HEROES NEED DISPOSABLE WOMEN: The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente

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My last non-Top-5-Wednesday post was about the Women in Refrigerators trope as a whole, so if you want some background about that, I suggest you read it. I’ll provide a Readers Digest version of the trope, but those that want a deeper understanding, as well as some examples, may want to check out that entry first!

The Stuffed Into The Fridge trope became famous in a Green Lantern comic storyline of old. Kyle Rayner came home to find his girlfriend chopped up by the bad guy and stuffed into his refrigerator. Well, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure she was chopped up, but it’d be kind of hard to fit her into the fridge if she wasn’t, right? I guess that’s beside the point. Anyway, this gave our friend Kyle enough man-pain to really get his ass in gear and beat the villain.

It wasn’t an ‘officially’ named trope back when it first started happening, and I say ‘first’ as loosely as possible. Women being killed, raped, paralyzed, put into a coma, etc, in order to provide the male hero with enough motivation to beat the bad dude has been happening for… a while. Since before comic books were a thing. Since way before that specific comic book was a thing. But Gail Simone, a comic book writer, coined the term ‘fridging’ based on that Green Lantern comic and since then, it’s stuck.

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Catherynne Valente, of Deathless and Fairyland series fame, and one of my favorite writers, wrote this book of short stories based on the unsettling feeling most female geeks get from this particular trope. With illustrations by Annie Wu that contributed to the comic book theme of each story, this short read was, I imagine, must like taking a bungee plunge off a cliff: sobering and jarring, but ultimately satisfying.

The stories are grounded in a sort of urban afterlife occupied by standard demon-esque monsters along with, of course, various dead people. The women telling their tales of heroic woe meet as a sort of club in a cozy locale, and are made up of several on-the-nose dupes of famous comic book women of today. There’s Paige, the Gwen Stacy, dealing with her boyfriend gaining superpowers from a scientific means. There’s Julia, the Jean Grey, doomed to pop in and out of the afterlife due to a shit-ton of retconning. There’s Pauline, the Harley Quinn, stuck to her evil boyfriend but ultimately disposed of by him. There’s Blue Bayou, the Mera, who takes a backseat to her human husband’s grief when they lose a child. There’s Daisy, the Karen Page, taking second fiddle to her superhero boyfriend even though she puts just as much work in. And, of course, there’s Samantha, the Alexandra DeWitt, who ends up stuffed into a refrigerator just like her Green Lantern counterpart.

When I first began reading this, I hovered between thinking it was genius and thinking it was just a big old ripoff. Pauline’s story particularly made my bullshit alarms go off, since she was so utterly transparently a Harley Quinn reference. That was the first time reading through. The second time, it was much clearer to me that these weren’t spoofs, or knockoffs, or dupes, they were accusations, and accusations that needed to be made.

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Valente pulls from both Marvel and DC, but still manages to develop a single world of her own despite the characters being thinly-veiled representations of the real (so to speak) fridged women in comics from both companies. The villain in one story is mentioned in another; the superhero team reminiscent of the Avengers or Justice League is composed of all the girls’ hero boyfriends and husbands, and exist in not only the same universe, but the same storyline.

I think that my favorite thing about this selection of stories is how bitter the heroines are allowed to be. None of them smile and take their fate with a scoff and a good-natured smile. They realize how unfair it was that they died in the name of their superpowered partners, and they aren’t happy about it. Some are more upfront about it than others, but none of them are complacent. Even Pauline, true to her Harley Quinn roots, who still feels a fair amount of affection for her puddin’, realizes how shitty it was that she died for him.

I’m aware that this is a short review, but, truth be told, I said most of what I had to say about fridging in the article I wrote exclusively for it, the article linked above. Before I leave, though, I do want to say that I think this book would be a drastically better experience if there was an audiobook of it, with each chapter read by different actresses. Seriously, that would be amazing, and I’m shocked it hasn’t happened yet. If it weren’t for those darn copyright laws, I’d assemble some friends and do it myself, honestly. Quite frankly, I’m considering doing it just for fun and not posting it anywhere. Maaaaaybe.

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Anyway, like, go read this book. It took me about three hours the first time through and maybe an hour and a half the second time around. It’s amazingly insightful and filled me with so much feminist rage to direct at other things, I might just reread it before every rally.

Tomorrow I’m going to try something new, so stay tuned. We’ll see if it sticks or not.

Also, a small  note before I forget: this Friday I will be taking a trip to Portland, Oregon, and I don’t plan on taking my computer with me. So I will be gone for the week. However, I will probably write up my Top 5 Wednesday beforehand and just slap it in my drafts so I can post it from my phone. When I get back, I imagine I’ll have quite a book haul from Powell’s and Kinokuniya to show you guys!

See you tomorrow!

♥ Kell

 

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