Even if you’ve never heard of the term “fridging” before, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.
Picture this. The main character of your favorite book/movie/video game/what-have-you is a male with a female girlfriend/mom/sister/whatever. Everything seems normal, nothing is out of the ordinary and life continues on in its perfect comic book/movie/video game universe.
Then suddenly, the female friend-with-benefits/sister/girlfriend/mother/etc. is gruesomely slaughtered and left out for the male character to see. Often times, the character is stretched out in a dramatic pose across the bed she shared with her lover, or slumped over the kitchen table where she used to teach her son to make cookies, or dumped in a slummy location with a trail of clues leading the male character to her body where he’ll fall to his knees with grief and vow eternal vengeance on whoever and whatever caused the death of his sweetheart.
This is called fridging and it is one of the more disgusting examples of casual sexism, something that is sickeningly common in pop culture. With the stroke a pen, writers the genre over turn fleshed-out female characters into nothing but a clichéd plot device meant to further the main character’s man-pain.
The term comes from an old-school Green Lantern comic where the one of the lesser members of DC’s Justice League, Hal Jordan, comes home to find his girlfriend literally stuffed in a fridge by one of his enemies.
The term was coined by DC comic writer Gail Simone who read the comic and noticed that the fate of Green Lantern’s girlfriend was only the latest in a long line of dead women used as plot points to motivate male heroes. As a result, she started her own site, Women in Refrigerators, and compiled a list of all the females in comics who had been raped, killed, mistreated or abused in some way to advance the storyline of their male colleagues.
But this problem isn’t limited to comic book heroines with their big boobs and skin-tight costumes. Fridging happens in just about every setting you can imagine from comic books to video games to literary fiction to movies to TV shows and everything in between.
Setting aside the moral and societal implications of this practice of routinely normalizing violence against women, what’s so scary about fridging in video games and beyond is that it happens regularly enough that we often forget it’s there or don’t notice it at all.
And why would we?
We’ve been conditioned to accept women as both a brainless sex object and a simplistic plot device. Starting from games as banal and mindless as “Donkey Kong” and “Super Mario Bros.” women have been used as the carrot on the end of the stick to motivate the player along.
From there, the role of women has snowballed from kidnapping to murder to rape to purposeful, calculated annihilation to leave the male main character vulnerable or incite his vicious rage.
Part of this is the result of early advertising techniques used by game companies to try to entice male customers. But the fact that it has continued into this digital age and is a more ingrained plot device than ever is distinctly worrying.
The examples are nearly endless.
The pointless death of Talia al Ghul towards the end of “Batman: Arkham City.”
Dead. Source: Heroes-villians.wikia.com.
Also dead. Source: YouTube.com.
Angel’s martyred death in Borderlands 2.
Very dead. Source: QuotesGram.com.
The before-game death of Kratos’ wife and child in the “God of War” series.
Do you see a pattern here? Source: Paste Magazine.
Paz’s horrific death via implanted bomb in “Metal Gear Solid,” a death that occurs after the player character has already torn one bomb out of her in one of the most graphic scenes in gaming history.
And, what’s that? Oh yeah, she’s dead too. Source: YouTube.com.
The list goes on and on.
If you think I’m exaggerating or putting too much emphasis on something that isn’t really a big deal, put a man in the role of each of those women and see what happens.
In this context, fridging becomes less of a trope and more of a grisly, but necessary part of the literary life cycle – which it definitely isn’t. Tragedy often forces the hero’s hand, but does it have to be this tragedy? And does it have to happen all. The. Freaking. Time.
There are plenty of other micro tragedies that can inspire a superhero to take up the mask or force the protagonist on an epic quest to hunt down the villain. More than that, there are plenty of ways to motivate a character beyond watching their lover die or coming home from a long day of work to find their girlfriend stuffed in the fridge right next to the leftover takeout.
Most importantly, there are ways of motivating characters that don’t normalize violence against women. Because at the end of the day, that’s what fridging is doing. It’s establishing a routine or a cycle of violence that starts with the death/abuse/rape/etc. of a female character that, in turn, leads to male man-pain, which leads to a burning desire to fight crime/kill the beast or whatever mode of vengeance works the best, which can lead to even more violence against whatever woman in the hero’s life is the most vulnerable, and so on and so forth.
It’s a horrible, horrible cycle that needs to end not only for female pop culture consumers, but for the moral health of the writers and companies who are willing to perpetrate this cycle of violence and death.
Until that point, speak out and avoid refrigerators, my dear gamers, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.