Discussion, Guest Post

Stop Friggin’ Fridging

stop friggin fridginWomen In Refrigerators is a website created in 1999 by known comic book writer Gail Simone. She got the name from a Green Lantern comic in which a love interest, Alexandra Dewitt, was killed and stuffed in a fridge for the simple purpose of motivating the male lead, Green Lantern. She and her friends were noticing a pattern: the sheer amount of women in fiction who are raped, maimed, or murdered for the sake of a man’s character development or story. Originally the term referred to comic book storylines only, but in the two decades since, the term – most commonly known as “fridging” – has been expanded to refer to any medium. It appears most egregiously, in my opinion, in video games, but can be found in any medium. Here is, for example, a supercut of fridging in movies.

(Please note that TV Tropes include any character who suffers to motivate another character; in its original form, and in the way most people use it, it refers specifically to female characters killed for the sake of male characters development. When it’s men, it is mostly often more accurately referred to as “dead men defrosting”. Feminist Frequency has an excellent video about this entire subject.)

Think about it. How many heroes in video games have wives or daughters who were killed or raped, leading them on a rampage or to seek revenge? How many time is men’s motivation, their call to action, the suffering of a woman? This is a mark of lazy writing, true. But what it really is, is a mark of the sexism in our society.

I once read an article (which I cannot find anywhere, but I did find another one that mentioned it) that pointed out that it wasn’t only that women were hurt for men’s development; it’s also that women aren’t treated the same way when it comes to backstories and motivations. Women are not only more likely to be permanently damaged or dead than the men, especially in comics, where the men come back to life or miraculously heal while the women very rarely do; it’s also that in their backstory, it isn’t that men but the women themselves who are tortured or raped. That is, in order to create a suitably tragic backstory for men, the writers hurt one or more of the women in their lives; in order to create a suitably tragic backstory for women, the writers also choose to hurt the women.

This came up for me recently (well, last summer) when I tried to make my way through Red Rising. Despite the many recommendations I got for the book, I was dismayed to find that no one had warned me about the fact that the plot is kick started by a woman getting herself killed in order to motivate the male lead into action. Again, this is lazy, sexist writing, and it frustrated me to the point that every time I try to pick it up and continue reading it, I can’t help but think about this blatant fridging. (It’s also, as far as I can tell, blatantly a rip-off of The Hunger Games, but on Mars, which doesn’t help at all.)

When I brought it up in a conversation on discord, the people there responded with astonishment. Not only had they not thought about it, they couldn’t imagine why I would find it appalling or offensive. I don’t blame them for not noticing it. It’s so common, it’s hard to point it out. But when you do, you start seeing it everywhere. You realize stories you enjoy, maybe even love, are sexist. But we live in a sexist environment. We cannot ignore the sexist connotations of a trope. Things exist in context, and context cannot, and should not, simply be discarded when convenient.

I believe, more or less, in Death of the Author. We shouldn’t rely on paratext in order to understand the media we consume. But that doesn’t mean that when we interpret a text, we need to lay it completely bare, look at the text alone, and ignore the fact that it exists in the context of a wider environment. In fact, it is impossible to read a text without having our own paratext (in the wider sense) bleed into what we read, because we are human, and have a tendency to look at things a certain way. A gay person will look at the same text differently than a straight person, because they have different life experiences and therefore different biases. Similarly, a person with a degree in literature is most likely going to read a book differently than a person who never went to high school, because one is probably going to have a knowledge of literary theories the other does not. (Probably.)

So I believe in Death of the Author – to an extent. Books belong to their readers. You don’t have to believe anything JK Rowling has said about Harry Potter outside of the actual text of the books. But just the knowledge of what JK Rowling has said about the books is going to color the way you read the books. And similarly, you can’t say “but it serves the narrative” regarding fridging. It might, in fact, serve the narrative. But it exists in the wider context of a sexist society that likes to see women hurt. It exists in the wider context of a sexist trope that leads to seeing women as objects. It exists in the wider context of women deserving better.

From Deadpool 2 to Crimes of Grindelwald; to The Killing Joke; to Into the Spiderverse; to The Last of Us; to Bourne; to Game of Thrones. Fridging is insidious, pervasive, unavoidable. It is lazy writing in a sexist society. It’s time we took our female characters just a little more seriously.

So dear writers, stop friggin fridging.

Anything to say about Fridging?

Gail around the web: general blog | book blog | twitter | bookstagram | goodreads


21 thoughts on “Stop Friggin’ Fridging”

  1. Fully agree with you! Words matter, and while fridging is such a well-established trope, it just continues to set a bad example for girls. Times are changing and women deserve more than to be a plot point. Great post :)

    1. Thank you!
      Words matter, but I’m not sure it’s relevant here. A rose by any other name… If fridging was called anything else, it would still exist and still have an adverse on women. This post is not about the name, it’s about the importance of cultural context in analyzing media and the prevalence of this particular harmful trope :)

  2. This is so true! To this day I refuse to read Red Rising because of the fridging that kicks off the plot

  3. I have never heard that term before, happy to have learnt a new one. I have drawn a complete blank on what videgoames include fridging though, apart from Legend of Zelda where Link is trying to rescue Zelda. And Mario. Oh gosh now I’m falling down a rabbit hole.

    1. That’s not fridging, it’s the (also harmful) damsel in distress trope. I recommend clicking on a couple of the feminist frequency videos I linked to for details regarding video games, although I did

    2. Whoops, pressed enter too soon.
      – although I did mention The Last of Us. Aneeta Sarkeesian knows much more than me about video games.

  4. YAS I hate fridging with the fire of a thousand suns. It’s so lazy and boring, and I don’t understand why it gets past editors and betas nowadays. I think a lot of it goes back to the Eve Sedgewick idea of female characters acting as tools for men to filter their relationships through. Her theory is that when two men are competing over a female character it’s a way of showing that these two men actually have admiration and desire for one another – I’d argue it goes the other way too – enacting violence over another man’s woman is a way of enacting passionate violence over the man himself. (The Joker harming batgirl to hurt batman is the obvious one here). When we think of men as characters and women as ‘tools’ these men use to communicate it’s no wonder that fridging happens.

    I was always really shocked by how often the female Quidditch players in Harry Potter are randomly hurt during games and even off the pitch (compared to the men who only get hurt when they start actually fighting), and I can’t stop seeing their injuries as collateral damage between male rivals.

    Folded paper Foxes | http://isabellemarieflynn.blogspot.co.uk

    1. This was a great comment, thank you. I actually hadn’t thought about the Quidditch thing, but it isn’t surprising. As we know, JKR is far from perfect.

  5. I didn’t realize there was a term for this, thank you for a really informative post on a very prevalent issue, like it makes so much more sense now to know it’s a term because that’s how often it happens :/

  6. Wow I was not expecting this when I saw a post about fridges, I was confused and then totally drawn in! I never knew about Red Rising!! I thought it was so hyped and I should try it but wow… maybe not!!

  7. I didn’t know there was a coined term for it?? This has been an education post for me. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Loved reading about this post. I am so interested in literary theories, and this one was always particularly interesting to me. Thank you for writing this. I think more people need to learn about this.

    1. Definitely. I especially enjoyed writing a rant about the Death of the Author, a much better known and oft misunderstood literally theory

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