“Women in Refrigerators” was a term coined by writer Gail Simone in the late 90s, referring to when a woman is killed to further the story or plot. Usually, this refers to the woman being killed to damage her boyfriend or husband, but the term has become broader in recent times to incorporate a woman being killed, maimed, or crippled because she is viewed as disposable by her writers.
Worth noting is that Gail Simone’s most well known title is likely “Birds of Prey,” starring Dinah Lance as the Black Canary.
What happens next isn’t technically poetic irony. What happens next is just bad writing. The end result of a trend with no end in sight. So let’s get to the meat of it.
Dinah Laurel Lance is dead. Not in the comics, where she will be celebrating her 70th anniversary next year. But on the CW show Arrow, where her poor treatment by writers and fans alike has finally culminated in this finality.
Now, when Gail Simone made women in refrigerators, she noted on the website that “It's about the trend, its meaning and relevance, if any. Plus, it's just fun to talk about refrigerators with dead people in them. I don't know why.” That was 1999. And neither point has changed. This is still a disturbing trend in fiction, and it’s still fun to talk about dead people in refrigerators. It’s a rather stunning phenomena occurring right before our very eyes, friends. Not sure if anyone’s noticed, but it seems almost impossible for a female character to succeed. She’s too strong. She’s too cold. She dresses too slutty. Unless she’s staying directly under the thumb of her male counterparts, a female character seems to be open season for degradation.
Laurel (played by the lovely Katie Cassidy) was no exception to this rule. To fans, her sins are plentiful: she’s a recovering addict. She’s gone against the male hero’s wishes on multiple occasions. She gets in the way of romantic relationships. Now, does it really seem wise to degrade and mock a woman for her alcoholism? No. That’s disgusting, and should be treated as such. And while Katie Cassidy received an award for her portrayal of Laurel’s addiction, the writers of Arrow have never once offered a peep of support. It’s almost like there’s…. something about Laurel…. that keeps them from caring.
And here’s the thing, before we continue into Laurel’s storyline. Arrow must have some kind of contract with a refrigerator manufacturer. This show kills women for Oliver Queen’s benefit like it’s going out of style. Felicity Smoak had to take a bullet in the spine so the show could make a point about how brave Oliver was to love a woman in a wheelchair. This show is, to put it gently, a crisis on no less than 87 earths. So to call Laurel’s death a surprise would be untrue. It is, however, a major disappointment, and a resounding slap in the face to anyone that held on a sliver of hope for the show.
Laurel’s death is the unfortunate and the ugly truth about the treatment of female characters. One, that writers, even female writers on major staffs, have no issue viewing female characters as disposable. Any woman, at any time. Good as a tissue. One and done. Some third metaphor.
Two, that a woman has to seemingly kill every other character in the show to have her own narrative, or be on a show with little to no men at all. Fans of the Black Canary were promised new and great things for the heroine that just didn’t come true. Because, as Arrow likes to remind us, this isn’t a show about dumb ladies and their dumb lady stuff! Women can’t have narratives! Get back in that fridge, harlot!
Three, and this ties into the first point, if a fanbase lashes out against a female character, her writers will not defend her. To beat a dead horse for a moment, they really don’t care about the character herself. If she gets rousing praise, they pat themselves on the back for writing strong women. If she gets hate, they kill her off. There’s no actual effort going into character preservation, or into the writing of these characters.
To add another example, Allison Argent, an amazing character, was killed off in the third season of Teen Wolf. Did you know that Allison received so much hate for threatening Derek that #killallison trended on Twitter? Did you know that Allison believed Derek to be the cause for her mother’s death, and so her rage is, you know, pretty freaking understandable?
I thought I told you to get back into that fridge, harlot.
Because the thing is, it doesn’t matter how much effort the fans put into loving this character. It doesn’t matter if she’s been a bastion of strength and justice. Because at the end of the day, she is just a woman. And writers don’t believe her death will matter. Women die all the time, you know? It’s not like this is a persistent, and dangerous, real life problem! It’s not like the constant treatment of fictional women like dead, crunchy leaves creates some kind of public dissonance. That would be ridiculous, if not observed by multiple findings over and over again. But what am I, some kind of doctor? Don’t be absurd. Women can’t be doctors. Haven’t you seen Arrow?
Author's note: Here's the thing. Friends. Loved ones. Cinderella's son, Chad. Even if this is temporary. Even if they do bring her back to life. It doesn't change her treatment. It doesn't change the treatment we discussed above. If anything, it just shows that her life is nothing more than a plot device, usable for ratings and shock value. Nothing has changed. Don't let them trick you into thinking it has.