Casual Violence Upon Women In Order to Inspire "Heroes"
“I belong in the refrigerator. Because the truth is, I’m just food for a superhero. He’ll eat up my death and get the energy he needs to become a legend.”
The lives of six female superheroes and the girlfriends of superheroes. A ferocious riff on women in superhero comics.
A series of linked stories from the points of view of the wives and girlfriends of superheroes, female heroes, and anyone who’s ever been “refrigerated”: comic book women who are killed, raped, brainwashed, driven mad, disabled, or had their powers taken so that a male superhero’s storyline will progress.
“Just slip on something black and low-cut, carve yourself the biggest goddamn slice of whatever cake they said you couldn’t have, and be a VILLAIN for a night! Come on. You know they deserve it. You know they ALL deserve it. What’s the use of all that rage you got if you don’t take it out for spin?”
Fridging‘ is the practice of killing off or hurting a minor character to motivate or torture the main character. The term comes from the world of comics, describing an issue of Green Lantern in which the hero’s partner is killed and stuffed in a refrigerator for the protagonist to find.
Let that sink in a minute.
This is a storytelling trope aimed at motivating the main character through emotional torture. That violence is usually visited on a female character to motivate a male character.
Case in point:
- The death of Gwen Stacey in Spiderman – Is thrown off of a bridge only to have her neck snap at the last minute by spiderman.
- The death of Linda Park in Flash – Although the originally planned demise of Linda Park in The Flash was avoided, the sonic boom that was created by the battle between Zoom and Flash caused the pregnant Linda to abort her children.
- Barbara Gordon from Batman The Killing Joke – “While she fought crime for years as Batgirl, it was the fact that she was Commissioner Gordon’s daughter that caused Barbara to receive a visit by the maniac known as the Joker. In an attempt to drive the Commissioner insane, the Joker showed up at Barbara’s house and shot her in the stomach, then proceeded to remove her clothes and take pictures of her. He showed these pictures to her father to try and break him, but the Commissioner remained sane and was freed by the Batman. Barbara, however, was paralyzed — the bullet lodged in her spine, and she never walked again, becoming the wheelchair-bound information broker known as Oracle. Also, they gave her a crappy TV show, so, you know, double whammy.”(link)
- Sue Dibny was the wife of Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man. – “The two were always a happy couple of the superhero set, with Sue often acting as den mother to the Justice League, and the pair did detective work on the side, like some sort of stretchy Nick and Nora Charles. Then came the Identity Crisis mini-series. Right off the bat, Sue gets horribly burned to death in her home. The culprit is unknown, but based on the evidence, the League suspects it to be Dr. Light. Now Doc Light is usually a D-list villain, and he actually had his name stolen by a superhero once, but we find out through a flashback that one day, when Sue was hanging out on the Justice League satellite (by herself, in space), Dr. Light somehow managed to get aboard. Yes, a supervillain had somehow gained access to the League’s high-tech HQ (in space), and that was when he decided to rape Sue to within an inch of her life.”(link)
Now that you see this trope for what it is, it is hard to unsee it in popular literature. It is everywhere from tv to Comics. Which brings us to the brilliant Refrigerator Monologues written by Catherynne M. Valente. The Refrigerator Monologues is a combination of The Vaginia Monologues by Eve Ensler and Gail Simone’s Women in Refrigerators. It is six stories told from the point of view of six dead women. Either the superheroes themselves or wives/girlfriends/motivations of living superheroes. The stories are brilliant and based loosely around existing stories in the comics universe. For example, the first story is about a character, Paige Embry, loosely based on Gwen Stacey. Paige is hurled off of a bridge only to have her neck snapped in when saved a la Gwen Stacey from Spiderman. The stories that Valente wrote are much rawer, much more adult, and much more real. And frankly much more interesting.
I think the best story of the bunch, and that is saying something because every story in this collection is damn good, is the one about Pauline Ketch. This story is loosely based on Harley Quinn. Violence is not sexy, and violence within a relationship is definitely not sexy, it is tragic and sickening. This story is hard to describe, it should be read. It is written from an almost obsessive combination of love/sex/violence where the reader doesn’t know where one emotion ends the next begins and isn’t that what the Harley/Joker relationship is?
This book is brilliant. Valente created an entirely real universe and canon of superheroes to prove a point. It is not preachy, it is persuasive and well written.
I bought a copy of this from Amazon for my own personal library.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherynne M. Valente was born on Cinco de Mayo, 1979 in Seattle, WA, but grew up in in the wheatgrass paradise of Northern California. She graduated from high school at age 15, going on to UC San Diego and Edinburgh University, receiving her B.A. in Classics with an emphasis in Ancient Greek Linguistics. She then drifted away from her M.A. program and into a long residence in the concrete and camphor wilds of Japan.
She currently lives in Maine with her partner, two dogs, and three cats, having drifted back to America and the mythic frontier of the Midwest.