‘Superman & Lois’ Has a Fridging Problem
In theory, Superman & Lois has the perfect premise to elevate its female deuteragonist, Lois Lane (Elizabeth Tulloch). Its depiction of both the personal and superhero lives of Lois and Clark Kent (Tyler Hoechlin) as a married couple provides the opportunity to reinvent the role of Lois. Instead of being Kent’s girlfriend, oblivious to his real identity and constantly in need of saving, she is a permanent and important fixture in his life. She’s his wife and the mother of his children and knows how to navigate the superhero and journalism worlds with ease. The show could easily delve into the important role women play in both the workplace and the home and should highlight how even Superman is better for having a powerful, capable woman in his life.
Unfortunately, in its current third season, Superman & Lois has received some accusations of “fridging” Lois. It’s a very common complaint for Superman stories across comic books and adaptations. Fridging refers to Women in Refrigerators Syndrome and is a tired sexist trope that occurs when female characters are killed, injured, or weakened for no reason other than moving another (usually male) character’s story along. The term was inspired by a Green Lantern comic in which the hero’s girlfriend was murdered and then literally put in a refrigerator, just so we could see Green Lantern’s reaction. Lois has become a woman in a refrigerator far too often, as evidenced by the countless times various versions of her have died across Superman media.
However, based on its premise, we really thought Superman & Lois would avoid this. After all, it’s not like it can kill Lois without killing half the show. Of course, fans did get nervous when season 3 revealed Lois’ diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), but we remained hopeful it would be a powerful and poignant depiction of the strength of cancer patients, survivors, and their families that viewers could relate to and find inspiration in. Unfortunately, as season 3 progresses, the show is using it more as a fridging technique by somehow making Lois’ cancer diagnosis all about Clark.
Is Superman & Lois fridging Lois?
**Spoilers for season 3, episode 8 of Superman & Lois ahead**
Redditor BookBostonGirl highlighted the exact moment that they felt Superman & Lois effectively fridged Lois in season 3, episode 8, “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.” It is when Clark, Lois, and the boys come to the odd conclusion to set up what’s essentially a sick bed for Lois in her office due to the progression of her illness. There’s an especially strange scene in which Lois is tucked into the same bed that Clark’s mother died in during Superman & Lois’ very first episode. BookBostonGirl wrote, “The symbolism is clear, Clark needs to be reminded of his mother’s death. The audience needs to be sad on Clark’s behalf.”
Unfortunately, this is just one example of how Lois’ sickness has constantly been used to move Clark’s story along or put him more firmly in the spotlight. We see Clark fearing losing Lois, struggling to not be overprotective of Lois, deciding whether to use Kryptonian technology to help her, and tucking her into a sick bed while being reminded of his mother. Yes, we’re seeing a realistic and moving depiction of what it’s like for someone to grapple with a family member’s illness, but are we seeing the illness from the actual perspective of the patient? Not really. We see a little bit of denial, emotion, and fear from Lois, but then she gets pushed aside so we can see how Clark’s dealing with it all. Even when Lois is throwing up in the bathroom or receiving her chemotherapy treatments, the shot always pans over and lingers on Clark so we can see the look in his eyes and see how he’s dealing with it.
Now, the show seems to be further removing Lois from the picture with the sick room. After all, the idea of the sick room makes no sense. It’s normal for a room to be set up if one can no longer go upstairs or access a bathroom easily due to weakness. However, Lois’ husband is literally Superman. Yet, he suddenly can’t carry her up a flight of stairs or to the bathroom? Based on what we’ve seen of his powers, he could fly from whatever part of the world he’s in, take her up the stairs, and fly back in the time it takes to blink an eye. Even her teenage boys could effortlessly lift her and carry her wherever she needed to go. Why in the world is she being banished and separated from the rest of her family, unless it’s yet another attempt to diminish her roles in the show as a wife, mother, and journalist? Many cancer patients struggle with loneliness and being treated differently by others. This makes depicting Lois being unnecessarily separated from her family and having her beloved office turned into a sick room for the sake of symbolism even more concerning.
Superman & Lois‘ pattern of sidelining Lois
The main indication of Lois being fridged in Superman & Lois would be if her cancer diagnosis really plays no other role than moving Clark’s story along. Unfortunately, that is, arguably, exactly what we’ve seen so far. Yes, it provides cancer representation and awareness, but so does Bruno Mannheim’s (Chad L. Coleman) and Peia’s (Daya Vaidya) storyline. Vaidya is also a cancer survivor in real life, adding another layer of poignancy to her role. Hence, we already have a very powerful and unique perspective on cancer, making us question the necessity of having another one—especially one that seems to be primarily, if not solely for the purpose of propelling someone else’s emotional journey. While Lois does, at one point, leverage her cancer to go undercover at one of Mannheim’s treatment facilities to get close to Bruno and Peia, Clark and Chrissy (Sofia Hasmik) pretty much take over Lois’ investigation as her cancer treatment progresses.
Meanwhile, Superman & Lois has a long history of finding reasons to sideline Lois. This season it’s cancer, last season it was a personal family issue that nearly destroyed her journalist career, and in the first season it was Morgan Edge (Adam Rayner) firing her and her family being uprooted by moving and Jordan’s (Alexander Garfin) powers. All of these things got in the way of her journalist career and how involved and helpful she could be in Clark’s and the boys’ lives. Oftentimes, the show just creates whatever is the perfect situation for Clark to shine in, while not really thinking of Lois.
In fact, the show has even made her the scapegoat several times. She’s usually the one being attacked, screaming helplessly while her sons are being attacked, getting sick, being blamed for every problem that arises, and being disliked and belittled by people like Chrissy, her sister, her bosses, and even Clark’s friends. Her sister even blames her for their mom leaving when they were children, and Clark’s friends blame her for not telling her Clark’s secret, which was his responsibility to tell. The things she gets blamed and attacked for are outrageous! It’s just another way to create contrast between her and untouchable Clark. Clark is the one who miraculously gets healed, saves the day, is beloved by everyone, and is the symbol of hope and power, while Lois always gets the short end of the stick.
What Superman & Lois needs to do for Lois
Lois is just as capable as Superman of being a symbol of hope and inspiration. So, what can Superman & Lois do to show this? Well, when Clark was weakened, he got thrown into the sun—let’s see Lois get an equally epic resolution to her cancer storyline. When Clark sets his sights on an enemy, he sees the mission through—let’s see Lois be the one to rightfully take down Mannheim since she’s the one who started investigating him and relates to his and Peia’s cancer experiences. Let’s finally see everything we know Lois can do. She can use her journalism as a weapon, she can single-handedly keep her home together when Clark is out superhero-ing, she can defeat enemies just as effectively as Clark, and she can kick cancer’s butt without us having to see a closeup of Clark’s crying face. Superman & Lois is just as much Lois’ story as it is Clark’s, and it’s about time the show remembered that.
(featured image: CW)
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