The "woman in refrigerator" tr ope is something I didn't even know existed until recently, and I'd been playing into it. Now that I'm aware this is a thing and it's a HARMFUL thing, let's get to destroying it.
So what is it? "Woman in refrigerator" is a generalization spawned from comics where one comic fan realized most of her favorite superheroines ended up dying by brutal means. This trope is based on her website, which states: "This is a list I made when it occurred to me that it's not that healthy to be a female character in comics. I'm curious to find out if this list seems somewhat disproportionate, and if so, what it means, really.
These are superheroines who have been either depowered, raped, or cut up and stuck in the refrigerator. I know I missed a bunch. Some have been revived, even improved -- although the question remains as to why they were thrown in the wood chipper in the first place." (Source: http://lby3.com/wir/index.html) Check out this site. It's linked to in the EXTERNAL LINK. Read some of the responses, too. Some are incredibly insightful.
TVtropes.org defines this trope as: "Women in Refrigerators is a site by Gail Simone, created in March 1999, to list super-heroines who have been "either de-powered, raped, or cut up and stuck in the refrigerator" in an effort to illustrate that female superheroes are disproportionately likely to be brutalized in comic books, usually to further the character arc of male super heroes." (Source: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Website/WomenInRefrigerators?from=Main.WomenInRefrigerators)
This isn't limited to just comics. I actually fell for this trope after watching Code Geass and Guilty Crown, both of which brutally murdered a female character to change the agenda of the male MC. Since I saw this so often, I really thought it was a thing I needed to include to tell a powerful story. WRONG. For those keeping up with my novels, I did that in Guardian Redemption, but I'm working on replotting to ultimately keep that character alive.
I'm not saying either of those examples were particularly harmful or misogynistic (no single instance of woman in the refrigerator is harmful; it's the TREND of it happening to so many women across many stories that's harmful). So try not to add fuel to the fire in this trend if possible. In no way am I saying you can't kill off a female character. It's HOW you kill her off and other circumstances around that death that might make it lean toward portraying a harmful message/undertone.
Also keep in mind that whenever I'm talking about tone, there's rarely ever a single element that creates a tone. Tone comes across from the collaboration of multiple elements. In isolation, each of these following elements are harmless. Nothing wrong with them. But put them together, and they start painting a terrible picture. It's like a single brush stroke is harmless, but put together a few hundred strokes, and you might get a painting of a woman getting raped.
So you have to look at the entire picture you're painting. Sometimes you can cut out some elements or tweak others, and you start getting a different picture. That's what I'm trying to help you accomplish here. Cut the harmful trope and paint a better picture.
With that, let's get onto some tips! You can do all of these or none of these or a couple of these. Use your own judgment and these are all just loose suggestions. Everything I state here has numerous exceptions, so analyze your situtation to see if it is one of them.
Some things to try if you fall into the "woman in refrigerator" trope:
1. Don't kill off the woman. Find a way to keep her alive and still progress the plot in the way you want.
2. Or if that female character must die, find a reason to kill off a male in another situation in order to balance out the gender deaths. Don't make it look like women are the only characters subject to death and tragedy. Generally in these woman in refrigerator tropes, it's a trope because the only major character to die is just that one woman, which puts it in the spotlight. That's when things start to look a little iffy. In Attack on Titan and Game of Thrones, EVERYONE's dying. No one is safe from the author's literary ax. There's no gender discrimination there.
3. The woman shouldn't die for another man, simply to cause him grief, or to further his agenda. In both Code Geass and Guilty Crown, when the woman is killed, it makes the man crack, and he goes from a hero to a villain. Her death was just a catalyst for HIS change.
4. If this is the case and she's dying just for a man, try to tweak the portrayal so she dies for HERSELF. She sacrificed herself for her own agenda rather than someone else's.
5. Have her die for and/or because of another female rather than a male.
You can hopefully see what I mean here with single instance vs. trends. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a female character taking a bullet for her male best friend during a battle. But it's when you keep seeing the woman die in an almost romantic/beautiful way (that's totally wrong, please don't romanticize female deaths) or just in a brutal way, simply to cause him grief and make him change, and this happens over and over and over again, that's an issue. That's why you should try to balance out the female deaths with male ones too. Or just don't kill off the female at all. Find a different motivation for your male characters.
If your MC is standing outside some convent that's getting attacked and the only characters around to die are female, then duh, you're going to have female deaths. Like I said, use your judgment when taking these tips into consideration. But if the only reason the female character dies is to further a man's agenda or cause him grief so your readers sympathize with him, you might want to consider rewriting that scene.
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