“I belong in the refrigerator. Because the truth is, I’m just food for a superhero. He’ll eat up my death and get the energy he needs to become a legend.”
–– The Refrigerator Chronicles, pg. 144
If you’re a woman, girl, or other gender-marginalized person who loves comics, you’ve probably heard of “fridging.” Also known as being “refrigerated,” or “women in refrigerators,” fridging is a term coined in 1999 by comic writer Gail Simone, after reading a Green Lantern comic in which Kyle Raynor comes home to find his girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, killed and stuffed into a refrigerator. Since then, the term has spawned a website cataloguing the many ways in which women in comics have so often been treated as disposable plot devices within the broader narratives of male protagonists. Too often the wives and girlfriends of comic heroes, as well as other women comic book characters, are abused, injured, disempowered, or killed in order to provide a catalyst for the heroic actions of their male counterparts.
Drawing on this trope’s long and complicated history––as well as the format and mission of the Eve Ensler-created Vagina Monologues––prolific author and comic book fan Cathrynne M. Valente’s most recent book, The Refrigerator Monologues, began with her own Gail Simone-like call to action. As she describes in an article for The Mary Sue, after Valente saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2, she left the theater in tears, enraged and disappointed by the filmmakers’ treatment of Gwen Stacy. When Valente’s partner told her that, as much as they both might want to, there was nothing they could do to fix Gwen Stacy’s death because “‘she was always going to die. She always dies. It’s kind of a thing,’” Valente responded with redoubled enthusiasm to directly address that very inevitability.
“On Monday, I am Julia Ash. I dye my hair cranberry red and live in a trendy suburb with three cats, two teakettles, and one first edition Jane Eyre on which I have never once spilled ramen broth.
On Tuesday, I eat a star.”
–– The Refrigerator Chronicles, pg. 25
What results is a series of linked, monologic short stories, each centered around a different member of the Hell Hath Club, a tightknit group of “fridged” badasses, relegated to the monotonous obscurity of the underworld while their husbands and boyfriends heedlessly continue their above-ground heroics. Illustrated by amazing artist Annie Wu, the stories are by turns tragic and hilarious, snarky and earnest. Those who are familiar with comics will likely be able to place the inspiration behind Valente’s characters, and part of the fun is identifying the incredibly creative ways that Valente updates the stories of Jean Grey, Gwen Stacy, Alexandra DeWitt, Harley Quinn, and others. By drawing on familiar themes––updated and embellished by propulsive, acrobatic prose and galvanizing anger––Valente is able to honor the importance of comic books while simultaneously drawing attention to the very tropes that can hinder such pure enjoyment for us comics fans who aren’t cis white men.
At the same time, there are certainly limitations to what Valente is able to accomplish in The Refrigerator Monologues. The stories themselves––like those that inspired them––are, with few exceptions, heteronormative narratives involving white, cis men and women. Additionally, while Valente’s characters are given a voice and a spotlight through which to tell their own stories, the fact remains that they are still dead. United by shared experience and empowered by mutual storytelling, these powerful and complex women are not able to enact physical retribution on those who have hurt, oppressed, and used them.
Still, as someone who loves comics and graphic novels, I view Valente’s work as a celebration of the comic book genre precisely because it refuses to ignore the problematic tropes and themes so often contained within it. By putting a spotlight on abuse, misogyny, and the perceived disposability of certain bodies, The Refrigerator Monologues is a book that comes out of a deep love, addressing the anguish that results when that love is betrayed. As a nerd, that’s exactly the kind of representation that I’m looking for.
“The Hell Hath Club walks its newest member out into the Lethe Café, into music and moonlight and steaming cups of nothing that taste like remembering. Her frozen blue skin gleams like the bottles behind the bar. We help her into the booth, hold her hand, slip her a joke or two to make her smile.
What’s the difference between being dead and having a boyfriend? Death sticks around.”
