Outrage Week Continues: Women In Refrigerators!
First off, I did NOT make up the title of the post, nor is the art an original idea. DC comics straight up did this as a plot device, to motivate a superhero. I’m ahead of myself though…
Today was the school’s “Social Justice Fair.” If you have no idea what that is, then you can join the club, because I didn’t either. In a social studies class, student were divided into groups to discuss and research a serious problem in the modern world, everything from homelessness to the values in culture that promote or condone rape, to police brutality, to the problem of constant government surveillance. The students then needed to put together a presentation board, and give an informative lecture on their topic, complete with handouts and Question/Answer segments. It was academically rigorous, and pretty interesting.
One of the better projects was entitled “Gender Norms and Stereotypes.” The only bad thing about the excellent presentation was in fact the title…it should have been called “Ongoing Sexism in a post-Feminist Society.” The students pointed out the entrenched cultural sexism toward women through American history, gave a concise but accurate explanation of the Suffragette Movement and the later Feminist movements of the Sixties and Seventies. They then pointed out the realities of “glass ceilings” and unequal payment structures for the same jobs, and suggested strongly that the equality that was won was to some degree, on paper only. It was well done, and with the kind of energy and feeling that teens bring to everything that captures their interest.
As a result…I thought that I should show respect to their project by doing a post about similar unequal treatment based on gender in comic books. Thankfully, given the topic (Women In Refreigerators), all of the characters in my presentation are fictional. Well…yeah. Until the last bit. Follow along, True Believers!
Back in the 1990s, Green Lantern–replacement Kyle Rayner was in need of some tragic backstory. Something really awful, like Batman seeing his parents get killed…because you can’t just be a superhero because you’re nice, apparently. DC gave Rayner a gruesome reason for fighting the good fight. That editorial decision spelled the end for Rayner’s girlfriend Alex DeWitt. After appearing in only a handful of issues, DeWitt found herself being interrogated by Major Force about the identity of the new Green Lantern. One thing led to another, and before readers knew what was happening, Major Force had murdered DeWitt, chopped up her body into tiny pieces, and stuffed her in Rayner’s fridge. With a note.
Pretty gratuitously rough.
Plenty of readers were seriously angered by what they saw as yet another example of a female character being made to suffer purely as a plot point. The issue even caused riter Gail Simone to coin the term “women in refrigerators” as a way of calling out this cliche. When she posted a list of over 90 female characters who had suffered similarly gruesome fates to her website, the term STUCK. Even today, about twenty years later, it’s still quite common to hear the phrase getting used to describe a similar storyline. This was likely the last outcome the writers were expecting from their brutal twist.
Much more recently, and directly connected to the content of the student project, DC Comics has been accused of sexism, and sexual harassment in the workplace, more than once. In fact, it is that series of allegations that forced DC Comics to publicly respond just last month, and take steps to resolve the issues.
With the allegations of sexual harassment that have recently been made public, DC Comics has finally issued a formal statement–and expressed the intention of reviewing its policies with those currently employed by the company. This comes after the recent decision DC Comics made to “restructure” its Vertigo imprint, which as a result eliminated the position of Vertigo Executive Editor Shelly Bond. As the news broke back in April, many expressed their unhappiness with the choice DC Comics had made to let Bond go from the company while keeping on another editor who was well-known for being an alleged serial harasser. The employee was named by several, including comics publisher and former DC employee Janelle Asselin as well as comics journalist Nick Hanover, as longtime DC editor Eddie Berganza. According to reported instances, Berganza had been shuffled to multiple departments within the company rather than being fired outright for his actions.
Not too long after, artist Katie Jones posted her own account of sexual harassment by “a Senior Art Director from DC Entertainment,” and shared she was later contacted by a Human Resources representative at Warner Bros.–the parent company of DC Comics regarding the incident after the story picked up steam.
While several of these sexual harassment allegations have long been common knowledge within the comics industry, they have only just begun to be circulated via various news outlets–all with one eye towards the DC Comics camp to wait for their official word on the matter. DC released that official statement to CBR, and it read like this:
“DC Entertainment strives to foster a culture of inclusion, fairness and respect. While we cannot comment on specific personnel matters, DC takes allegations of discrimination and harassment very seriously, promptly investigates reports of misconduct and disciplines those who violate our standards and policies.
As part of our ongoing effort to provide an equitable working environment, we are reviewing our policies, expanding employee training on the topic and working with internal and external resources to ensure that these policies and procedures are respected and reinforced across the company.”
Only time will tell if these steps are serious, or are more of a public relations outreach. The students today suggested that as one of the solutions to their social justice problem of sexism in the workplace, there should be more training as to what is appropriate, and what is not. On paper, it seems that DC Comics agrees.
So, for today’s Outrage Week exploit, DC comics has given us a two-for-one deal, one fictional, and one non-fictional. That’s a bit depressing when you think about it. On the subject of today’s artwork, it is a repanel of Kyle Rayner’s discovery of Alex DeWitt in his fridge. It was HARD to draw…the angles are funny, and I wanted to give our hero forearm guards like his uniform had. The forearm guards are a hassle, especially at that odd angle. It was also startlingly gruesome to draw the refrigerator, especially because the composition suggests gruesome violence without directly showing it. What you imagine is always worse than what you get shown.