By Prarthana Mitra
The recently released superhero movie, Deadpool 2, has come under controversy surrounding the “fridging” of the main character’s love interest Vanessa who is killed within the first few minutes of the movie. The debate garnered more heat after the co-writers of the movie, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, said in an interview that they did not know about the existence of such a sexist trope.
Coined by Gail Simone in 1999, “women in refrigerators” is a commonly overlooked trope in movies, books, television shows and superhero comics. “Fridging” refers to a distressingly frequent storytelling trope wherein female characters experience violence, rape, or death solely in order to give the men in their lives something to be sad about, thus helping them embark on a self-motivated journey, which drives the story.
The trope gets its name from the 1994 issue of Green Lantern where Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend Alex DeWitt was horrifically murdered and stuffed into a refrigerator for him to find. Simone later crowdfunded a list of these martyrs that speaks for itself and sheds light on the widespread nature of the trope and the sheer number of times women have been used as fodder for male pain, ego and eventual glory.
Where does our genre-bending anti-superhero come in?
In a recent interview with Vulture about their movie, Deadpool 2, co-writers Reese and Wernick appeared seemingly oblivious to the existence of such a sexist trope despite basing their anti-hero’s entire arc on it. The death of Deadpool’s (the superhero in the movie) girlfriend Vanessa early in the sequel is what drives Deadpool on his heroic course. According to Vox, this only serves to exemplify that male fans have the privilege of encountering and experiencing sexist narratives in ways that are vastly different from how women encounter those same tropes.
Is this a purely gendered issue?
Comic book enthusiast Ananyak Saha from Kolkata said he thinks comic books are generally targeted towards a male audience- white male audience to be specific- so even if this could have happened to the side-lined men, there aren’t many examples of that. On the other hand, female characters who are amply present but largely unimportant to the progress of the story, serve only as a boost for the male superhero’s character development or to further his narrative arc.
Even though comics are no longer a male-dominated subculture, the sizable female readership today must mean representation has improved, sadly, that is not the case. It is unacceptable that creators of Deadpool 2 did not even know about the existence of the trope. They were, however, blissfully aware of why they were writing it into the script. In the aforementioned interview, Rheese said, “I think at some point somebody just said, ‘Y’know, Deadpool kind of works best when he’s had everything taken away from him, when he suffers.”
Later in the interview, Wernick echoes the same idea: “If you’re doing a movie where you are trying to get Deadpool at his lowest, to take away everything from Deadpool at the very beginning,” he said, “the only thing to really take away from him is Vanessa.”
What can we do?
As women continue to suffer persecution, victimisation, horrific or symbolic rape, and even death, their identities coalesce, their roles get devalued, their place relegated to refrigerators alongside milk and eggs— at the cost of male superheroes so that they have a purpose.
Comic books and movies deserve better, more inclusive and diverse writers, who give some thought to developing alternative interpersonal dynamics that does not require indiscriminate violence against women.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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