– by Sammie Wetherell –
From the death of Gwen Stacey, to Black Cat being drugged up and almost raped, then a woman stuffed in the refrigerator . . . women in comics have had it rough. Female characters were raped, de-powered, and even killed to further a book or male-leading character’s plot. Events like these sparked a revolution with feminists that would change how the industry looked at female characters and the overall treatment of them in storylines.
Let me take you back to yesteryear. In the 1990s the Internet was not what it is today. Social media didn’t exist (can you believe it?), so if you wanted to get among a topic of conversation about a fandom, you had to search the web (hard) for forums created by everyday normal people. One such hairdresser couldn’t take much more, especially after Green Lantern #54 was released in 1994. The image is forever sketch in the minds of female comic readers (and many males), and one that still shocks today. I’m referring to Alexandra Dewitt, the girlfriend of Kyle Rayner/Green Lantern found crushed to death and stuffed into a refrigerator. This horrific comic panel sparked a conversation between feminists and in 1999 Gail Simone and a group of women started the website Woman in Refrigerators or WiR for short. Now this isn’t the first women revolution in comics but this was the one that started a movement that would change the opinion on woman in comics forever.
The Women in Refrigerators group didn’t just sit and talk about the mistreatment of women in comics. They started to complying evidence that would support what they had seen in comics throughout time. They created lists upon lists proving that woman were poorly treated just to provide a motive for male stories to progress. It wasn’t the fact that these characters died, and would no longer be apart of that story arc. It was the insensitive manner in which it had happened. Alexandra Dewitt was killed and stuff in a refrigerator because Major Force wanted to merely get under Green Lantern’s skin.
One beloved character in particular, Barbara Gordon, had the same kind of fate in Batman: The Killing Joke. She was shot in the spine by the joker in an attempt to drive Commissioner Gordon crazy.
I will soon delve deeper into the life of Barbara Gordon, as well as Gail Simone’s run that helped develop the character in a way she never had been.
Gail Simone didn’t want these lists to sit upon the website and do nothing. She decided to take these lists to creators to try and sway their future work with women characters. Some creators response were hostile, believing that WiR had a radical feminist agenda. Other creators were positive and they began to think twice in their decision-making going forward.
The biggest counter argument has been that male characters get killed too. This is true, of course, there’s no denying it. The phrase Dead Man Defrosting or DMD for short, was coined to demonstrate that men being killed for motivation and women getting killed to motivate were two separate things. These male characters that were killed didn’t die by being sexually assaulted, humiliated or degraded in a vile, gratuitous fashion. Male characters die as heroes, most times sacrificing themselves in the process. Even when they do get paralysed or die, often enough they come back quickly to full power, like nothing had ever happened. Women on the other hand stay dead or de-powered for a long time before they are even considered to come back.
While all of the above is an indisputable part of the ugly truth of our comic book history, it should be noted that . . .
Until next time . . . Peace, love & Peanut butter.