In 1999, Gail Simone noticed that a disproportionate number of the female superheroes she liked seemed to get raped, depowered, or murdered horribly, usually in a way that focused the plot entirely on the male characters and left the women as mere storytelling devices. She was curious to see if she was correct that the plot device was more commonly employed with female rather than male characters, so she and some friends compiled a list. It turned out to be pretty long and pretty awful. The list hasn’t been updated in years, possibly since 1999, but you can still find it online.
She termed the phenomenon ‘Women in Refrigerators’, and that phrase, like the list, got a lot of attention back in the day. It originates with a Green Lantern comic where the titular character got home from a mission and found out one of his villains cut up his girlfriend and left her body in the refrigerator for him to discover.
Simone’s list was not aimed at passing judgement, or advancing any particular cause. She said herself that she was mostly curious if she was correct, and that she worried that girls would stop reading comic books if they had no female characters left to read. In recent years, the term came to public attention again through a video by Feminist Frequency discussing the trope as a storytelling device and its continuing use in the comic industry and other places.
I propose a new take on the trope. Femmes in the Fridge is based on the idea that women in the real world, who would in a perfect world feel free to enjoy, comment and critique comics, video games and other geeky mediums choose not to, whether because they feel intimidated enough that they do not join the fandom at all, because they love the art forms but feel uncomfortable joining the ‘boys club’ and taking on the prejudice, judgement, and attention that comes with it. Worse, in far too many cases where I have discussed this with intelligent, fierce women, I hear that they hesitate to do so because they are either afraid that being a woman who openly comments on any aspect of these fandoms will get them labelled as a ‘feminist’ and permanently damage their careers, earn them death threats and rape threats, or lead to actual physical harm.
The worst part? I’m not free from that fear myself. Where not supported by a community, it is scary to participate in a dialogue about these mediums, even if it is wholly unrelated to gender. I didn’t do so for years, even though I wanted to; now I’m trying to, and I’m trying to those spaces safer for others to do so as well.
So this is my spin on the “Women in Refrigerators” term: Femmes in the Fridge. You are in the fridge if you want to shop in that geeky store, but don’t because of all the staring. You are in the fridge if you have a great blog in you but don’t publish it because you don’t want to be shouted down by hate. You are in the fridge if you don’t cosplay or go to cons because they will just grab your butt and accuse you of being a fake geek. You are in the fridge if you don’t speak because they made you afraid.
They have no kind of right. The time for that is past.
I spent most of my life in the fridge.
I’m leaving it behind now.
I invite you all to join me.