Friday, 8 April 2016

Arrow, Stop Fridging Your Women

The idea of putting women in danger simply as a way of progressing a male character or furthering their story isn't something that's new, it's been around for thousands of years, but you would hope that as we move into a more progressive world that recognises that more than just cis white men can be heroes and strong characters that this trope would start to die out.

As it is it's so prevalent in our culture that more often than not it happens in almost every film, television, book or game franchise at one point or another.  This has been a particular problem in the comic book industry, and is where the term 'women in fridges' comes from.

For those not in the know, 'women in fridges' is a term that was coined by the popular and talented comic book writer Gail Simone, and references #54 of the third volume of the DC title Green Lantern.  In this issue, the new Green Lantern Kyle Rayner returns home to find his girlfriend Alex dead, her body mutilated and twisted into a fridge.

This use of death or injury to female characters in the comics industry was a big problem at the time, and Simone and her supporters compiled a frankly embarrassing list that showed just how many female characters were victims of this mindset.  Thankfully some of these attitudes have started to change in comics, and we are even seeing more and more female driven books as well.

Unfortunately it would seem that the writers and creators of the comic book television show Arrow are still stuck in this mindset that requires their female characters to suffer in order to progress the story of their male lead.

This problem is not a new one, and has been happening over the shows previous seasons, but reached a head this week in the episode '11:59', where long running character Laurel Lance, Black Canary, was killed off.

Whilst a lot of fans were angry with this new development because it has taken away a fan favourite character, and a character with a long and popular comic book history, her death highlights a serious problem within the show, one that is making it increasingly difficult to watch.  Namely, that the writers seem to only be able to give Oliver character development by hurting and killing the women around him.

This might take a little while to go over, because the list is very long, but please bear with me as I try to look back over some of the fridging Arrow has done over the last four seasons.

Laurel Lance - Okay, let's get this one out of the way first as it's the most recent and the most important to this piece.  Killing Laurel has been only the latest in a long line of bad things that have happened to the character.  She's believed her sister dead, her boyfriend died in her arms, she became an alcoholic, then her sister died for real, despite all of these developments, though, Laurel became an incredibly strong character.

Laurel took all of the pain that she lived through over these early season and channeled it into becoming Black Canary.  Yes, a lot of the things that she went through were personal to her, but some of them were also plots to further Oliver's character, such as the death of Sara.

After four seasons of watching Laurel go from jaded girlfriend to grief stricken alcoholic to strong career woman and hero to lose her in such a pointless way that we have is not only an insult to her character but to the viewers too.

Felicity Smoak - Whilst Felicity has been used as a fairly classic 'damsel in distress' more than once, with Oliver having to literally save her from a villain, her character was recently crippled.  Being attacked and shot by a number of the villain's henchmen as a way of getting back at Oliver for standing up to him her injury was used as a way to hurt the main character and drive him forward.

Felicity's injury has apparently been 'cured' with a macguffin that lets her walk again, so the events have hardly had an affect on her and her character's story.  She was only wheelchair bound for a few weeks, so in the grand scheme of things her 'paralysis' was more a minor inconvenience rather than a story that gave her any real depth or development.

Her injury was purely a way of punishing the lead character, by hurting 'his woman', something that like death is a major part of the problem with women in fridges and the tropes that surround it.

Thea Queen - Last season Thea was murdered by the season's villain Ra's al Ghul in a plot to force Oliver to join the League of Assassins.  She was attacked, beaten and stabbed through the chest with a sword simply to further the story of Oliver joining the bad guys.

Yes, Thea's death was temporary and she's alive again, but that doesn't take away from the fact that her very violent death still happened, and that it was done, yet again, in service of a man's story.  Since then the character has suffered with a 'bloodlust' and almost dying a second time, all in the name of giving Oliver something for him to blame himself over.

Moira Queen - Over the course of the first two seasons Oliver's mother Moira proved to be one of the more interesting characters in the series.  In season one she appeared to be one of the villains, but had a more complex story than first appeared, and in season two she went through a lengthy trial and eventual run to become mayor.

Towards the end of the season Moira reveals to Oliver that she's aware that he's the Green Arrow, which opens up the show to move into new and interesting territory as it moves to make Oliver's mother the mayor.  No sooner have the characters had this conversation when Moira is stabbed and killed by Deathstroke in front of Oliver to punish him for his past deeds.

Just as the show was giving the character new and interesting development she was killed purely as a way of hurting Oliver and driving his motivations in the final fight with Deathstroke.

Sara Lance - Initially being just a minor character in flashbacks, the reveal that Sara Lance was alive and was the Black Canary was exciting for fans, and season two established her as a strong, competent and powerful warrior that was easily an equal to Oliver.

In the third season she had barely returned to the series when she was shot with several arrows and thrown off a rooftop and killed.  Over the course of the season we find out that her death was orchestrated by a villain who did it in order to engineer a plot that would pit Oliver against the League of Assassins.

Whilst the death of Sarah led to Laurel becoming her own version of the Black Canary, and Sarah's death was later undone, her actual murder was done purely as a way of putting Oliver into a dangerous situation and drive his story forward, not that of Laurel or her father.

Shado - Introduced in the flashbacks in season one she became romantically involved with Oliver on the island during the course of the second season, before she was shot in the head and killed by Dr Ivo in an attempt to get at Oliver.  Shado's death would also go on to be a catalyst for the conflict between Oliver and Deathstroke.

Over the course of the season there have been other acts of violence towards female characters that whilst they may not be directly influencing Oliver's story, come across as either needlessly violent or wholly unnecessary, such as the death of Tatsu Yamashiro (Katana) husband and son, as well as the sudden death of Amanda Waller and the long term imprisonment of Nyssa al Ghul.

Like I said before, the idea of violence against women and the death of female characters as a way of furthering the story or the development of male characters is not a new thing, and is certainly not a problem wholly with Arrow itself, but the basic fact remains that this show has a horrible history when it comes to putting it's female characters in these kind of roles.

The series executive producer Marc Guggenheim spoke about the choice to kill off Laurel and had this to say, 'We recognise that it upsets a lot of fans, particularly the comic book fans.  In the comics, Dinah Lance and Oliver Queen are in a romance together in various iterations.  To some people, that is considered canonical and iconic.  We respect that, but at the same time we've always made no bones about the fact that we are telling our own version of the Green Arrow mythos....  But it made the most creative sense for us going forward despite the fact that we love Katie.  Every time we've killed off a character on the show, it's really been  for the effect on all the characters left behind.'

From the flash forwards we've already had this season to Laurel's funeral we know that one affect of her death comes in the form of Felicity telling Oliver to kill Damien Darhk in response to him killing Laurel.  After years of Oliver making a point not to kill people anymore this seems to be a lazy way of pushing the character into a situation where he has to examine his own rules and face the idea of becoming a killer again.

So once again it would appear that Laurel's death is here as a plot device to tell a story about Oliver at the expense of a strong female characters life.

I'm sure some people will be scratching their heads and asking what the problem is here, they'll look at the show and say that it's a show about violence and death and suffering are to be expected for these characters, and whilst that is true, to simply dismiss the argument that Arrow has been poorly treating its female characters overlooks an underlying problem with the series, and outdated storytelling tropes on a whole.

Oliver Queen can be an interesting character without watching the women in his life being hurt and killed.  He can have growth and development without blaming himself for the injury and deaths of the women in his life.  To simply fall back on these tropes to tell your story you're not only creating a weak version of Green Arrow, you're alienating a large number of fans as well as perpetuating outdated misogynistic approaches to storytelling.


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