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December 2, 2009

Comics, world: Still chilly to women

Filed under: Superheroes, issues, pop culture — posted by Mia @ 3:48 pm

Is it cold in here, or is it just misogyny? “It’s not healthy to be a female character in comics,” notes writer and comic book fangirl Gail Simone, compiler of a grim list called Women In Refrigerators. Refrigerators? Refrigerators. And we’re not (necessarily) talking about women who are experts in cryogenic engineering.

The story: One day a while back, Simone began to realize that most of her favorite female superheroes wound up de-powered, raped, or cut up and stuffed in a refrigerator. Granted, they’re superheros, so they’re in the line of fire, but still. The particular punishments and demises, she observed, appeared to be particularly cruel and disproportionate. So Simone started to make a list of all the female superheroes she knew and what had become of them. Circulated through e-mail and bulletin board systems, the WiR list grew to reflect the contributions and reactions of fans along with responses from some professional creators about their chosen plot devices.

The list doesn’t attempt to catalog the vast list of wives and girlfriends who suffer at the hands of Women in Refrigerator syndrome, described as, “WiR referring to a female character’s death having no real lasting impact or importance to the writer after the initial incident.”

As a comic fan and superhero sidekick, I find this pile of evidence depressing. Are breakups really too rough for superheroes to handle? Why is it easier to devise these ghastly ways to make women go away?

The list, and the term, have been in existence for some time (full history here). What really makes me mad is (a) that it’s still relevant, especially considering that (b) the “meme” is hardly confined to the world of comic books and fantasy. Between women’s health care needs being discredited and devalued in the national health care debate (e.g., domestic violence as a preexisting condition), and with pop culture at large suffering from Women in Refrigerator Syndrome (last week Good Morning America cancelled the appearance of Adam Lambert because of his bawdy behavior at the American Music Awards, instead welcoming convicted felony girlfriend abuser Chris Brown.

Talk about still needing to get women out of the kitchen. I will not be taking off my ass-kicking boots or supersidekick spandex any time soon.

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