Women in Refrigerators

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Synonyms: The dead girlfriend of the week syndrome, Fridging
See also: The Cartwright Syndrome, Mysterious Wife Plague, BOTW
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The term women in refrigerators was coined by comic-book author Gail Simone in 1999 to describe a plot device that she noticed as being particularly common in superhero comics. This plot device uses the victimization of a female character in order to advance the dramatic arc of a male character. The female character may be raped, killed, de-powered or otherwise injured; the male character then takes over the story and uses her tragedy as motivation, usually for broody manpain, violent revenge, or simply to become the best hero he can be.

Some Instruction

A fan, Ima Fool, parodies [1] the trope:

Remember that the sooner "she" is written out of the plot, the sooner the "relationship" between your male heroes will grow. Therefore, plan to kill "her" off no later than page three of your story. This discussion will concern itself, then, with those methods of doing away with "her" permanently, irreparably, and swiftly. Incurable diseases are ALWAYS a good choice in a situation like this. These illnesses allow for fine sterile melodrama in nice white hospital settings. They allow you to render your interfering female character helpless but high-spirited, down but undaunted, seriously ill but with a sense of humor, in agony but accepting of "her" fate, or just plain comatose (my favorite dramatic device when dealing with such a female). Accidental gunshot wounds to the head work well in plotting "her" demise. These allow that perky but paralyzed gal to loll around in a hospital bed for a few paragraphs while one of the male partners holds her hand while the other male partner holds his hand. [2]

The WiR site

Simone created a page on her website (also called Women in Refrigerators) where she listed many female characters she felt had been the victim of "fridging." It displays several panels from the Green Lantern story for which the trope was named (Green Lantern #54 - 1994), in which hero Kyle Rayner comes home to find his girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, has been gruesomely murdered and left in the refrigerator by a minor villain.

The site also included pages listing responses from fans and other comics pros, both disagreeing and agreeing with her original premise.

Many fans disagreed with Simone's argument. A popular criticism or counter-argument was that, after all, bad things often happened to male heroes as well. For instance, DrZombie posted: ''I'm also not fond of her "Women in Refrigerators" site. While there may be a willingness for male writers to be crueler to female character's. Her site has made it impossible for anything to negative to happen to a woman in comics without someone shouting that she was "fridged". Never mind how silly I think listing things like "depowered" or that there powers were affecting their health and/sanity as I can name just as many male characters that have done the same. [3]

To counter the arguments that "Bad things happen to men too!", comics fan John Bartol wrote the essay Dead Men Defrosting [1] to point out: In cases where males heroes have been altered or appear to die (i.e., hit that part of the karmic Hero Wheel that says "Fall, then Rise to the Challenge!"), they usually come back even better than before, either power-wise or in terms of character development/relevancy to the reader.

Another fan, Rob Harris, argued similarly: Yes, male characters die, as do female characters - but my classic example is Flash and Supergirl, two beloved characters who were both killed off in the Crisis. But Flash remained "in continuity," remembered and revered for his heroic sacrifice even as Wally West took on his mantle; Supergirl was forgotten, and within several months was wiped from continuity completely - no memorials, no flashbacks, no legacy. [2]

As shorthand

It is common for fans, especially fans on livejournal, dreamwidth, and other such sites to talk about TPTB "fridging" characters, or a character having been "fridged." [4] [5] [6] These terms are generally used to describe the death of a female character which happens in order to provide cheap emotional depth and/or motivation for a male character.

Do not kill off women just to give male characters something to brood about. This is called stuffing the woman in the fridge, and it makes her death all about the man. It takes away her personhood and turns her into a tragic figure for the man to angst over as he wallows in his man-pain. It’s also a tired cliché. And my god, is it sexist. It sends a message to women that even their death revolves around men. Doubly true if the woman is killed by another male character to get back at the first guy. Women are not pawns to be pushed around and thrown away for the emotional development of men. If a woman dies, make her death about her.

