There’s a story trope where a female character is killed just to inspire a male character into action.
And you know, at least at its core, all that murder’s got to have some purpose. Right? RIGHT?!
My podcast player decided I needed to re-hear the Cursed Knowledge #16: Women in Refrigerators episode the other day, and in the tradition of DJ iPod on shuffle mode finding the most perfect song for the moment brilliance, this idea won’t leave my brain. Thank you Ben and Harper. How are you so good at doing this to me (and is this a mutant gene thing)?
I’ve been re-reading James Hollis’ work on Carl Jung (The Middle Passage specifically). All this murder may have helped me understand this better. I think I figured out A. where it comes from, B. when it’s cringe-inducing, and C. when it’s useful in old AND new stories.
And let me place extra emphasis on the last bit about new stories. I’m not exactly advocating the murder of female characters to stuff their corpses into fridges in an act of hero inspiration. But I am advocating we look at where it comes from and how it’s useful, because there is an inspired source at work here.
In the extra-Jungian sense, a hero must lose touch with his feminine side, to confront a masculine tyrant. The shedding of the divine feminine is needed to get in the face of the divinely evil masculine. Only once he’s faced the tyrant, can he unite with the divine feminine and masculine sensibilities within him, allowing our hero to defeat and forgive the tyrant.
Defeat and forgive. Hold onto that. We’ll be back for it.
When the trope is correctly invoked for character development, the women stuffed in the refrigerator is part of the divine feminine shedding and critical wounding of the character. It’s about his preparation for facing the tyrant. The more gruesome the discovery, that the loving side has been lost, the more inspired and urgent the facing of the tyrant.
Should we be aware of and sensitive to this? As creators, yes. Maybe there are other ways, and looking at the website, people have certainly gotten lazy if not downright sloppy with invoking the trope (John Wick’s dog as the stand-in beyond his wife is rough, ok ok, I can admit it).
But the message of development, which requires shedding the influence of our emotional and physical protectors, in order to take up the shield and sword for ourselves, it matters too. We are in the shadow until we shine light on it. We are not the light until we’ve seen it all in the light.
While stuffing a female character in a fridge to inspire a male character into action is definitionally gender-biased, all creators need a crack to let the light in. A character starts out defeated and forgiving. They’re not a true hero until they’re able to defeat and forgive.
The only redemption for the trope comes in that last part. If a story is going to see a female character murdered for inspiration, we need to see forgiveness as a character trait from the hero at the end. True compassion, beyond pure revenge.
That’s what we need from our new stories. I don’t think we need to retire the trope exactly. But we need to remember our heroes are nuanced. Imperfect in construction, like their origin stories. But correctly oriented, on the character level, to be strong enough to defeat evil, and driven enough to seek compassion and find forgiveness.
That’s a message I can get behind. A message the world maybe needs a bit more of these days. I like having it in my creative awareness and arsenal.
I love a good podcast episode to get me thinking like this. I had been struggling with internalizing Jung’s divine masculine and feminine, but this made it gel. It puts Luke cradling daddy Darth before he dies in perspective, and even John Wick remembering his wife before being mourned by his dog in a better light. I also can see where it falls short too, at least theoretically. So many westerns and kung-fu movies where the hero never fully unites his spiritual genders come to mind – I have homework to do.
Listen to Cursed Knowledge #16: Women in Refrigerators. And then, pick up a copy of The Middle Passage by James Hollis where he breaks down the divine feminine/masculine in terms of midlife crisis and gives one of the clearest explanations I’ve ever read.
What about you – what do you think of all this? Does pointing this out make me a disposable man? How else do you weight the traits of heroes to make sense of their internal development?