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Putting Women in Refrigerators

Over the years in the entertainment industry, women have had specific roles crafted for them. From the beginning of the 20th century and onwards the main use of female characters was to add emotional layers to the story, and thus they were limited to a single character trait. Times changed, but the roles did not, at least not at their core; they only shed their skins to adapt to society. A lover staying in her house and waiting for her husband turned into a woman who worked and looked strong only to give up everything she has achieved to be with her one true love. These days, there is an effort to change this image by creating really strong women, who have dreams and do everything in their power to achieve them, just as we are accustomed to seeing male characters do the same things for years. This being said, toxic tropes persist, and since I am a huge comic book fan, I want to talk to you about this with regards to one these tropes used many times in comic books: women in refrigerators.

The trope “women in refrigerators” or “fridging”, was coined by famous comic book writer Gail Simone. Simone used this as a name for a website with the same name [1] in 1999 during some online discussions with her friends. The trope got its name from an event that happened in the comic book Green Lantern (Green Lantern #54, 1994). The hero Kyle Rayner enters his apartment, only to make a gruesome discovery: his girlfriend’s dead body in his refrigerator. Simone created a list with her colleagues, which included fictional female characters who were “maimed”, “depowered” or “killed” to further a male character’s story arc and do not have a fully developed character of their own. This plot device has been used in many different stories in comic books and movies. The female character’s damage actually helps the male lead character in the story to develop new powerful traits, such as rage and vengefulness. Even though tragic events might be necessary in some stories, the fact that these tragic events mostly happen to women is not a coincidence.

Women’s place in society has been changing (even though not fast enough) but there are still many problems. One of these problems is actually pointed out by one of the replies in the aforementioned website by a male comic book writer Ron Marz who says “To me the real difference is less male-female than main character-supporting character. In most cases, main characters, "title" characters who support their own books, are male.”. Historically, it was assumed that books with male leads would be profitable, while those with female leads would not. However, these assumptions have been proven wrong, especially with the first-ever female-lead comic book movie “Wonder Woman” breaking records at the box-office as the highest grossing superhero origin story. In addition, another female-lead superhero movie named “Captain Marvel” carries the flag for what will hopefully be the start of many more female-lead movies within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These examples show that the industry was at fault not trusting female-lead superhero movies and they have started to see the error of their ways. Those movies aren’t perfect, either, but I am still quite hopeful that many current problems will be addressed and solved in the years to come.

Any input to our lives can affect us in different ways and this happens even more when we are kids. Whether fictional characters or “ordinary” people, most of us had heroes we used to look up to admiringly when we were kids. These people, our teachers, parental figures, and other adults carry great responsibility. Arguably, the media that surround us as kids carry a large share of this responsibility, too. The mind of a child can be like a sponge; it can get both the right and the wrong ideas from what it sees or hears. The way the media portrays society with (overt or subtle) opinions, jokes and characters has a big impact on an impressionable young mind. Maybe one of the biggest concerns is the way women are depicted. It is not just how the women characters are shown; their interaction with males and the stereotypical jokes can also be problematic for the adults of the future. The most important issue here, in my opinion, is that of role models for kids. Representation in the media has a huge impact on how we think of our own options and the scopes of our lives. Sadly, a girl who wants to become an astronaut will find much less representation in the media than her male peers. If this girl is exposed to the system influenced by the patriarchal gender role representation, it will not only affect what profession she wants to pick but also how she sees herself in society. This might diminish her role and, accordingly, make her look at male and female roles in society through patriarchal filters which, in turn, will only help solidify the standing of patriarchal norms. The same goes for a boy who wants to work in a female-dominated field. It is difficult for all genders to try to step out of this internalisation as an adolescent, and to become more aware of options outside of what is depicted in the mainstream media.

We may not be able to change things immediately but what we can do is support films/comic books/cartoons (etc.) that do not conform to these patterns, and those that are trying to change this image. By supporting them, we can help raise awareness in producers and writers who are still bringing out products by the outdated standards of a hundred years ago. Hopefully, with our society changing towards a more equal one, the heroes both in movies and in real life will gain the recognition and fame they deserve.


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