Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Women in Refrigerators

A friend of mine pointed me in the direction of the cultural commentary blog, Crocodile Caucus. It’s good reading focusing on pop culture, television, comics, commentary, and more. Anyhow, I was reading through it yesterday, and found a terrific post about the television show Heroes, and the “Women in Refrigerators” phenomena.

For those that don’t know (and I didn’t, until yesterday), Wikipedia explains the WiF theory (and website) thusly: exploring “female comic book characters that had been injured, killed, or depowered as a plot device within various superhero comic books. Also, the site seeks to analyze why these plot devices are used disproportionately on female characters.”

These are superheroines who have been either depowered, raped, or cut up and stuck in the refrigerator. I know I missed a bunch. Some have been revived, even improved -- although the question remains as to why they were thrown in the wood chipper in the first place.

I know I missed a bunch -- I just don't know my comics deaths the way I should. I'm not editorializing -- I'm just curious to find out what you guys think it means, if anything. – From the site

Good question—what does this all mean and why is it happening? I don’t think this use of female characters is limited to comic books. As Crocodile Caucus points out, it’s branching out into television, and I’m sure with some thought and research, you can see this attitude in movies and literature as well.

Positive female role models and characters are really needed in our media. Sure, some of these women mentioned are intelligent, but they still meet a dreadful end because a man was powerless to save them. Why can’t they have power in their own right? What is this teaching the audiences (both children and adult) who watch or read these stories?

With Spiderman 3 coming out this summer, I’ll be curious to see how they handle the infamous Gwen Stacy plot line, and see if she meets a WiR ending. Another obvious example would be the fate of Jean Grey in the recent X-Men movies.


Clara said...

The thing I found interesting is that Jean Grey isn't on the WiR list in her own right--only as Phoenix. The Jean/Phoenix character dies like, a bajillion times...she's the ultimate WiaR

Jennifer said...

You're right- didn't notice that. She's not only stripped of her power, but ultimately of her identity too. Interesting as soon as women obtain any form of strength in certain stories, myths or pedagogies, they're immediately punished in some way.

It's also interesting to note that some of these WiR examples are linked to their sexual and feminine strength-- were they a threat to the male narrative and hegemonic structure?

The Hero said...

I'm two years too late to this argument, but I completely disagree with EVERYTHING here =)

(A) Jean is no WIAR because her death isn't a sign of weakness, it's a sign of her power. She dies to save the universe.

(B) The implication that women are the only ones to suddenly be punished upon receiving power in, Spider-Man allows for his uncle to die, Superman's father passes away, The incredible Hulk has to leave his entire life behind and Wolverine has whatever life he had stripped from his memory.

Pretty much any lead character gets his/her ass emotionally handed to him/her in a comic; it's just that when it happens to a woman/minority/etc., it stands out because there are fewer of those characters (a much more dissappointing fact)

Now in the case of Alexandra DeWitt (the woman actually in the refrigerator) I do agree is over the line -- and the blame can be placed on the death of Gwen Stacy for this. That moment -- which is one of the most incredibly necessary dramatic moments in the character's life -- opened the door for this belief amongst weaker writers that instant drama was added when you ice a woman in the guy's life. Too often it's done without thought and in a brutal manner to feign drama. I'll concur that's too far. But every time it happens is not an innappropriate time.