(aka Ask Me How I Really Feel About Misogyny in Fiction)
The Killing Joke, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland, was a poignant reminder of how much horror has changed since The Killing Joke was released in 1988 and how much horror still needs to change.
If you’ve never heard of “fridging,” it’s not a new concept. Basically, it involves killing or severely harming a female character in order to propel a male protagonist through his own storyline.
In the case of The Killing Joke, Barbara Gordon is fridged to propel Batman into the main plot of the story. But not only is she fridged (as if that isn’t bad enough), but she’s sexually assaulted to boot.
The women in this comic are accessories to the men. The Joker’s wife is fridged to propel him into his life of crime. She’s not even given a name. She’s little more than a walking uterus. Barbara Gordon (also revealed as Batgirl in other comics) is shot in the spine before the Joker undresses her, takes pictures of her, and then uses those pictures to torment her father, Commissioner Gordon.
When Barbara wakes up in the hospital, her outrage isn’t even at what’s been done to her. She’s concerned about her father—as any daughter would be—but there’s no moment of anger at the Joker for what’s been done to her. She never has her moment of vengeance. She’s never empowered within her own being to take back control of her body that has been violated in more ways than one.
Instead, Barbara gets Batman. I mean, granted, Batman at your bedside isn’t the most terrible thing in the world, but Barbara is no delicate flower. We the readers know this. But it seems that the other characters in Gotham, the writers, illustrators, and even Barbara herself, have forgotten her strength.
Fridging is quite simply lazy writing.
It’s the easy way out when you don’t know how to propel a plot line forward. And it’s the glorification of sexual assault and violence against women.
At least in the years since The Killing Joke was published, there has been some kind of pushback against this kind of plot device. More women are writing and publishing horror than ever before. And more women are speaking up about the misogynistic treatment of women as a masturbatory writing exercise thinly veiled as literature. If you’re a writer who relies on this kind of cheap trick to get your lazy-ass heroes out of their fancy beds then you need to learn how to plot.
Until you do, don’t expect me to buy your books.