Today I started reading The Refrigerator Monologues, a book by one of my favorite authors ever, Catherynne M. Valente. I'd had it on my radar for a while, but in the hustle and bustle of daily life it fell through the cracks until I saw it faced out on a shelf at the independent bookstore I like to visit. I had to have it.
It reaffirmed why I love Valente's work so much and even though it's very differently-written compared to her other work that I love, it is somehow even more powerful and gut-punching. Here is a book about female agency, about the irritating and demeaning trope that is putting women into refrigerators. In other words, the killing or rape or torture or humiliation of a female character in order to serve as the motivation or tragic backstory of a male character. It comes up again and again in comics, but is also common in movies and books and videogames. Over and over, pop culture tells us "A woman is most useful in service to a man. Even if she has to die to provide that service."
Valente wrote an extensive post about her inspiration and motivation for writing the novel and I found myself nodding along as I read her words. This trope is such lazy writing. It demeans women, yes, but it also oversimplifies men. Men have lots of motivations for things. I'd like to believe that a good man—a hero—would still be good without the death of a (woman) loved one to spur him on. If you need someone's death to motivate you, a lot of people around you are going to have to die to inspire you to do anything.
And that's exactly what happens. This trope just gets used over and over and over. Women are killed off—in horrible ways!—in droves. And I feel like the repercussions for the male hero are never all that serious. There's always another woman. The villain always gets away. It reminds me of why I love the Red Hood character so much, why I feel his anger at Batman is justifiable. Batman always lets the Joker get away! Those villains always escape the asylum and Batman knows that! Every time he doesn't kill one of those villains, he is dooming many more people to die. And for what? A skewed sense of justice? It's more than that. It's that it's easier to re-use the same villains, to stage the same showdowns over and over across times and spaces and universes. So the Joker can't die. Even Jason Todd can't really die. Not for good.
But Rachel Dawes can. That's messed up.
Anyway, I'm not that far into the book yet, just finished the first story which is very inspired by Gwen Stacy. And it's heartbreaking. And beautiful. And infuriating. I wish I could just quote the entire dang story. I highly recommend it for everyone.
Dying was the biggest thing that ever happened to me. I'm famous for it. If you know the name Paige Embry, you know that Paige Embry died. [...] Tom's got a girl now who stays home when she's told. A good girl. A girl who leaves the fixing up to him. I was just the prototype, the Act One conflict who had to go so the story could grow a little more gravitas. Some days, I'm okay with that. But some days? Some days I want to rise up out of the dark, rip open Kid Mercury's throat, and drink back every drop of my 2.21% solution, my fault, my mother, my quicksilver, my speed, my strength, my story.
I'm going to try and finish reading it tonight because I feel compelled to. I hope it fuels me and breathes a bit more energy into my writing, even if it's angry energy. Everyone needs a bit of anger sometimes, a little ripple in the placid waters of our hard-but-nevertheless-mundane lives.