Women in Refrigerators. By now, it’s a well-known trope. When Gail Simone coined the term in 1999, it was based on her observation that women in comics often got a raw deal. Many of these female characters were assaulted, depowered, hurt, and killed, often in awful ways. In fact, the incident that inspired the trope was from a Green Lantern story in which the superhero’s girlfriend was dismembered and left in his refrigerator (see later in this list for more on that). The biggest problem with Women in Refrigerators, or “fridging” as it has come to be called, though, isn’t violence against women on its own. It’s that in these stories, the violence perpetrated against female characters is really just a plot device to motivate and advance the story of another, usually male character who cares about them.
Simone created ato show just how pervasive it was in comics at the time. Unfortunately, while there’s far more awareness of fridging today, it’s still widely used. This is true not just in comics, but in all kinds of pop culture stories. Nowadays, people are far more sensitive to the trope and some fridgings have become a source of controversy as audiences call out creators for motivating one character by victimizing another. Here are some of the most controversial fridgings in pop culture history.
Jean Grey has a long history as one of the most powerful X-Men of all time. She’s an extremely gifted mutant with strong telekinetic and telepathic powers. In her most famous arc, the Dark Phoenix Saga, she is psychically manipulated by the villain, Mastermind, who eventually causes her to lose all control over her powers. Infected by the overwhelming power of the Phoenix entity, Jean turns into the Dark Phoenix and wreaks havoc with her nearly unlimited powers. In the comics after Grey reasserts some control over her powers, she kills herself in order protect the universe. This arc was tragic and upsetting enough, particularly because the idea of a woman losing control of her power and having to sacrifice herself to protect others smacks of misogyny.
However, Grey’s fate in X-Men: The Last Stand is even worse. In the very loose adaptation of the comic book story, Jean has a moment of clarity after Dark Phoenix has destroyed everything around her, Grey takes back just enough control to beg Wolverine to “save” her. Understanding her meaning, he tells her he loves her and then quickly kills her with his claws. Then he cries over her body. The next time we see Grey is in The Wolverine. Her death still haunts Logan and he still sees her in dreams. Part of the film is about how he manages to get over her death, because, you know, he’s the one who’s truly suffered.
When we originally meet Cordelia in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she’s a typical high school mean girl. Over the years, though, she softens and becomes a deeper, more interesting character as she learns about the supernatural, dates Buffy’s friend Xander, and her family loses all their money. By the time Cordy moves to L.A. both to try her luck as an actress and to star on the Buffy spin-off Angel, she’s a supernatural fighting force in her own right. As Angel progresses, she becomes a valuable member of the team. Then, in the show’s fourth season, Cordelia is possessed and does all sorts of horrifying things. She murders someone, battles a former friend, and in by far the grossest plot point, seduces Angel’s teen son, Connor.
Cordelia becomes pregnant and gives birth to the supernatural entity that had been controlling her (as one does).
Her purpose served, she falls into a coma before the season ends. Cordelia remains in a coma for the first several episodes of the following season. When she finally wakes up, she graciously serves as the cheerleader for Angel, even passing on the knowledge he needs to defeat the season’s villainous cult. Then she informs him that she isn’t there to stay, their day together was her chance to say good-bye to him. She disappears just as Angel gets a phone call informing him that Cordy passed away without ever having woken up from her coma. It’s an unceremonious and unfortunate end for one of the Buffyverse’s most enduring characters.
In her incarnation on the Netflix series Daredevil, Karen Page is a well-adjusted, smart, accomplished woman. She’s not nearly so lucky in the comics. In fact, comic-Karen’s life is downright miserable. In the comics, Karen is Matt Murdock’s girlfriend, but she leaves him after discovering that he’s Daredevil. After that her life becomes a downward spiral. She goes into the adult industry, gets addicted to controlled substances, and even sells Matt’s secret identity to Kingpin to feed her addiction. Finally, after she’s tricked into thinking she’s HIV positive, she’s hit in the head by Daredevil’s club, which was thrown by his nemesis, Bullseye.
