Defrosting the Women: For All the Ladies Who Deserved Better
First, a brief explanation for those who are unfamiliar with the term "women in refrigerators": the phrase originates from an incident in Green Lantern #54 in which the titular protagonist, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, comes home to discover that his girlfriend Alex has been killed by his enemy and then stuffed in a refrigerator. Gail Simone coined the term to describe the broader trend in fiction of women being killed off in order to further a man's storyline.
But when I say, "I hate it when women are fridged," it's not because I'm angry about the slaughter of so many female characters. I'm certainly angry, but it goes a bit deeper than that. The thing that bothers me isn't that I think a group of sinister sexist male executives is cackling over their misogyny together:
"Let's brutalize all the women, Jeff!" "Great idea, Steve! I sure hate those females!" [Cue highfives and pats on the back, followed by a quick exchange of “No homo, man.”]
It's about the subconscious judgment of a woman's life as being worth less than a man's feelings. It's the fact that when we see Abigail get brutalized by Will's enemies, the camera pans to him crying over her body while she lies there on the ground. Still, silent, passive as she could possibly be. The writers want us to feel sad because our hero had a girl he liked taken from him and use that loss to propel the hero as an agent of his own story. But what about feeling sad over the girl who had her life taken from her, who never got a story at all?
Men are the subject of their stories. They're protagonists, antagonists, and the shades of gray in between. They are always treated as fully realized characters. This is the norm.
While there are some well-crafted heroines and villainesses out there, they are the exception rather than the rule. More often than not, our ladies are objects instead of subjects. How many times have you seen a movie or TV show and praised the writers for writing such a strong male character, or even just a male character who wasn't reduced to a stereotype or love interest? How many times have you done the same for a female character? Now, why do you think that is?
This isn't to say, of course, that you have to boycott any piece of media that isn't Feminism 101. I think it's possible to enjoy something that has problems. Frankly, if you didn't, there would be next to nothing for you to enjoy in the first place. But it's important to consciously evaluate this media and use it as an opportunity to educate and start a conversation. Ask yourself who and what the writers prioritize, why they do so, and, most importantly, how could they have done better? Because it can always be better. And while it's important to critique, it's equally important to construct.
If I could impart only one lesson about sexism to the media, it would be this: Women are individuals. Women are unique. Women are more than pieces of meat for men to toss around for shock value and angst. Above all, women are people. And they always deserve to be treated as such.
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