidential standard then the list would include every single male character ever. The evidential standard is so low that any female character who was sidelined for even a second is on it.

    If anything what this list shows us is that if you look at it objectively rather then with the “oh no, we must protect all fictional female characters from those nasty men” goggles on, women in comic book fiction are actually equal to there male counterparts. It also shows that people both male & female will stupidly protect women against negative consequences until the cows come home, but when the same thing happens to a male character as a female readership we shrug our shoulders an say “so what.”

    We have to accept that the negative consequences of actions or inactions are a prevalent & important part of serialised fiction & WIR is just an attempt to shame comic book writers into giving women “plot immunity” by pretending there is a trend in comics where women are unduly targeted. Fact is if we calculated the negative consequences, men would make up the majority of the list, not women.

    So as a female long time reader of comics (how long time of a reader you ask, I own a complete run of Infinity Inc, ‘nuff said), I ask all female readers including Gail Simone (if someone would pass this on to her) to stop talking rubbish. WiR is a sign of just how entitled and pampered we are by society as women & demanding “Plot Immunity” & pretending there is some sort of woman hating trend in comics just portrays us a bitter & self entitled. Or failing that lets add a couple of other fridgings to WiR, here are my suggestions
    – Oracle (depowered, striped of Tech based technopathy powers, beaten by the joker, possessed by Brainiac)
    – Black Canary (mentally violated, severely beaten to a pulp)
    – Knockout (killed in a mindless fashion to motivate scandal)
    – Vixen (went crazy, becomes a villain)
    – Lady Blackhawk (mentally controlled to be the sex fantasy of a super villain)

    Guess who wrote all those plots? Gail Simone, in the pages of Birds of Prey & those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

    Rosie the Riveter would be pissed with how stupidly we are all acting.

    • illusclaire says:

      If you want so badly to argue against more than one of our carnival posts you could at least write a new, individually relevant comment for each. This was stupidly reactive and intellectually dishonest the first time I read it.

      It’s not hard to contact Gail Simone, by the way – I’m not a fan but I know this. So I suggest you do your own dirty work, Kelly.

      • Kelly says:

        Didn’t feel it was worth writing a brand new spiel since you were saying exactly the same things that the other article… An since i’d already written 3 other replies to the 13 years of WiR articles, i took my best one & used it again… Not the nicest thing to do true, but expedient given that you were covering exactly the same ground as the other one.

        The undeniable fact is that if you look at it objectively WiR is now & has always been complete & utter bull twaddle. The only thing is that the people who support it either aren’t all that bright, don’t understand the basic of critical thought, or have to much invested in being able to play the victim.

        It wouldn’t be so bad if the list actually shows a trend, but all it shows is that at some point in time negative consequences have occured to fictional women… An thats as it should be, since negative consequences have occured to fictional men as well. An then the list pretends that this recognition is somehow a trend that is bad for women, or some evil perpetrated by men on women.

        But the entry requirements to be on WiR’s seems to be
        1. Female
        2. Having been in some way incovenienced, even by proxy.

        Yet if we changed requirement 1 to Male instead of Female we get a list that would literally include every single male comic book character ever: Because “bad things happen to our protagonist” would be a rather apt description of all serial story telling.

        As to my stance being “intellectual dishonest” & “reactive” i’d ask this: If my statement was those things, you should have no trouble refuting the points made. The fact of the matter is that WiR exists so that society can continue to pretend us women need protecting from negative consequences of plot. Thats the exact opposite of equality, thats exactly the gender privilege we keep on telling ourselves lists like WiR is fighting against.

        • illusclaire says:

          My post does not cover the exact same ground as Erin’s; there is a lack of “understand[ing] the basic of critical thought” for ya.

          I think if you took a moment to stop playing the brash Best Feminist you might notice that my post is not about arguing that Women in Refrigerators is the ultimate in gendered commentary, the best benchmark for today’s feminist discussion, or anything else you seem so sure that it is not. You may even be able to spot the fact that I have covered and agreed with a lot of your main thrust.

          Read my post. Go away and think about it. If you can do me the courtesy of processing what I have to say and replying with relevancy, THEN you can start to require that I do a point by point analysis of your own comments when I am refuting their welcome.

          P.S. what the fuck kind of term is “bull twaddle”? If you’re going to be rude, do it honestly. Don’t coddle people with coy language.

  5. Kelly says:

    “My post does not cover the exact same ground as Erin’s”

    Sure it does. As soon as you started from he same false principle it covered the same ground. In this case the false presupposition is this one” My opinion of Women In Refrigerators is that it was absolutely necessary. Simone and team were brave and bold to publicise what they noticed and it’s a horrible, horrible (lazy)trope that needed to be identified and spoken about.”