Karen dies in the process of trying to intervene in a fight between Daredevil and Bullseye, so her heart is in the right place figuratively, if not literally. Karen, for everything awful in her life, is trying to redeem herself. Seeing his girlfriend die right in front of him understandably devastated Matt and he has trouble moving on. But when he remembers some of the good times they had together, he finds the strength to do something positive. Of course, it’s hard to understand why Karen had to have any of the horrible experiences she did, up to and including her death. It’s difficult to imagine a male character being treated the same way.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s fridging of Tara Maclay is a prime example of the “Bury Your Gays” trope, in which LGBT characters are killed off at a higher rate than heterosexual characters. Tara was beloved by both the fans and her girlfriend Willow for her quiet wisdom and integrity. She and Willow bonded over their shared interest in witchcraft and their friendship eventually blossomed into a years’ long love story. It was considered groundbreaking for being one of the first LGBT romances on TV that explicitly acknowledged the intimacy the couple shared. After Willow and Tara break up and get back together, Tara dies not by supernatural means but from a stray bullet fired from a gun by Warren Mears, who was trying to hit Buffy.
The death of Tara was extremely shocking and upsetting to fans, especially LGBT fans. In anAmber Benson, who portrayed Tara, said she had received many letters from young LGBT viewers telling her how devastated they were by the character’s death and that they could no longer watch the show. The death was especially tragic because it was specifically used to make Willow become evil. Throughout the season, Warren and his two friends were the (underwhelming) villains, but when Willow went bad, her magical abilities made her a danger to her friends and the world as a whole. Yet, using Tara as a plot device to bring Willow to that point felt almost abusive to fans, especially given how Willow’s actions dishonored the memory of the gentle and selfless Tara.
One of the earliest and most famous examples of fridging is Gwen Stacy’s death in the Spider-Man comics. Gwen gets thrown from the tower of a bridge by the villain Green Goblin. Spider-Man tries to catch her in his webbing but instead stops her fall so abruptly that her neck snaps and she dies anyway. The death is tragic and shocking and made that much worse because Spider-Man got so close to saving her only to fail. After all, the hero isn’t supposed to fail, especially when it comes to the people he loves the most.
Gwen’s death gives Spider-Man the motivation he needs to battle the Green Goblin.
The effectiveness of using Gwen Stacy to motivate the story’s hero and shock its audience led to many more instances of significant others meeting their demise in comics and other stories. As this list shows, it’s a trope we’re familiar with now, but Gwen Stacy remains one of the most well-known examples. Her death wasn’t the result of her story running its course but of the need to drive Spider-Man’s story ahead. The writers found an emotionally resonant way to make this happen, even if it reduced Gwen to an object.
In the 1978 movie Superman, Lois Lane dies, and Superman can’t save her. Lex Luthor launches two bombs: one at New Jersey and one at California. Superman can only reach one in time. He prevents the New Jersey missile from exploding but can’t stop the other from detonating in California. Superman tries to prevent the worst of the destruction in California but the area suffers from terrible aftershocks. Superman rescues others, without realizing that Lois is caught in one of the aftershocks too. As Lois drives through the desert, her car gets caught in an aftershock and she’s buried alive. Realizing she’s in danger, Superman finds Lois but is too late. She’s suffocated. Although his Kryptonian father, Jor-El, told him not to interfere in human history, Superman can’t let Lois’ death go.
Superman literally spins the Earth in the wrong direction so he can turn back time and get to Lois before she dies. Yes, Lois’ death is reversed and she probably doesn’t even remember dying, but the sequence is an exploration of the lengths Superman will go to for her. He will ignore the advice of his father, turn the Earth around, and likely neglect to save the lives of many other people in order to save her. This all serves as character development for Superman. Lois’ short-lived death makes Superman a more nuanced, more complicated character.