It’s that time again when the Convention Center’s doors are now closed, and thousands of happy, smiling con attendees have spent a fun-filled weekend attending panels, playing new games, meeting awesome people and buying all the things.
Our last official event of the day was our traditional closing celebration, with a brief speech from GeekGirlCon co-founder Jennifer K. Stuller, who acknowledged the things that GeekGirlCon has done in its five years. “Our atmosphere is joyous and celebratory,” she noted. But Stuller also recognized that it could not have been done without the thousands of GeekGirlCon staff, vendors, panelists, attendees and other supporters. “You and I are part of this community… and I want to thank you all for being a part of us.”
Fandom is a powerful thing. It can connect, inspire and frustrate—often at the same time. I’ve my fair share of important fandoms, which I participate in to varying degrees. There’s the movie I’ll reblog any picture from as long as it has my favorite character, the musical I’ll talk about to anyone who looks like they might care, the book series I’ll push on you as soon as we talk. But fandom isn’t just about the actual work of art: at its most powerful, it can also be a source of community.
GeekGirlCon 2015 has, of course, a variety of panels focused on individual fandoms and also a few that will discuss the idea of fandom on a larger scale. Whether you’re a fantasy fan interested in science or a dystopia fan interested in utopian ideals, there’s a panel or two for you.
Carol Corps-inspired cover art by Joe Quinones. Image source: Marvel Wiki
Written by GeekGirlCon Copywriter Winter Downs.
If you’re wondering whether to get an early jump on passes for GeekGirlCon ‘15, here’s a sample of the kind of programming you can look forward to!
The Carol Corps has put in a great showing at every GeekGirlCon since 2012, and this year it’s especially excited about the recent announcement of a Captain Marvel movie, set to hit theaters in July 2018.
Why is this a big deal? Well, as Ashley Leckwold of Nerdophiles pointed out, before Kelly Sue DeConnick launched her as Captain Marvel in 2012, Carol Danvers was “a third string Marvel character.” And then came the Carol Corps, a spontaneous upsurge of readers old and new rallying around this inspirational character and bringing her to the forefront of Marvel fandom. I’m not saying it was solely due to the Corps’ efforts that Captain Marvel got her own movie, but it surely is a factor.
All this explains why we were so excited to have a panel about the Carol Corps on the schedule at GeekGirlCon ‘14!
What’s up, everyone! Shubz Blalack here! For those of you at the Con, join us in Room 303 for this moderated roundtable discussion with Anita Sarkeesian, Alejandra Espino, Suzanne Scott, and moderator Miley Martinez!
Alejandra Espino (AE): How can we create being politically engaged while not losing the pleasure of creation?
Anita Sarkeesian (AS): How can we be fans AND be critical? What does that mean and how do we actually do that?
Suzanne Scott (SS): Race, fandom, and social justice. Teaches about race, fandom and video game culture. How do you manage the “squee” in a critical fashion? We need to find a meaningful critical ground.
Check out the organization of transformative works!
Topics and questions raised:
How do we talk about representations of economic classes?
Chauvinism in favor of the STEM fields.
Creating characters in a feminist context in a culture of sexism.
Points made: AE: Being critical is what fuels creativity.
Who is being represented in geek culture is not always who is consuming geek culture.
What times of fandom are industrially valued?
AS:There are a lot of interpretations of feminism and what that means.
AE: I create fantastic characters with the idea of the “outsider” in mind, someone that is marginalized.
AS: Storytelling needs to be the way we change the world.
AS: Art is to make change.
SS: More attention towards the industrial structures that promote not promote social change.
It will take a social movement for oppressive storytelling to change.
We need to spend more time to what will create change versus what will pull the focus away from it.
Closing Statements SS: Discomfort often exposes the prejudices people have. Having a conversation about that will be a great step towards social justice.
AE: Don’t let others cease the criticism you may have.
AS: Your anger towards social injustice can be used to create something to fight it.