SPIDER-MANDATE: The Lowe-down on "Secret Wars," Tie-Ins and Stacey Lee
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.
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.