Over both Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Gamora proved herself to be a strong, brave, and capable character. Then she found herself with Thanos, her adoptive father, in Infinity War. Ultimately, it’s Thanos’ love that leads to her demise. Thanos must kill something that he loves to get one of the infinity stones he needs to complete his plan to wipe out half of life in the universe. To her surprise, Gamora learns she may be the only thing he loves in the galaxy. And fortunately for Thanos, she’s there ready and available to be thrown from a nearby cliff. Gamora is so shocked she doesn’t even put up much of a fight. She just unceremoniously falls to her death.
Not only does Gamora’s death lead to Thanos being rewarded with the Soul Stone he desires, the anguish it causes Peter Quill serves as motivation for him to continue to fight Thanos. Gamora deserved better than the abrupt ending she was given. She was a fierce character with a lot of agency and independence. To have her serve as a vehicle for other characters’ journeys in Infinity War was a shame and a disservice to who she was. Perhaps she’ll be resurrected in Avengers 4 and this wrong will be righted.
Fans adore the TV show Supernatural. It isn’t entering its 14th season for nothing. However, that doesn’t make the show perfect. One of the accusations frequently leveled against it is that it treats its female characters horribly. It’s true that examples abound of women dying on the show as a means to motivate the main characters, Sam and Dean Winchester. Of course, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised given the way the show started out. The first episode of the series featured not one, but two, fridgings. The first of which was the main characters’ own mother, Mary Winchester.
In fact, Mary’s death was the catalyst for the whole show.
One night when Sam is only about 6 months old, a demon enters the Winchester’s house and gruesomely murders Mary. Overwhelmed with grief and driven by vengeance, Mary’s husband John, uproots himself and his sons from their suburban Midwestern lives to hunt supernatural creatures — and find the demon that killed Mary. Later in that first episode, Sam — who is about to graduate from Stanford and has dreams of becoming a lawyer — witnesses his girlfriend, Jessica, dying in exactly the same way as his mother. Again, Jessica’s death is a device used to motivate Sam to give up his dreams of a normal life and join his brother in hunting the supernatural. While Mary eventually returns from the dead in season 12, her and Jessica’s only purpose in the series’ pilot is to be murdered.
Psycho’s Marion Crane pre-dates the first mention of Women in Refrigerators by almost 40 years. However, she’s one of the most noteworthy examples of this trope from classic cinema. Alfred Hitchcock’s film was groundbreaking on many levels. When it was first released in 1960, it was controversial for the graphic situations it depicted on-screen, which were atypical for the time. It showed Marion in a bra (gasp!) and the now-iconic shower scene explicitly depicted the violence she encounters at the hands of Norman Bates.
More importantly, though, Crane’s murder at the end of the first act was shocking because it removed the character audiences thought was the film’s protagonist from the action. The first part of the film closely follows Marion in her exploits, and then, just when we think we know where the plot is going, cuts her life short in a horrific scene of violence. It’s this event that triggers the remainder of the film, reducing Marion to a plot device. While it was, and continues to be an effective device, it literally replaces the plot the film was originally following about Marion with a plot about Norman Bates’ capture and arrest. Marion’s death is used to show the audience how scary Norman can be. But the movie never asks us to mourn her short life.
Frank Castle’s reason for becoming the Punisher is entirely based on the death of Maria, his wife, and his two children, Lisa and Frank Castle, Jr. A former U.S. Marine, Frank returned to civilian life with the intention of embracing his role as a husband and father. He loved his family and was looking forward to being with them. The family went for a picnic in Central Park and after witnessing a mob execution were gunned down as well. Only Frank survived the attack.
Maria and the Castle children’s only function in The Punisher’s origin story is to die. They are disposable characters. We know Frank loves them and never gets over their loss, and that’s really the only thing the creators of the Punisher want or need us to know about them. Their loss is Castle’s primary motivation for everything he does subsequently. He is a superhero born from pain and grief, not altruism or concern for other people. To keep Castle dedicated to his mission, Maria periodically appears in Castle’s dreams, reminding him of what he lost and why he needs to continue to fight. Regardless of whether she’s alive or dead, Maria, like many Women in Refrigerators, is only there to drive the male character to action.
