Women in Refrigerators Women in Refrigerators

Email as of 4/13/99

Wow! Our first week the site has been up has brought more email than we can print easily. Thanks to everyone who wrote in--most of this stuff has been really thought- provoking far beyond our expectations. Some of the most interesting stuff is posted below. In some cases, the letters may be slightly edited to avoid redundancy, but not to change the content. (GS)

LORE pointed out the following:

"Oh, Gail, I think I could go on all day on the subject of women in comics, as characters, creators and fans. I just... well, I don't think I have the typing power to say everything I'd like to on the subject. Here's one sad fact that was only alluded to on your site: More can happen to women, technically. We can all be maimed, be beaten, be raped, be mentally abused, get diseases, go nuts, turn evil, lose our powers, get experimented on, lose children and lose our ability to have children. But, there are certain fates more *acceptable* for women than men. These fates include rape, miscarriages, infertility, and sexual abuse. I'm surprised no mainstream super heroine has faced breast cancer yet. In mainstream superhero comics, we will not see male rape anytime soon, if only because of the Comics Code Authority, let alone squeamish male creators. Anyway, just thought I'd point that out. We're so much more abusable than men. Le sigh."

SCOTT sent the only letter this week saying I was full of it. Here it is:

"This is ridiculous. Basically, you're saying that female characters shouldn't undergo any kind of character development whatsoever. I'm not saying I agree with everything that happened to them (Snowbird's death upset me greatly, for example), but come on, if I liked every comic that was out there, well, I'd be homeless for one thing... So anyway, you make this list but you don't give a thought to what happens to male characters. Sure, male characters don't often get raped, and obviously they aren't going to have pregnancy issues, but as far as insanity, death and transfiguration, male characters have suffered just as much."

Scott went on to list bad things that had happened to nearly 40 male characters. Unfortunately, over half of these things were of a temporary nature, at least nine of the characters on his list were villains, and he also puzzlingly put Northstar "turning gay" on the list. I'm sure he meant well--but a direct comparison has yet to be made.


"I teach an intro to sociology course and we recently analyzed a small sample of Marvel and DC comics. On average we found at least two male characters for every female character (among only characters with dialogue), and with the exception of fighting and possessing superpowers, a fairly rigid adherence to traditional gender roles (i.e., men were shown working on cars, in business meetings, working out, and playing sports or cards while women were shown talking among themselves about relationships, naked in bed, watching children, shopping, or just being 'sexy,' etc.) There was, of course, some variation where some comics were less likely to depict gender stereotypes than others, but the overall trend was probably what one would expect in conjunction with the ideas you are presenting on your web site.

"On the other hand, I think that the fates of many of the characters on the list have a lot more to do with the science fiction oriented brand of storytelling inherent in comics and less to do with disdain for female characters. Certainly the predominantly male readership and economic realities of the comic market place influence these things as well. Ultimately, your 'argument' (if it is appropriate to call it an 'argument') is that female characters are treated very harshly in comparison to male characters. As several comics professionals have pointed out, many male characters suffer extremely harsh fates as well. I think that your case would be strengthened by presenting a list of the fates of male characters--who died/got dismembered/got depowered, how they died, etc., as a reference point. Without this reference point it is impossible to determine to what extent, if any, the treatment of female characters has to do them being female above and beyond the normal treatment for comic book characters in general.

"I think you are likely to find more support for your stance that the treatment of female characters has been 'unfair,' though controlling for 'main character status' (as I believe Mr. Marz points out in his comments) will probably diminish much of what social scientists might refer to as the "negative effect of being a female character in comics."


"Gail,I stumbled across the WIR site through a message thread on the Wonder Woman board at CBR. I am completely awestruck to see how women are treated in the comic book world. It is enough to make someone scream. I pride myself on standing for equal rights for everyone: men and women, gay and straight, black and white, etc., but one area in comics which makes me write this is my affinity for Wonder Woman.

