Last night on the season premiere of Arrow, bisexual badass Sara Lance found herself on the receiving end of a couple of well-placed arrows to the chest and ended up dead. Dead as doornail. Dead as a dodo. Dead as Tara Thornton (True Blood), Leslie Shay (Chicago Fire), and Agent Isabelle Hartley (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), three other lesbian/bi characters who have been martyred in 2014. According to Arrow executive producer Marc Guggenheim:
Back in 1999, comic book writer, unapologetic feminist, and awesome LGBT ally Gail Simone took the comic book industry to task for perpetually killing, maiming, or de-powering female characters in male-centric titles for the sole purpose of advancing other character’s storylines. For buying a lot of story, as it were, for the price of a female life. She called it “Women in Refrigerators Syndrome,” a shout-out to Green Lantern #54, in which Kyle Renner returned home to find that a villain had murdered his girlfriend and stuffed her dismembered body into a refrigerator. Obviously female characters didn’t start getting fridged in 1999; it’s a trope as old as time. It’s just that by 1999, Simone had had enough. Yet, here we are, 15 years later, and the lazy, sexist storytelling convention is still going strong—especially with queer female characters. It’s a problem not only in terms of quantity (sure, straight male characters are killed off, too, but there are so many of them that it’s like taking a cup of water from the ocean, instead of a cup of water from, like, five cups of water), but also in terms of the larger directive it is blasting out to the world. When female characters are killed off as a way to make other characters’ stories richer and more complicated, the takeaway is that women are disposable, that their lives are tradable to make other people’s lives more interesting, that violence against women is an unavoidable part of life. And that message isn’t being pinged around inside a vacuum; it is being broadcast out and absorbed into a society that doesn’t need another excuse to devalue the lives of women. A society where a guy who is good at football can be caught on tape dragging his wife’s unconscious body from an elevator and only get suspended for two games (until the video of him slugging her unconscious inside the elevator hits the internet and the NFL is forced to actually punish him). A society where another guy who is good at football can sidestep rape charges because his team needs him to win a national championship (despite the fact that two of his teammates saw him commit the rape). A society where a 22-year-old goes on a killing spree because multiple online communities convinced him that women owed him sex and companionship, simply because he was born with a penis. A society where CNN mourns the promising futures of the men who gang-raped a 16-year-old girl, instead of the life of the girl who was gang-raped. A society where a female student is carrying her mattress everywhere she goes to protest the fact that her college will not expel the student who raped her. Writing off women on TV for the sake of advancing other characters’ stories makes it a lot easier to write off women in real life for the sake of, oh, say, winning football games. No, Arrow didn’t explicitly say that, but when you add what Arrow said to the hundreds— maybe even thousands—of nearly identical storylines presented in movies, comic books, regular books, TV, and video games over the past 60 years, you get a resounding message that women’s lives are simply not as important as men’s. And when you add Sara to the full graveyard of queer female characters that have been offed over the years, you get the message the lesbian and bisexual women are the most expendable of all. Consider the wise words of Wonder Woman: A new journey to be started. A new promise to be fulfilled. A new page to be written. Go forth unto this waiting world with pen in hand, all you young scribes, the open book awaits. Be creative. Be adventurous. Be original. Or, if a man’s voice lends more gravitas, how about Uncle Ben: With great power comes great responsibility. It is time for writers to step up their games and stop relying on cliches that continue to prop up the sexist paradigms our society uses to justify the way it debases the lives of women. The gift of storytelling is a superpower too. We need our storytellers to be original. To accept responsibility. To understand that the pen really is mightier than the sword. Good grief, even the Joker knew that.