Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, it is disheartening that this still needs to be addressed in this day and age. Downright infuriating.
Since today is about violence against women, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about a dated, misogynistic trope that has always rubbed me the wrong way. A well known and hated trope of killing off women, also known as Fridging.
I want to give a quick trigger warning for the rest of this ramble. We will be discussing the topics of murder and sexual violence. Please, take care of yourself, do not continue if these subjects make you uncomfortable.
Fridging, or Women in Refrigerators, is a trope that involves a female character, typically a love interest or family member, being murdered or raped for the sake of motivation of their male counterpart. Their death kicks off the story or raises the stakes.
Coined by comic writer Gail Simone back in 1999, the term Fridging comes from the most infamous example of this trope. When, in Green Lantern #54, Green Lantern returns home to find the love of his life, Alexandra DeWitt, brutally murdered, her body shoved into a fridge.
When this term was first introduced to us, it referred to comic books since, frankly speaking, they were the main offenders when it came to this now tired trope. Certain comic books back in the day were lowkey sexist at times, straight-up sexist at others. Since then, the term is brought up when discussing media as a whole.
A debate was sparked back in 2018 over the death of Vanessa in Deadpool 2. People were quick to call it Fridging. The film’s co-writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick claimed they didn’t know about the infamous trope when they wrote the script. Honestly, I do doubt that. The two films actively acknowledged and mocked other famous comic book tropes, so surely they must have at least heard about this one.
Now, killing a female character isn’t inherently bad, as sometimes the story calls for it. But Fridging is different as, in essence, it implies that the female character isn’t truly a character in her own right. She is a tool purely made for the sake of the plot. To use another turn of phrase, she is just a sexy lamp. She is expendable, sometimes not even given a fleshed-out personality, just a pretty body for the lead to cry over for a bit, dramatically swearing revenge as he holds her corpse in his arms one last time.
I’m sure most examples of Fridging didn’t come from a place of genuine sexism, but the trope does have an underlying misogynistic element that can’t be overlooked.
It’s the damsel in distress trope, but more objectifying. At least she gets to live and maybe get a bit more development with that one. Being blunt, Fridging implies that the woman is the male character’s property, that the villain kills or violates her to get under his skin. The equivalent of a bully breaking another kid’s favourite toy, only this toy has a pulse.
So, how do we move forward?
Simple, write fully fleshed out female characters with deaths that mean something. If you are going to kill her off, give her agency. Her death should be the end of her story, not a footnote in someone else’s. For example, Supergirl sacrificing herself in Crisis on Infinite Earths.
The issue is how the death is handled. Does her death have a bigger impact on the story at large? Rather than being some motivation to hate the villain more or to move the story along? Again, does she have agency in her death, say taking the blow for someone else or going down with a fight? These are factors to consider to prevent Fridging.
Violence against women in fiction is unenviable. Characters are going to get killed off, what matters is how it is written.
The thing is people at this point often say that this is an old trope and not used anymore but as you say it was brought out without any irony in Deadpool 2 and the Wheel of Time has just had it, despite it not existing in the books (at least this example). They invented a character that didn’t exist in the book to be a wife that dies right away. The thing is in the book the character did not need he “motivation” of a dead wife and thus you have to ask how poor the writers are for having to use it to make their show work.
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Very well said, Kibbin!
I think people claim that this trope isn’t used anymore because we don’t want to admit that not only is it still sexist but also just kind of lazy writing. “We need to make the audience feel bad for our lead? Give him a dead wife!”
Honestly, I don’t know which part is worse, the lazy writing or sexist undertones.
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