What would 24’s Jack Bauer be without tragic loss? Of all the losses Bauer suffered throughout his many seasons of saving the United States from threat after threat, it’s the murder of his wife Teri at the end of the series’ first season that truly alters the course of his life. Teri dies at the hands of the mole inside the show’s government agency, CTU. When she accidentally discovers the mole’s identity, the mole ties her to a chair and picks up a gun. But it’s not until Jack finds Teri dead from a gunshot wound that we know for sure what happened. It rips away the happy ending Jack was anticipating after spending the day foiling an assassination plot.
The thing that makes Teri’s death so tragic is how unnecessary it is.
Jack had already discovered the mole’s identity, so there was no need for Teri to die to cover up that information. Not to mention, the rest of the season’s adventure had come to an end. Teri’s death was a sad coda to the rest of the season. In fact, an alternate ending in which Teri doesn’t die was shot, but the producers decided to kill her off. The show’s writers brought up Teri’s death in subsequent seasons to characterize and motivate Jack, making him a much more tragic figure than he might have been otherwise.
The desire to keep The Hunger Games’ Prim safe is what motivates her older sister, Katniss, throughout the series. First, Katniss takes Prim’s place when Prim’s name is called to take part in the brutal Hunger Games. Prim is gentle and kind where Katniss is tough and gritty, and Prim would never survive the Hunger Games. Katniss’s protectiveness of her little sister wouldn’t make the story exceptional, though, if it weren’t for what happens to Prim towards the end of the story.
When Katniss, who has become the face of the story’s revolution, takes her battle to the evil President Snow’s mansion in the Capitol, a plane drops bombs on a group of nearby children. Rebel medics, including Prim, are flown in to help them. But just as Katniss notices her sister, a second bombing happens, killing Prim. Prim’s death would have been a tragedy on its own, but later, Katniss discovers it was orchestrated by the incoming president, Alma Coin, in an effort to sway both the citizens of the Capitol and Katniss to her side. She wanted to make it appear as if President Snow was responsible for the bombs. The revelation of who really caused her sister’s death motivates Katniss to murder President Coin. Throughout the story, poor Prim is a pawn in a larger game.
Charlie was a recurring character on Supernatural until she was unceremoniously but brutally dispatched in a late season 10 episode. The murder caused the biggest fan backlash in the show’s history. In a series where characters die all the time, especially if they’re female, Charlie’s death hit fans especially hard. Not only did Charlie function as an avatar for many fans with her nerdy, LARPing, hacker ways, she was also an LGBT character, a rarity for the show. This made Charlie a victim of another trope, the aforementioned “Bury Your Gays.” Charlie’s death is all about Sam and Dean. She sacrifices herself specifically to help them. The death is the motivation the brothers need to finish out their mission for the season.
At that year’s San Diego Comic-Con, a fan at theasked why the decision was made to kill off Charlie. The actors clearly wanted nothing to do with the question, so executive producer Jeremy Carver spoke in the show’s defense. “When we’re in the writer’s room, we have to go where the story takes us,” Carver explained after some stuttering and false starts. An alternative world version of Charlie returned to the show this season, but Charlie’s death still stings.
Vesper Lynd is the requisite Bond girl in the 2006 movie Casino Royale. While most Bond girls are disposable and are used by Bond for sex before being murdered, Vesper actually manages to get under Bond’s skin. Vesper teams with MI6 to control Bond’s use of funds for a high stakes poker game. Over the course of the film, Vesper helps Bond bring down a bad guy and even saves his life. Eventually the pair fall in love. Bond even plans to quit MI6 so he can be with her.
In the latest Bond films, Vesper’s memory is just as potent as the character was when she was alive.