When to Kill a Character by Lee Paige OBrien, July 1, 2016

Other meanings

This term is also occasionally used for the standard doomed love interest effect that happens on many tv shows that don't have strong story arcs. (See BOTW and 42-Minute Reset.) Some characters suffer from this frequently; see The Cartwright Curse of the Cartwright family on Bonanza, or Samantha Carter from Stargate: SG1, nicknamed the "Black Widow" for her multiple dead love interests. [7]

Fan Response

What I find hardest to grapple with is understanding why writers choose to torture or kill these characters when other storylines could move their characters forward. Also, why is it predominantly women we see this happening to on television? What adds to the uneasy feeling I have when I see this trope used is that the women most times do not feel like full well rounded characters (that in itself is a problem) and are often introduced very shortly before they dieStuffed Into The Fridge: The Problem With Women - Allison Chandler[8]
Killing off characters can be extremely impactful and great storytelling. But it’s becoming increasingly obvious in our media today when killing off a character is just symptomatic of a lack of creativity and a disregard for female characters.paradiselostbythedashboardlight[9]
it’s usually bigoted because minorities get fridged far more often than not, to serve the narratives of the ‘real heroes’ of the story

but more than that it’s predictable and boring and it’s LAZY and most of the time the deaths are unearned, they’re just thrown in because the writers can’t think of a more interesting plot twist or way to set up a character beat

80% of the time it doesn’t even happen as a natural consequence of the story, it happens in a contrived manner because the writers were never interested in the death itself, just on the twitter buzz they’ll get later and a hefty dose of cheap pathosdubiousculturalartifact[10]

The problem isn’t really “women getting killed to motivate a male character”, the problem is “all the expendable characters we can kill to motivate the main character (who we have made male) are women”.

Solve that latter problem and you not only solve the “the woman dies” problem, but a whole bunch of other problems in most fiction with a male protagonist.kyliafanfiction[11]
So it’s not wrong to kill the hero’s wife within the first five minutes and send him on a mission of fury and revenge. What is wrong is that the hero is always and inevitably a man, which means that most fridging victims are women.awed-frog[12]

Related Links

See also

Notes

  1. It is uncertain how much of a parody of the trope surreallis's Stargate Atlantis classic zombiefic Sestinas is, as although Elizabeth does literally end up dead in a freezer, the story may be read as gen rather than (pre-)slash.
  2. from Between Friends #9, a Starsky and Hutch letterzine in 1985
  3. DrZombie, Comics confessions Posted July 26, 2008. Last accessed, October 24, 2010. (It is perhaps notable that this quote dissing the WiR site was found in a thread specifically for posting unpopular opinions about comics, such as "I've never read Watchmen" or "Preacher sucks.")
  4. nevermore999, Thoughts on Wolverine: Origins and other things. It's interesting how they fridged Wolvie's gf, then subverted the fridging, then re- fridged her. .... Of course, it was all a fake out and the reason she didn't drive away she was because she was in on the plan, but is says a lot about the sad state of Hollywood and superhero fridgings I believed they'd actually make the fridging that pathetic. Posted May 14, 2009. Last accessed October 24, 2010.
  5. Goshawk, Comment on Firefly Re-watch: "Heart of Gold" Now, I happen to think that Mal and NANDE would have made a FANTASTIC pairing, mostly because Nande would have called him on his sh*t far more directly than Inara, and I am Extremely Annoyed that they fridged her. Posted June 16, 2010. Last accessed October 24, 2010.
  6. Meroko, Comment on Technovore She was fridged in 2004. And it was a really, really bad one, too. Tony angsted about it for like, one issue and cried about how they were going to get married and live happily ever after...and then he promptly never mentioned or thought about her ever again. Posted October 19, 2009. Last accessed October 24, 2010.
  7. The term black widow is often used for women who directly contribute to their lovers' deaths, either by murdering them or intentionally leading them astray. In this case, fans are just referring to how frequently Carter's love interests die.
  8. Stuffed Into The Fridge: The Problem With Women
  9. May 28, 2018 Tumblr post
  10. i’m so sick of this ‘anyone can die’ tv landscape, Spetember 26, 2017 Tumblr post
  11. January 28, 2019 Tumblr post
  12. Unsolicited reminder that ‘fridging’ is not a problem in itself. August 3, 2018 Tumblr post