It’s been a long day of superhero antics. You’re lucky you escaped this incident alive. Tired, injured, and demoralized, you would like nothing more than to go home, take a nice long shower, and snuggle up with your significant other. (Hey, superheroes are people too!) But alas, when you arrive home, your partner is nowhere to be found. You call their name. No response. You try again. Nothing. What’s that on the kitchen counter? It’s a scrap of paper with your name on it. It reads: “I have a surprise for you in the fridge. XOXO [Insert Name Here]” Your lucky day! Maybe it’s your favorite home cooked meal or leftovers from your favorite restaurant. You open of up the fridge, and you are horrified. Stuffed into the refrigerator is the dismembered body of your partner, left by your arch nemesis for you to find.
(Copyright DC Comics; Green Lantern #54)
As much as I wish I was kidding, this was an actually plotline that was written, approved, and then sold in stores in the late 1990s. In the pages of Green Lantern #54, the titular hero, Green Lantern, comes home to find essentially what I’ve just described.
For fellow comic book author Gail Simone, this plotline proved to be too much. According to Simone, she could no longer sit back and watch as male authors proceeded to print gruesome stories where female characters were the victims of shocking acts of violence. Together with a few of her colleagues at both Marvel and DC, Simone set out to bring some kind of awareness to an issue she said made comics particularly alienating to young women who may have become potential readers.
So she composed a list which was released online in 1999. She coined the phenomena “Women in Refrigerators” after the Green Lantern comic book. In said list, Simone writes the names of over 100 fictional women who have been brutalized or raped or murdered or stripped of their fantastically powers. What bothered Simone even more the blatant sexualization of violence against women was the position of these women in comics.
Out of the 100+ women mentioned in the list, very few of them are actually superheroes in their own right. The majority of them are the mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives, and female friends of male heroes. Rather than given their own agency, or even a method to defend themselves, these women had to rely on their male counterparts to protect them. So when acts of violence were inevitably committed against these women, the plot rarely showed these women, these victims, dealt with the long term side effects of said acts. The pain these women had to endure was often seen as personal failing of the male hero, and his angst over being unable to “protect” his loved one was often prioritized. In short, these women were presented not as people or compelling characters, but as tools in order to give the hero a more emotionally compelling plot/backstory.
To understand more about this phenomena and why it’s problematic you can go here. To read Gail Simone’s original list (which is depressingly long), you can go here. To read an updated list that spans into movies and other forms of media beyond comic books (which is even longer), you can go here.