This post about fridging and the inherent sexism in literature contains spoilers from the first 1/4 of Red Rising. At the time of writing this I had not yet completed Red Rising, the full review can now be found here: Red Rising Review and Summary.
I’m currently reading Red Rising by Pierce Brown, yet another YA dystopian novel where the poor are pitted against the rich in an attempt at sophomoric philosophizing while offering no suggestions for how to actually fix any real world problems.
This book has extremely high reader reviews, was a NY times bestseller, and has spawned sequels and other media deals that will ensure this author will never have to worry about his financial status ever again. I will write a real review of the book once I actually finish it and get more into the style and various cliches he uses but today I’m going to focus on how it’s extremely sexist.
If you’re not familiar with the term fridging here’s the wiki but it basically refers to any time a female character is killed, raped, or otherwise depowered in order to move the male character’s story arc forward. There are innumerable examples of this and as a society we need to get better and more creative with our writing.
Although there are examples of media that utilizes fridging that I can easily forgive because they are otherwise amazing, looking at you John Wick, Red Rising is not one of those exceptions. Also, the Pixar movie Up. The whole heartbreaking first 15 minutes of the film that made so many of us weep like babies is actually an example of this sexist practice. The old man’s wife dies just to give him motivation for the rest of the story. But Up is so danged good we can forgive the trope.
The main character of Red Rising is your standard chosen one. For whatever dumbass turn of fate he is the ONLY one who can save humanity, even if he doesn’t feel like it. Since he is the ONLY one and he doesn’t feel like it something needs to push him in the right direction.
Enter his child bride. She’s 14 and idealistic and full of crazy notions that they should have like freedom or whatever so she gets violently executed. Enter our “hero” now ready to participate in fighting for basic human rights. His child bride got fridged so he’s now ready to step up and start on the very traditional (read cliche and tired) hero’s journey.
Why couldn’t the wife be the hero? Well that’s not part of what people expect from a “modern classic” like Red Rising. The book itself even draws attention to this when the “hero” is Jesused up from the grave and he asks his new mysterious mentors if “they” didn’t want daughters, only sons, to fight their fight.
Well obviously they want the boys! Because up until this part in the book every single time something or someone is described as weak they are described as being “like a woman.” In completely undisguised similes this author has chosen women, not even girls, women to be the factor by which weakness is gauged. What’s even worse is that readers don’t even seem to register it as a problem. This kind of buried sexism is completely accepted in mainstream culture to the point that it goes unnoticed.
Well I’m calling it out and I’m going to start being much more aware of how these comparisons are utilized. I’m compiling a list as I read this book and will include it with my other criticisms when I write the full review after I reluctantly finish this book I can’t possibly see enjoying. But sometimes you need to hate read something to be well armed for the debate.
Fridging is only one of the many sexist cliches in media. It is, however, the one that is common enough to get its own term. We must always remember that using a cliche does not automatically discredit a book, movie, etc. It is important to always judge a book in its entirety. Red Rising just happens to suck the whole way through.