Unfortunately, Vesper is a double agent for the very organization Bond is attempting to stop. When Bond discovers her betrayal, he goes after Vesper, who has been locked in an elevator at the hands of some of the organization’s henchmen. The building floods and a trapped Vesper drowns. Bond tries to revive her but it’s too late. Bond condemns Vesper for what she did, but then finds she left him a clue that helps him track down the movie’s main villain. In the latest Bond films, Vesper’s memory is just as potent as the character was when she was alive. Her death fuels the events of the subsequent Bond film, Quantum of Solace, as Bond seeks vengeance for her death, and her memory is also used to motivate Bond in the 2015 film Spectre.
Elektra is a ninja warrior who suffers an awful fate. In the Daredevil comics, as well as the Ben Affleck vehicle (although the less said about that, the better), Elektra is Daredevil’s love interest. In the comics, Elektra is also the villain Kingpin’s assassin. She’s sent to kill Foggy Nelson, Matt Murdock’s best friend, but given her connection to Matt, she spares Foggy’s life. Another of Kingpin’s assassins, Bullseye, takes the opportunity to murder Elektra — not because he wants to motivate anyone, but because he wants to be Kingpin’s number one assassin and Elektra’s a threat to that aspiration. Elektra tries to fight Bullseye but ultimately, he gets the best of her, stabbing her with her own sai. Before she dies, Elektra manages to drag herself to Murdock’s place and die in his arms.
Elektra’s death drives Daredevil’s quest for revenge on Bullseye, so her demise fuels the story’s action and moves the plot forward. More egregiously, though, is just how little time it takes for creator Frank Miller to introduce Elektra and then kill her off. She’s initially introduced in Daredevil #168, and by #181 she’s dead. Given the short time-line, it seems Miller only introduced her so he could kill her off — another disposable woman.
Lori Grimes wasn’t exactly beloved by fans of the TV show The Walking Dead. She doesn’t seem especially loyal to either her husband, Rick, or her lover, Shane. She often seems like she’s in denial about the zombie apocalypse going on around her, especially when she accidentally gets pregnant. Lori’s also not exactly a feminist role model. Many fans were relieved when she finally died. But despite the fact that Rick and Lori had grown apart, with Rick seeming to be especially frustrated with her by the time she died, her death is used as a vehicle to further Rick’s emotional arc on the show.
Lori dies in childbirth. She, Maggie, and Carl become isolated during a walker attack and she goes into labor. Because of the baby’s position, Maggie needs to perform a Caesaean section to get it out. Lori perishes in the process, and then Carl shoots her in the head to prevent her from becoming a walker. Lori’s death hits Rick hard. He sees her everywhere and his hallucinations call his sanity into question. The actress who played Lori, Sarah Wayne Callies, supported the death — in order to fuel Rick’s character growth., Callies said, “…killing Lori does something to Rick that is vital for the story and can’t be done any other way.”
By now we pretty much all know what’s in the box at the end of Se7en, the thriller with the stylized spelling that features Brad Pitt as David Mills, a detective who’s hunting a serial killer, and Gwyneth Paltrow as his wife, Tracy (and if you don’t know what we’re talking about: spoiler alert). We don’t see Tracy too much in the film. She’s mostly there as a support system for her husband, although it’s clear that he loves her.
While we learn that Tracy’s pregnant, she never gets a chance to tell her husband.
Instead, Tracy ends up being used by the serial killer John Doe to paint the final strokes of his murderous masterpiece. His murder spree is based on the seven deadly sins and he kills Tracy because he envies David. This, the criminal mastermind knows, will set off Detective Mills. As expected, Mills is horrified by the fate of his wife and kills Doe in retaliation for her death — representing wrath, the final sin on Doe’s list. It’s a brutal and gut-wrenching conclusion to a disturbing movie. The worst part is that while the device of killing off Tracy is undeniably effective, both emotionally and as motivation to bring the story to its terrible conclusion, getting her head stuffed in a box ends up being Tracy’s only real purpose in the narrative.