"I have been a fan of this heroine for about twenty years, and I have devoted my time, energy, and love into the meaning behind the book. Over the years, I have seen how Diana has been treated, which is as bad as, if not worse than, the Amazons were treated as a whole. When an artist draws Superman, he or she draws the red and blue tights and cape, and always makes it the same way every time. Superman's genitals are not exaggerated, nor are his muscles - he is a singularly drawn hero. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, has been drawn with abnormally large breasts, skimpy armor (and that is what it is in the post-Crisis version - battle armor, not a bathing suit), either overly-muscled to show she's strong (which shouldn't be the case if one sees her lifting an automobile or a tank) or underemphasized muscles because she is a woman, and women shouldn't look *too* developed (according to some), and her armor is altered with almost every artist that comes along. She has been killed three times (if we count the Crisis on Infinite Earths event as one), and the last one gave her temporary godly powers, which were then removed. She has had to move from city to city (Boston, Gateway, and now the Wonder Dome), and almost every other female she encounters is abused in some way. Julia Kapatelis was beaten by a creature known as Juggernaut; her daughter Vanessa was tormented by Dr. Psycho and kidnapped by the White Magician; Helena Sandsmark was possessed by the spirit of Morgaine Le Fay, and then Zeus gives her daughter superhuman abilities, which is enough to make any person concerned.

"Is it any wonder her fan base is not as high as Superman or Batman? If she is treated with respect, then people will respond to that. But, if she is abused in each story arc to the point of death (hyperbole, but I'm making a point), how can anyone respect who she is, what she stands for, and what her purpose is? She is a comic book icon - the standard from which all other female heroes were developed (comic book heroines, that is). She paved the away for all the others to exist, yet she is treated with such disdain and disrespect.

"I'd like to see Wonder Woman receive the respect she deserves, without having to put her through Herculean labors to do it. Women are to be respected and thought of as equals because they *are* equal, to everyone. It is through Wonder Woman that we see compassion, strength, femininity, courage, and intelligence that ALL people should exhibit. Thank you for your time."

I. David Berger, M.S.Ed.
Educational Consultant/Director: Educational Services Unlimited of Central Florida: http://www.esu.nu


"Okay, maybe this doesn't answer the overall philosophical question of 'why do female superheroes get the short shrift?' [perhaps because they don't sell as many comics and lengthy relationships with a popular male hero may actually hurt sales?]

"But perhaps you should look at episodic fiction in general. TV shows are chock-full of the main good hero falling in love with the hapless female victim of the week... they spark... marriage and kids look inevitable... she's killed before the end credits.

"Now, I know you're probably too young to remember the old TV western Bonanza, but in that show, women guest stars who were love interests of any of the Cartwright boys had a life-expectancy shorter than a security officer on the original Star Trek series.

"It was a good way to get ratings. Lovely young thing comes to the Ponderosa; three handsome young men vie for her affections; she selects one; they make wedding plans; she dies. The suspense came from 'how will *this* one buy the farm?'

"Same-same with the superheroine-fatal affliction. Just how ugly, revolting, up-chucking bad can we do her? I mean she's a super-chick, so we've gotta do her up good. Someway real memorable. Oh, I got it! Let's shish kabob her [oh, been done]; well, we'll think of something really nasty so that all those female fans out there who hated her guts for being in tight with ______ (fill in the blank with your favorite hunk superhero's name) can feel *real* bad (while they privately high five)!

"Sicko? Yeah. But does it sell comics? You betcha! (I'm still waiting for the refrigerator with Starfire inside it! Yes!)"


"...What bugs me most, however, is Donna Troy. It still bugs me that tinkering with Wonder Woman's origin left Donna so castabout, because it meant that nobody since then has really been able to write her character without focusing in on that. Even now, in the Grayson Titans, Donna's characterization will center on this. Her memories are based on Wally's! How will Donna react to that?

"Moving on from the Titans, even as a hetero male, I get so tired of walking into comic shops and seeing thonged buttocks on half the covers on the racks. I remember when Starfire's costume was controversial. Now, that costume would be conservative. Why do all heroines have to be sexy? Why is the definition of 'sexy' so limited and myopic? I don't like that message, either. Characters with porn star proportions litter this industry.

"I know that, to an extent, women react in a similar way as men to comics characters. I've seen comments online and in print from women lusting after Jimenez's Tempest or Perez's Robin, for example. There's nothing wrong with that. But here, I think, is the difference between men and women regarding this. I don't think women buy comics expecting that every single man within the comic will be lustworthy.

"Anyway, I think you've opened an important line of discussion. Thanks again for the web site."

Me again! Thanks for checking us out, and thanks to EVERYONE who mailed in--if we knew there would be this much mail, we would have thought all this out better first. Maybe not. Anyway, thanks to everyone. Please let me know if I've omitted anything important. We'll be adding mail weekly and updating regularly.

Keep refrigerators girl-free!