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Comic Book Dictionary – Women in Refrigerators

by  in Comic News Comment

As I mentioned when I started this particular series, the point of these entries is to explain to folks what I mean by certain terms that I use often. If people like my particular terms and definitions, then they are certainly welcome to use them as well, of course. I bring this up because today’s entry is about a term that I have seen many people use in many different manners, which makes it difficult for me to use the term, as folks do not know how I am using it. Here I will give my definition, so you at least will know what I mean when I use the term in the future. The term, of course (you can see the title, natch), is “Women in Refrigerators.”

The term was first coined by Gail Simone a number of years ago. The reference is to an issue of Green Lantern, where Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend is murdered and then stuffed inside a refrigerator by a bad guy who wanted to send Kyle a message. Simone proceeded to put together a list of a number of female characters that had been killed, maimed or depowered. Soon, people made suggestions for additions, et. al.

Simone put the list on its own website (it went through a few versions – here is the current “official” one).

Simone’s point in making her list, as she says herself, has always been a simple one – “if you demolish most of the characters girls like, then girls won’t read comics. That’s it!” Which is completely fair enough. When I use the term, however, I am not being as broad as Gail Simone apparently originally intended the term to be used (which was simply to show how a disproportionate amount of female characters have been either killed, maimed or depowered).

Instead, I look to the plot device that the term is named after (Major Force killing Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend and shoving her into a refrigerator to send a message to Rayner), and note that rather than being typical poor writing (which most plot devices are), “Women in Refrigerators” is a very specific form of poor writing that continues to pop up over and over in comic books to this day.

How I decide that the “Women in Refrigerators” plot device has occurred is determined by the use of a bipartite test, half objective and half subjective.

1. (Objective) A female character is killed/maimed/tortured/raped etc. for the main purpose of eliciting a desired reaction from a male character.

2. (Subjective) I do not believe that the same death/maiming/torture/rape would have occurred had the female character been a male.

The first part is, I believe, bad writing, in that it is extremely hokey to kill off a character (especially an established character) for the express purpose of just making another character react. I think you should have a purpose for a character’s death other than, “It would really make Character X mad!” (especially an established character). It seems rather cheap. However, it is only when the second part is met that I believe it stands out as atypically bad, as it is extra-cheesy when a character is killed/maimed/etc. specifically because it is felt that the action done to a WOMAN would be more shocking than if it happened to a man. You know, “Yeah, he’d be sad if a guy was killed in front of him, but if a WOMAN was killed in front of him, then you KNOW he would REALLY be upset!”

If I don’t think both parts are met, then I think it is just typical bad writing, not having to do with gender issues, specifically.

So if you see me refer to something in a comic book being a “Women in Refrigerators” moment, you now will know exactly what I am referring to.