Women in Refrigerators

I think our professor may have mentioned this site in passing earlier this term, but anyways, here is a character list of women in comics that have been either killed, raped, as well as other ways in which a character may have been marginalized/and or villanized. Interestingly enough, when women in comics come back to life they often do not enjoy the same strengths they once had. There is a response on the website titled Dead Men Defrosting which talks about how many men in comics have died as well but they are more likely to come back to life and enjoy a full recovery (i.e. Batman recovering fully from a broken back) http://lby3.com/wir/women.html

It should be noted that the site acknowledges that not all women in comic books have been subjected to abuse, turned evil or killed. This website also includes some interesting responses including this one which I think is neat: http://lby3.com/wir/r-jmace.html

What I find interesting about this trope is that it reveals plot development that may be reliant on violence against women. This list represents something more than the classic damsel in distress storyline and illustrations portraying women as hypersexualized objects because it represents not only heinous acts of violence against women but also includes how sometimes characters abilities may be hindered from an accident which leaves the adjacent men in the comic stronger.

Comics Bulletin suggests that women have been used as exclamation points in comics. This may be best represented in Gwen Stacy’s death in The Amazing Spiderman #121-122. As a lot of you are probably familiar with, The Green Goblin throws Gwen Stacy (Peter Parker’s girlfriend) off of a bridge, Spiderman catches her with his web but she dies from whiplash. Her death seems to be unnecessary. Although this example isn’t an obvious sign of abuse it does represent how women in comics can be treated as very much a peripheral object in a plot. Stacy’s death is used as a plot tool to motivate the protagonist.

File:Spider-Man Death-of-Gwen-Stacy.jpg
Another supporting character with no super powers could be Karen Page from Daredevil. She is saved by Matt Murdoch (Daredevil) after being addicted to porn and heroin. Eventually she leaves him (again) because she feels she is too dependent on him, however, she is tricked into believing she has HIV (by Mysterio), returns to Murdoch to reveal her ‘disease’ and is killed by Bullseye during a battle between the Daredevil and Bullseye. All in all this character was villanized in several ways leading up to her death, most notably when she sells the Daredevils identity to a villain in order to acquire heroin.

Ms. Marvel provides an example in which a superhero is completely marginalized by this trope. She is raped by Marcus Danvers through mind control in the Avengers #200, impregnated and eventually decides to move away and live with this man. Ms. Marvel was considered to be a strong and independent character prior to this issue, yet not only did she lose these qualities, but the writing facilitated such a shift because other Avengers remain idle.

I am actually not familiar with many of the characters on the list although I would like to hear any other input… The author of the site also suggests that the widespread abuse of women in comics has slowed down since people started talking about this trope.

Other references:


Sam Klassen

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6 Responses to Women in Refrigerators

  1. Ali Bayne says:

    Sad as it is, I think the ability to ‘replace’ a female character is easier. The irrationality linked with women in literature probably has something to do with why women are allowed to break their own characters without it being so shocking as to lose faith in a male character who does the same. Men can move on because what doesn’t kill them (in most cases) makes them stronger as a reliable character, women always have that lingering emotional burden that can pop up at any time and aid their own demises. What’s more is that the taboo of violence against women echoes stronger with the majority of audiences versus men who can take punches. Sure, you still have strong female characters who can easily beat up bad guys, but if they get socked in the jaw it is somehow more shocking than if Batman gets it.

  2. gsbeatty says:

    I’m going to fully throw-in with the assertions made about Karen Page and Carol Danvers (Ms. Marvel). To say that those were both so poorly handled is to make the understatement of the century. I remember reading the death of Karen Page and just feeling anger at the callous treatment of the character, that said, I disagree with the statement about Gwen Stacy. Even though she’s been (mostly) dead since the 70’s she remains to this day my favorite of Peter Parker’s girlfriends simply because in life and in death she had such an impact on Peter/Spider-Man. I think to suggest that she was nothing more than a plot tool used to motivate the character is to do her a great disservice by ignoring the quality of her character, and because then we would also have to suggest the same thing about Uncle Ben. Even to this day in Spider-Man’s title those two deaths weigh on him in a deep and meaningful way. And there have been many deaths in Peter’s and in Spider-Man’s life that have affected the direction of the character: Captain Stacy; Jean DeWolff; Harry Osborn (although he is alive now); Aunt May (I believe twice, but once again she’s currently alive); Silver Sable; all of these characters have left an indelible impact on both Peter Parker’s and Spider-Man’s life and to this day he mourns them. Tragic death always feels unnecessary, but we have to find meaning in it. Gwen Stacy’s death carries a lot of meaning and I believe that’s what is most important.

    -Garrett Beatty

  3. penelope84 says:

    First of all I just want to say I enjoyed your post and think it’s important to recognize the treatment of all minorities so to speak if we ever want to make changes in the future. The representation of women in the media whether it be comics, film/television, or advertising is always a topic that deserves a lot of debate. The best thing we can do is raise awareness and generate discussion but also start looking for solutions. How can gender, race, sexuality be depicted in comics without being offensive but still allow the artist the freedom of opinion and creative expression?
    I have not read a lot of early comics but even the entire concept surrounding the damsel in distress is engraved in all walks of fiction from Snow White to Jane in Tarzan.

  4. jessica annan says:

    After reading this list, I did some research of my own, and found a few blogs stating that many of the women who get killed off in comics have a “good girl” image, and killing them off represents a sort of “sacrifice of a virgin” theme.
    I personally do not know anything about comics but was wondering if this seems to hold any truth, because if so this opens up further questions. Is the audience supposed to be more moved by the death of a good girl than by the death of a not so good girl?

  5. AshShan says:

    I would like to start by saying that I think this post is very well written and researched. I agree that there are definitely not enough female leading superheros that do not show reliance on a male counterpart in some way. Often when a female superhero is created, she is part of a team that includes males, or is the female equivalent of an already established male brand. There are very few stand-alone female figures in comics when compared to the number of males figures.

    That being said, I think it’s important to think of the audience many comics are intended for. A large portion of comic readers are male and therefore it makes sense that there would be more male figures in comics. That being said it is important to shine light into this area of comics and media in general. Maybe in the future, as societal gender perceptions begin to change, comics will do the same. Here’s to hoping for better women representations in comics!

  6. jneary says:

    I must comment Garrett on comparing Gwen and Uncle Ben: I can’t agree more. The fact that both characters marked Parker deeply while alive and dead, should be explanation enough. This being said, looking at Barbara Gordan (aka Batgirl/Oracle) from the Batman series, I feel is very similar.

    In the Killing Joke, where Babs is brutally attacked and crippled by the Joker (one of the most violent acts the Joker has inflicted on the Batman universe), DC decided to let this remain canon, but did not allow Babs to slip into the outskirts, or become the crippled girl to be kidnapped. Yes, her character was used at times to engage Batman and Nightwing in guilt (but how cold Batman not feel some sort of responsibility for her?), but with this traumatic event, they changed things around and had her be a hero in her own right. She learned to kick-ass in a wheel chair, often creating some pretty awesome takedowns (wheels, think wheels) but she used her intelligence and leadership skills to become the Oracle and manage the Birds of Prey and still be essential to many story lines.

    That being said, what does it mean then to the importance of her character not backing down after her spine was shot, when DC comics reboots the series and BAM, she gains Batman’s ability to heal from a broken back? Sure, she can take up the Batgirl mantle again and carry with her the fear of weakness she experience while in a wheel chair, but how does this impact the previous story lines, and do they have the same impact on her and other characters her tragedy affected?


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