Women in Refrigerators
Women in Refrigerators (or WiR) is a website that was created in 1999 by a group of comic book fans and, more broadly, is a common comic book trope from which the website took its name. The website features a list of female comic book characters that have been injured, killed, or depowered as a plot device within various superhero comic books, and seeks to analyze why these plot devices are used disproportionately on female characters.
The term "Women in Refrigerators" was coined by writer Gail Simone as a name for the website in early 1999 during online discussions about comic books with friends. It refers to an incident in Green Lantern #54 (1994), written by Ron Marz, in which Kyle Rayner, the title hero, comes home to his apartment to find that his girlfriend, Alex DeWitt, had been killed by the villain Major Force and stuffed in a refrigerator.
Simone and her colleagues then developed a list of fictional female characters who had been "killed, maimed or depowered." The list was then circulated via the Internet over Usenet, Bulletin Board System, e-mail and electronic mailing lists. Simone also e-mailed many comic book creators directly for their responses to the list.
The list is considered “infamous” in certain comic book fan circles.[dead link] Respondents often found different meanings to the list itself, though Simone maintained that her "simple point (had) always been: If you demolish most of the characters girls like, then girls won't read comics. That's it!"
Simone received numerous e-mail responses from comic book fans and professionals. Some correspondents reacted with hostility at the creation of the list and assumed a radical feminist agenda on the part of Simone. Some responses were neutral and others were positive. Additionally, arguments on the merits of the list were published on comic-book fan sites in early 1999. Discussions developed regarding the use of gruesome injury, death or depowerment of friends and acquaintances of heroic comic book characters as a plot device.
Simone published many of the responses she received on the website. Journalist Beau Yarbrough created the initial design and coding on the original site. Artist and business executive John Bartol edited the content. Robert Harris, a librarian and comic-book fan, contributed to site maintenance and updates along with fan John Norris. The idea for placing the list online originated with software developer Jason Yu, who also served as the original site host.
Several comic book creators indicated that the list caused them to pause and think about the stories they were creating. Often these responses contained arguments for or against the use of death or injury of female characters as a plot device. A list of some responses from comic book professionals is included at the site. Marz's reply stated (in part) "To me the real difference is less male-female than main character-supporting character. In most cases, main characters, "title" characters who support their own books, are male. [...] the supporting characters are the ones who suffer the more permanent and shattering tragedies. And a lot of supporting characters are female."
Dead Men Defrosting
Some fans argued that many characters, regardless of gender, eventually return given sufficient importance in a storyline or fandom popularity. Thus, second and third-string characters (and not first-grade leads) are more likely to be killed off permanently regardless of gender. Sidekicks in general also tend to be singled out frequently. The deaths of Robin II and Captain America supporting character Bucky were often cited as an example of this trend in online discussions on the message boards of Comic Book Resources at the time of the original development of WiR. In response to that line of reasoning, content editor John Bartol wrote an article, "Dead Men Defrosting", in which he argued that when male heroes are killed or altered, they are more typically returned to their status quo. According to Bartol, after most female characters are altered they are "never allowed, as male heroes usually are, the chance to return to their original heroic states. And that's where we begin to see the difference."
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After 1999, development of the site largely stopped. The original domain of WiR passed through several hands, all of whom maintained the WiR site as an archive. In late 2005, the last domain holder let the original domain expire. The domain was then taken over by a European adult entertainment company. In 2010 the original domain and womeninrefrigerators.net expired. After attempts to contact the previous owner, it was registered by a designer and redirects to the official site.
Beau Yarbrough then registered a new domain, Unheardtaunts.com, and placed the original WiR site there. The site was later moved to www.lby3.com/wir.
In popular culture
References in mass culture
In 2000, several national newspapers ran articles that referenced the site, generating discussion on the topic of sexism in pop culture and the comic-book industry. Some universities also list the content of Women in Refrigerators as related to analysis and critique of pop culture.
Women in Refrigerators Syndrome
Women in Refrigerators Syndrome was coined in various forms via online discussions and articles. The term describes the use of the death or injury of a female comic book character as a plot device in a story starring a male comic book character. It is also used to note the depowerment or elimination of a female comic-book character. Cases of it deal with a gruesome injury or murder of a female character at the hands of a supervillain, usually as a motivating personal tragedy for a male superhero to whom the victim is connected. The death or injury of the female character then helps cement the hatred between the hero and the villain responsible. Kyle Rayner is a particularly cited example, due to the common tragedies that befall women in his life.
Discussing the site in his book Dangerous Curves: Action Heroes, Gender, Fetishism and Popular Culture, Bowling Green State University professor Jeffrey A. Brown noted that while male comic book heroes have tended to die heroically and be magically brought back from the dead afterwards, female characters have been likelier to be casually but irreparably wounded or killed, often in a sexualized fashion. To support his claim, he cited the Joker shattering the original Batgirl's spine just for fun, resulting in her being restricted to a wheelchair for over a decade, and the villain Black Mask binding, torturing and killing the first female Robin from DC Universe, Stephanie Brown.
The frequent violence against female characters has led many people to ask for a change in the way female characters are written and portrayed. These people have expressed the desire for female characters to serve in a more active role in stories as well as not be subject to such displays of violence. However, many argue that this simply limits any danger coming to female characters in the future and more limits being put onto writer's narratives. See also: censorship and The BatGirl Cover
List of alumni
Several contributors to the site and the original list later became comic book creators and entertainment industry professionals. These writers, with Rob Harris (see below), were also all members of the early Internet group of comic book fans and aspiring writers known collectively as "The Pantheon." This group includes:
- Stephen Cmelak – creator of the webcomic Avatars
- Daniel Merlin Goodbrey – digital designer and underground comicbook author, creator of the hypercomic Six-Gun: Tales from an Unfolded Earth and the iPod comic Brain Fist
- Brian Joines – writer of the independent comic The 7 Guys of Justice and as of 2006 publishing new comics through Platinum Studios
- Greg Dean Schmitz – creator of UpcomingMovies.com, AKA Greg's Previews, and columnist for Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes
- Gail Simone - author of several comic books including Birds of Prey for DC Comics and Marvel's Deadpool.
Original site editor and contributor Rob Harris was a long-time fan of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and created the Legion Academy student Nightwind (originally named Nightwing) through a fan submission to DC Comics. The character debuted in issue 12 of The Amazing World of DC Comics. Robert Harris died in 2004. Nightwind is one of the characters from the original WiR list.
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And then every now and then you get the girlfriend in the refrigerator syndrome and it probably turns potential female readers off.
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