As far as this list of fridgings goes, Barbara Gordon is kind of a good news/bad news situation. She’s one of the few characters here who isn’t killed, but she doesn’t have a lot of luck otherwise. Barbara Gordon worked with Batman as Batgirl for years. She’s also Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, and it’s this fact that puts her in the line of fire. In The Killing Joke, the Joker goes to Barbara’s home, shoots her in the abdomen, strips her, and takes photos of her injured body. He then kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and inundates him with the photos, believing this will drive him insane. The gambit doesn’t work. When Gordon is finally freed by Batman, he wants the Joker arrested and locked up.
Ultimately, it’s Barbara who sustains the most lasting damage at the conclusion of the story. She is paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. She still aids Batman as the computer hacker Oracle, making her an inspirational figure who manages to overcome the trauma of what happened to her. But it’s undeniable that in the plot of The Killing Joke Barbara is victimized and objectified merely because of the way her suffering can impact a man in her life.
The death of Sara Lance on Arrow led to several angry think-pieces. While the show had killed off several female characters by the time Sara died in the first episode of the third season, Sara’s seemed like the most egregious. For one, at the time, Sara, as the superhero Black Canary, was the only female character on the show that displayed as much power as the male characters. Worse, the way Sara died was especially upsetting: Thea was brainwashed by her father, Malcolm Merlyn, and shot Sara full of arrows. The death was orchestrated to look like it was perpetrated by the season’s villain, Ra’s al Ghul and was meant to drive Oliver to fight him.
This is a pretty classic fridging. Not to mention, it took agency away from not one, but two female characters. They both served as mere pawns to the male characters’ goals and motivations. Up until her death, Sara had been fairly well fleshed out. She was also one of the few bisexual characters on TV, making this yet another example of the “Bury Your Gays” trope. By reducing her to a plot device, the show’s writers took away what they built with her. Thankfully, Sara eventually returned from the dead and is now one of the Legends of Tomorrow, but her death on Arrow still rankles.
Rachel Dawes was Batman’s love interest in The Dark Knight. Although she is also a lawyer, it’s really the love triangle between her, Bruce Wayne, and District Attorney Harvey Dent that drives the plot of the movie. Rachel is dating Dent but still pulled towards her childhood friend Bruce. She is also one of the few people who knows his secret identity as Batman. After Batman captures the Joker, he learns that the Joker’s henchmen have kidnapped both Dent and Rachel and placed them in different locations across town from each other. Batman must choose who to save. He goes to where he believes Rachel is being held, but the Joker switched the addresses, so Batman arrives in time to save Dent. Rachel dies in the explosion at her location.
Rachel’s death is the catalyst for Dent’s actions for the remainder of the film.
Dent, badly scarred from the explosion and desperate for revenge for Rachel’s death, becomes Two-Face and goes on a killing spree, He dispatches all those he views as responsible for her death. Eventually Dent tries to murder Batman, who takes him out, but the damage has been done. Rachel plays an important role in the story, but it’s the male characters’ feelings for her, not Rachel’s actions, that move the story forward.
Sue Dibny’s fate is one of the most upsetting in comic book history. Sue was the wife of the Elongated Man, Ralph Dibny. The couple was happy together. Sue supported her husband’s heroics and was well-known to the other members of the Justice League. Then came Identity Crisis. At the very beginning of the story, Sue is murdered, seemingly having burnt to death. The Justice League works together to find the murderer. In the course of the investigation it’s revealed that a villain, Doctor Light, once assaulted Sue. He therefore is the prime suspect in her murder, although the murderer is eventually revealed to be someone else, and the murder the result of an unfortunate accident.
The entire story is precipitated by Sue’s death, making her simply a catalyst for the larger story. However, the most uncomfortable thing about Identity Crisis is its depiction of her assault at the hands of Doctor Light. People who objected to the comic felt the scene sensationalized that assault. The writer Brad Meltzer seemed to use Sue’s attack for shock value, and to this day it’s burned into the brains of many people who saw it.