    It wasn’t absolutely necessary at all. It was a list that points out neither are correlative or causative trend. Where ever you go from that single primary principle is going to lead you astray. Its like asking to people what X+5=, where X is never defined. Now i have X, i can give you X, you can figure it out if you have this data, but you don’t… you’ve skipped that vital step where X is demonstrably defined… In this conversation X is “the list shows no correlative or causative result & as such cannot be used to determine a trend.” An as a trope it seriously comes under the perview of special pleading.

    “I think if you took a moment to stop playing the brash Best Feminist you might notice that my post is not about arguing that Women in Refrigerators is the ultimate in gendered commentary, the best benchmark for today’s feminist discussion, or anything else you seem so sure that it is not.”

    Oh, see thats a mistake: I’m not a feminist, i’m an egaltarian equalist. Feminism in practice is the accumulation of privileges, without subsequent responsibilities, while still expecting men to protect your interests, while still blaming them for faux-victimhood. In that way WiR is actually the perfect “benchmark for todays feminist,” but since we are talking about equality & not gender privilege, it’d still be bull twaddle. :)

    “You may even be able to spot the fact that I have covered and agreed with a lot of your main thrust.”

    While much of your latter stuff does, it all comes back to that early concept of the lists initial importance. An i love that you are putting in the effort, but just like you can get close to the real answer by guessing a number close to X, its still not quite the right answer. I’ll show you using an example from your own piece.

    “Going through the comics I own and looking at what I think are examples of a fridging, or making a point about how it’s bad for ladies to die all the time, or..?”

    There is no such thing as fridging, so you can’t find examples of fridging. What you can find examples of is “negative consequences of plot” occouring to female characters (just as it does to male characters), but since there is no correlative or causative trend in the WiR, then negative consequences can’t be “friding.” Its just the consequence of plot, something thats is essential to serialised fiction, across all mediums.

    The second part of your statement was: “it’s bad for ladies to die all the time.” For this statement to be accurate you first need to prove that its a trend, something that WiR’s clearly does not do. The majority of WiR is actually about listing any inconvenience to a female character in an attempt to justify a view that is contrary to reality.

    “P.S. what the fuck kind of term is “bull twaddle”? If you’re going to be rude, do it honestly. Don’t coddle people with coy language.”

    A great one. Its linguistical anachronism which i have recently taking a liking to, along with the term “gosh darn” which i use without irony. :D

    • illusclaire says:

      I can see that this means a lot to you.

      • Kelly says:

        of course it does. We’ve had 13 years of people quoting WiR like its an actual thing, rather then the incomplete question it really is. Over a decade of people not willing to stand up and say “oh dear god will you all stop talking bull,” to the people who say things like “You should look at WiR, it shows the trend of killing female characters in comics,” which is usually then used as the basis for the statement of; “we need more female creators” even though DC’s most well known female writer has herself written countless stories that would count as fridging, if we used her own evidential standard.

        Sure it’d be nice to have more female creators, but as long as we hold onto this “nothing bad should happen to female characters” concept & its sister concept of “female creators would treat female characters better,” then we are never going to be taken seriously as fans/creators & neither are female characters.

        It annoys me that people in my own social demographic (female comic book readers) get so wrapped up in there own subjective conjecture that we can’t see objecitve sense if it came up and bit us on the arse: Or worse yet we have the gaul to call actually knowledge that is in opposition to our views mansplaining (because its easier to try to shame someone else into complying then to admit to ourselves that we don’t know everything).

        An the end result is women like the Batgirl of the SDCC coming along, making knee jerk reactionist statements, which we then cheered like she was Joan of Arc, returning van-glorious from battle. (yeah her rhetoric really pissed me off; she literally judged every book by its cover).

        The thing that keeps more women out comics isn’t men, its us women telling each other that men are keeping us out of comics. From stupid sites like WiR, to some of the nonsense in DCWKA, through silly videos about how guys all drool and stare when we enter a comic shop or run away in terror (totally a case of fundemental attribution errors as far as i can see). Its not men keeping us down, its our own desire to demand equality & then complain when we get it (like many of us did about X-23 being cancelled over at Marvel).

        So yeah it bugs me, a lot.

  6. Kelly says:

    “I used to resent women in general.”

    Its not that i resent women, as much as i resent actively stupid people, regardless of gender… An our demographic seems to be full of actively stupid people.

  7. Pingback: Our first roundup post! | Women Write About Comics

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