Women in Refrigerators Trope
Women in Refrigerators (WiR) refers to any plot device that utilizes the injured, crippled, kidnapped, raped, driven insane, possessed, enslaved, devolved, dismembered, depowered, subjugated, zombie-ized, and/or death experiences of female characters in order to develop a male protagonist’s character. This plot device was initially remarked upon by writer Gail Simone in 1999, after reading Green Lantern #54 (Marz et al, 1994), where the Green Lantern returns home to find his girlfriend killed, and her dismembered body in the refrigerator. Not all bad things in comics happen to women, however the men that have horrible experiences seem to somehow return to their prior selves, and/or are better for the experiences they endured. Conversely, female characters that typically experience heinous actions never seem to recuperate, which suggests they are too weak to recover or evolve into better people as a consequence of the evil things that happened to them.
Graphic novels that exhibit the women in refrigerators trope
The War on Flesh (Boring & Hildebrandt, 2005) bases its zombie origins in voodoo, with dark forces providing power and insidious persuasion to lead good people to doing evil. In this graphic novel, a young man is killed during a gang fight. Upon his death, his father succumbs to dark forces and resurrects him using voodoo. The father murders a priest, loses an eye, and sacrifices a testicle, but is still able to cope and continue on his destructive path. The mother, on discovering her son was resurrected through dark voodoo magic, kills herself and thus keeps the father on the path to using dark magic in an attempt to resurrect her as well. This story indicates the woman is too weak to handle the situation, and chooses to die than to cope. The male is powerful, and is willing to defy even death to correct the mistakes of others.
The Living and the Dead (Jason, 2006) is about true love overcoming all obstacles, even becoming a zombie. A low wage male worker is saving up to buy a night with the prostitute he met on his way home one evening, when a meteor lands in a graveyard and awakens the dead. As the zombies attack everyone in town, the worker rescues the prostitute and tries to protect her from being attacked by the zombies. When she turns into a zombie after being wounded, the worker finds he cannot kill her and becomes a zombie too, finally making them into a (undead) couple. Throughout the story, the worker attempts to save the female from zombie attacks by leading her around, while she makes no attempt to defend herself. Indeed, she is not even capable of nailing a board to the windows without injuring herself. This story suggests that a woman needs to be rescued, and only a man can do so.
Graphic novels that defy the women in refrigerators trope
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Austen & Grahame-Smith, 2010) is based on the Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice, however with a zombie flair. Capable of fighting zombies that they call “Unmentionables,” the five Bennet sisters are trained in the deadly arts and are usually found chatting about men, weapons and fighting styles, typically right after slaying said zombies. They are capable of taking care of themselves, and are just as strong, if not stronger, than the strongest male characters in the story. Indeed, the zombies in this graphic novel allow the female characters to exhibit their strength by allowing them to fight and defend themselves, while at no point do they rely on a masculine figure to save them.
The Walking Dead (Kirkman, 2012) shows a world where the infected become zombies, and the living try to find refuge from the walking dead. In this volume, a group of people attempt to find refuge in a prison, only to be confronted with psychotic prison inmates and more of the undead. Characters in this graphic novel all have their strengths and weakness, regardless of gender. When Andrea is attacked by one of the prison inmates, she successfully fights him off and rescues herself. Maggie executes the prison inmate after it is discovered he had murdered and decapitated her two little sisters. Neither women sit around waiting for the males of the group to save them or to determine what punishment should be dealt. They make their own decisions, and are capable of taking care of themselves.
The portrayal of WiR is a weak plot device that only subjugates women’s role in society. Alternate methods of developing a male protagonist’s character could be utilized by using some imagination. Many times the degradation of a female character is not necessary to propel the protagonist to action. The Green Lantern would have pursued the villain Major Force if he had only the slightest contact with the Green Lantern’s girlfriend. Killing and dismembering her was extreme. In War on Flesh (Boring & Hildebrandt, 2005), the mother could have rebelled against the father’s voodoo resurrection of the son, and shown her strength through the actions she took in combatting the evil forces at work. In The Living and the Dead (Jason, 2006), the female in the story could have been a partner in evading the zombies, and not a mindless follower. She could have defended herself equally, instead of relying on the male to save her from every zombie they encountered. Both of these graphic novels were disappointing in their development of female characters.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Austen & Grahame-Smith, 2010) and The Walking Dead (Kirkman, 2012) allow the female characters to have strengths of their own, which they are not shy in using to ensure their survival. While every character seems to have their moments of supreme stupidity, especially when confronted with the undead intent on eating their flesh, this idiocy is not limited to female characters alone. As it should be, male and female characters are equally resourceful, and gender is not used to support another characters moral development.
Austen, J., & Grahame-Smith, S. (2010). Pride and prejudice and zombies. New York: Ballantine Books.
Boring, J., & Hildebrandt, G. (2005). War on flesh (Vol. 1). Los Angeles, CA: Tokyopop. Jason. (2006). The living and the dead. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books.
Kirkman, R. (2012). The walking dead: Safety behind bars (Vol. 3). Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, Inc.
Marz, R., Banks, D., Aucoin, D., & Tanghal, R. (1994). Green Lantern: Deadly Force (Vol 3., #54). DC Comics: New York.
Simone, G. (1999). Women in Refrigerators. Retrieved from http://www.lby3.com/wir/