Lexa was a recurring character on The 100. She was the leader of the 12 Grounder Clans on a post-apocalyptic Earth. Her fridging is yet another example of the Bury Your Gays trope. Throughout her seasons on the series, Lexa and main character Clarke repeatedly meet. Sometimes they work together, sometimes they clash. In the end they become intimate. And then, just after consummating their relationship, Lexa is hit by a bullet that was meant for Clarke and dies.
Lexa’s death changes the course of the show and motivates Clarke to take on responsibilities out of loyalty to and grief over Lexa. While this impacted the plot of the show, the impact on the fans was even bigger. The fan backlash was loud and swift. Fans felt betrayed and heartbroken by the loss of the character. The controversy over Lexa’s death was so impassioned, that the show’s creatorto fans for it. In the letter, Rothenberg explains the reasons for the death. He writes, “Despite my reasons, I still write and produce television for the real world where negative and hurtful tropes exist. And I am very sorry for not recognizing this as fully as I should have. Knowing everything I know now, Lexa’s death would have played out differently.”
Deadpool 2 is currently enjoying fantastic box office success and adulation from both fans and critics. It’s also attracted a controversy even Deadpool couldn’t joke his way out of. The incident that sets the story in motion is the death of Vanessa, Wade Wilson’s girlfriend, at the hands of gangsters who are gunning for him. Deadpool’s grief over her loss and his periodic otherworldly conversations with her throughout the film are what propel the plot forward.
Aren’t there other ways to give Deadpool motivation that don’t necessitate the death of someone else?
When, they first denied any knowledge of the Women in Refrigerators trope and then tried to explain and excuse Vanessa’s death. Reese said, “We always had in our back pocket that we could bring [Vanessa] back if necessary. So, we ran with that. And maybe that’s a sexist thing. I don’t know. And maybe some women will have an issue with that. I don’t know. I don’t think that that’ll be a large concern, but it didn’t even really occur to us.” Even that the death is a fridging. But she also points out that “The film doesn’t happen without her.” Still, aren’t there other ways to give Deadpool motivation that don’t necessitate the death of someone else?
The sitcom How I Met Your Mother was supposed to be a show about, well, how the main character, Ted Mosby, met his kids’ mother. The show teased the big reveal of the mother for eight seasons. Then, finally, in the show’s ninth and final season, Ted met the mother during another couple’s wedding weekend. But it wasn’t until the series finale that we finally get a glimpse of Ted and Tracy’s life together. About 30 seconds later, the mother is killed off, and it becomes clear that the widower Ted is really telling his kids the story because he wants to get their approval to date his friend Robin.
Fan reaction to the finale was vehement and angry. There had been a fan rumor circulating that the mother was dead at the time the story was being told, but fans still believed the finale was a betrayal of their long investment in the show. The show’s cast and producers were largely mum on the subject., co-creator Carter Bays shared, “We did a finale about life’s twists and turns and that is not always what happens… but THANKS!” Needless to say, fans did not appreciate the mother being reduced to a plot device in the show’s final moments.
Alexandra DeWitt is the woman who started it all. Her death was the inspiration for the fridging trope. Unfortunately, in her story, the fridging was literal. DeWitt was the girlfriend of Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner. She was helping him learn to utilize his new powers when she was brutally murdered by the villain Major Force. When Kyle came home, he found a note telling him to look in the refrigerator. There, he finds Alex’s dismembered body. Hence, the birth of Women in Refrigerators. Major Force killed Alex to taunt and play with Kyle, and Kyle wants revenge for her murder, so the event moves the story along.
The only person in the story who doesn’t have the ability to take action is Alex — her function is simply to die.
The violent fridging of women is still so common in pop culture today that it feels like little progress has been made, even with the growing recognition of this trope. Horrifically murdering a female character who is meaningful to another character has become a shortcut for triggering emotions and driving a plot forward in all kinds of stories. It’s time to think more creatively about the way female characters are portrayed in pop culture.
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