Women in refrigerators


I recently read “eyes I dare not meet in dreams” by Sunny Moraine previously published in Cyborgology, but recently reprinted on Tor.com. It’s about dead girls climbing out of refrigerators to haunt everybody. Since I once had a dream about a woman climbing out of a refrigerator (which I used for a scene in my novel Innocence, In a Sense), I originally thought it was just a surreal dream-like story, especially since it has “dream” in the title.

Be warned: Spoilers for not only this story, but also Buffy the Vampire Slayer (including the comic), Angel, the Avengers movies, Dr. Horrible, Dollhouse, X-Men comics, Serenity, and Jessica Jones below.

So I thought “eyes I dare not meet in dreams” was just a surreal story, but after reading the comments section on Tor.com, it looks like it’s actually about the Women in Refrigerators trope. This is when a female character is killed or otherwise experiences tragedy in order to further the plot line of a male character. Although male characters get “fridged” as well (I recently watched an episode of Jessica Jones in which Ruben is killed to give Jessica angst and move her plot along), this trope isn’t called People in Refrigerators because it happens to women more often than men, especially in the realm of comic books.

In the story, we’re told the dead girls haunt the television show Law and Order. Since it’s a show about solving murders, there are certainly going to be a lot of dead girls there. Is the story trying to say Law and Order kills off more women than other crime shows, or is it just used as an example of homicide detective shows in general? Doing a quick search, I found this article which says 40 percent of murder victims on Law and Order are female, while in reality, only 20 percent of murder victims are female, so the show does kill off more women than reality does.

Back to the story, there’s a scene in which Anderson Cooper attempts to interview a dead girl on CNN, so we seem to be mixing real life dead girls in with fictional dead girls. The latest Avengers movie is also mentioned as being haunted by dead girls. Since this story was originally published in 2015, I think this is a reference to The Avengers: Age of Ultron, but could have been a reference to the original Avengers, both directed by Joss Whedon, who I think is the only writer mentioned in this story.

So why is Joss Whedon specifically mentioned in this story as being a victim of the dead girls’ revenge? Is he more guilty of putting women in refrigerators than any other writer or was his name just chosen at random? Did the Avengers movies fridge any women?

In the first Avengers movie, the only major character death I remember is Agent Coulson, but he gets brought back to life for a TV series, so it doesn’t really count. I haven’t seen the second Avengers movie, but I heard the only major death is that of Quicksilver, a male character. So as to why the Avengers movies are mentioned in relation to women in refrigerators, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a reference to the comic books instead? Let’s look at some more Joss Whedon shows and see what we find.

Turning to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel, there’s a lot of deaths. Tara was killed to further Willow’s story line. Buffy’s mom was killed to further Buffy’s story line. Doyle was killed for Cordelia. Fred (short for Winifred) was killed for Wesley, then Wesley was killed for Illyria. Buffy dies a couple times, but keeps coming back to life, so those deaths don’t count. Angel and Spike both die to give Buffy angst, but they both come back to life too, so their deaths don’t count either. Jenny Calendar is fridged to give Giles angst. Anya is killed for Xander. Darla and Cordelia are killed to give Angel angst. And finally, in the Buffy comics, Giles is killed to give Buffy angst. I also seem to remember one of Xander’s girlfriends got killed in the comics. Whew. That’s a lot of deaths. And these are just main characters. Minor characters (such as Eddie who dies in S4 E1 to give Buffy angst) die all the time. This is a horror show after all.

The rest of Joss Whedon’s shows don’t have quite so much death going on. In Dollhouse, Paul Ballard was killed for Echo. Topher also died, but I don’t recall if it gave anybody angst or served any purpose in terms of plot. I read online that Joss Whedon killed off Kitty Pryde in the X-Men comics, but hers was a heroic death, so I don’t know if this counts or not. Penny is certainly fridged to give Dr. Horrible angst. In Serenity, Shepherd Book was killed for Mal and Wash was killed for Zoe.

In the end, it kind of seems like a wash (pardon the pun). It seems like Joss Whedon is happy to kill off male characters to further a female character’s story line just as often as he does the reverse. I’m not saying the trope of fridging women doesn’t exist, and I’m not saying Joss Whedon doesn’t do it, but I don’t think he’s a prime offender, so I don’t know why Sunny Moraine singled him out. What do you think? Am I letting Joss off the hook too easily? Is there something I’m not seeing? Am I taking a possibly random remark in a short story too seriously? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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