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DC Women Kicking Ass

Thoughts, pictures, reviews and other stuff about the women in comics who kick ass. This is a feminist site. Deal with it.
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Jan 29 '12

Women in Refrigerators 13 years later: time for additional way to examine women in comics

A few weeks ago on the 3 Chicks Review Comics Podcast I do on CBR, myself and the other two chicks, Kelly Thompson and Maddy got in a heated discussion regarding Women in Refrigerators. The issue was whether the treatment of Bette Kane, the former Titan now turned Batwoman sidekick wannabe, constituted a “Fridging”. It was a heated and long discussion.

As a quick reminder Women in Refrigerators is the idea that Gail Simone put forth in 1999 that being a girl superhero meant inevitably being killed, maimed or depowered. The refrigerator came from an incident in the Green Lantern comics where the hero, Kyle Rayner, came home to find his girlfriend dead and stuffed in a refrigerator. This made Kyle sad and ragey and all other things about him. The girlfriend, of course, was just dead.

At the time WiR, as it became known, was a series of questions such why did women get treated this way? Were women more prone to violence? These questions were sent to several creators and, Shazam!, a watershed moment in superhero comics was created.

Through the years the criteria for WiR has gotten some tweaking by people other than its original author. And, in fact, the argument Kelly, Maddy and I had partially focused on parsing out the elements of the scenario in Batwoman and seeing if they fit the current description of WiR. Actually that’s not true, we couldn’t decide what exactly the description was. We all agreed to disagree on the criteria.

However, whatever criteria we attribute to WiR and whether we all agree to it or not, the argument showed that 13 years later, Women in Refrigerators remains a vital tool to keep us on our toes around women and superhero comics. It gives us a touch point. A way to say, “hey I’m not comfortable with this.” “This should not be viewed in a vacuum.” “This needs to be discussed and examined.”

So on this anniversary, I have another question: why after 13 years after the introduction of WiR is it along side of Alison Bechdel’s 1985 comic aka “The Test” the most used litmus tests to examine how women are portrayed in superhero comics?

How sad is it that in an entire genre of comics that the most used screens to evaluate the role of female characters is primarily based on the violence perpetuated upon them and whether they talk to another female character about anything else other than a dude?

How is it that we know so well the nadirs of “Fridging”:

  • Sue Dibney raped and murdered in Identity Crisis
  • Alan Moore, given the green light to “cripple the bitch”, has the former Batgirl Barbara Gordon shot, stripped naked and photographed in The Killing Joke
  • Alex DeWitt being shoved in a refrigerator

but yet how sad we don’t easily handy opposite— the moments that we want to shout and point to and jump up and down and say, “Yes, God Damn it, yes! This is what we want. THIS. This is how women should be portrayed. This is how superhero comics should treat women. THIS, THIS, THIS!”

Damn sad, I’d say.

I think it’s time for another rule. I think we need to develop criteria or examples that represent the best of what women in superhero comics can be. We need a crystallizing moment, panel or set of criteria that can be said is the epitome of women should be portrayed in superhero comics.

But will the criteria be? What should we call it? What should it look like?

I am not going to provide the answers to the first two questions. I have my ideas, I’m sure others have theirs. Let’s hear them.

But for the third answer, I can try and help. I have created a new Tumblr blog that will let fans of female superheroes show the world what they want in terms of positive portrayals of female characters. The moments, issues, runs, panels that illustrate the way women should be positively portrayed in superhero comics. The moment. The “THIS” moments.

Thanks to Gail Simone we have a name for what we don’t want in comics. And I think a lot of what we do want is because of her as well. I think we’ll be seeing lots of moments from her Birds of Prey run which not only avoided the refrigerator it offered up plenty of “Bechdel test” passing as well.

I’m not sure a clear cut set of criteria for what it is that women want from superhero comics will emerge from this. Perhaps we may even left with in the same place as Supreme Court judge Potter Stewart in trying to describe what pornography is, “I know it when I see it.”

But let’s try so let’s see them. Dig out your moments that make you want to keep reading female characters in superhero comics. Identify the moments that make you keep going despite the issues, the objectified asstastic art and the refrigerators.

If someone asked you, “show me what you want for female characters”, what would you show them?

You can submit to the Tumblr even if you are not a Tumblr member or, if you, are tag your posts with #thisforwomenincomics and they’ll get included. And if someone wants run this as another website off Tumblr I am happy to pass this task on.

Your thoughts welcome.

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