Not Just an OTP: Skyler Whites, Girl Fridays, and Taylor’s Problematic Lyrics

Far from being progressive and inclusive, fandom is still subject to the inequalities of society. It’s rather worrying when a large part of fandom has a problem with the women asserting themselves because it goes against the male hero. It’s also indicative of what people expect of the superhero love interest, who is often dismissed immediately because of preconceived notions of them putting themselves in danger, getting kidnapped, and just being there for the hero’s ego boost. There have been times when I’ve agreed with all of these things. But far too often, women on these shows are hated for “just being love interests, but as soon as they try to become people within the hero’s story rather than an accessory to it, they’re making too much noise. It’s a phenomenon that’s harmful for everyone in fandom, because not allowing women to be complex characters reinforces the idea that we have very little spaces in which to be human.

This not a new phenomenon in the Arrowverse or even on The CW. Ask your parents about what Lois Lane was getting up to during the Silver Age of Comic Books, and the answer will surprise you you. Most people know Lois as notorious for getting into trouble because of her job. However, during that time, things changed. In 1954, an American psychiatrist, Fredric Wertham, published Seduction of the Innocent, which posited that comic books were responsible for turning young people into juvenile delinquents because of their depictions of crime, violence, and horror. (For my fellow Brits, the equivalent over here would be the “video nasties” controversy of the eighties). Parents were so concerned that the United States Congress started an inquiry into the comic book industry, and the Comics Code Authority was established by publishers to regulate self-censorship.

What happened next turned into censorship that practically bordered on parody. Think Red Scare, but with capes (ironically, when Wertham was trying to convince everyone that comics were turning their children into violent criminals, Senator John McCarthy was trying to convince everyone that they were seconds away from turning into Communists. Tough times). This movement was heavily influenced by conservative values, and resulted in a variety of rules that can be found here. They included no glamorous depiction of crime, no excessive violence or bloodshed, no women drawn with large breasts or depicted in any way that could be construed as sexual, and villains were always defeated at the end of the story. Comic book publishers got sick of it, but one of the effects of this era was the Chickification of Lois Lane.

Lois and Lana calling a truce because they both hate the girl Superman is marrying more than they hate each other. Do I…do I REALLY have to say anything?

Lois went from a brassy, ambitious reporter to a watered-down version of herself that paled in comparison to the original character. Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane was a comic book series that ran from 1958 to 1974 and focused on Lois’ adventures, which were mostly about her various romances and was far less serious than other comics about her character. The most significant recurring plot was Lois’ obsession with finding out Superman’s real identity so that she could blackmail him into marrying her. This happened until the 70s, when they were trying to make her more career-oriented. Let me reiterate – people (and let’s be real, it was a bunch of men) were so threatened by Lois Lane being a person with goals and a personality in comic book stories that they quite literally reduced her to nothing but a love interest.

For sixteen years.

And let’s not forget how much people wanted Laurel dead, and still want Iris and Felicity dead. Caitlin is spared this treatment because she’s never done anything to upset Barry long-term (there is that rather unfortunate period where she sided with the villain who wanted to murder his fiancée, but for some reason, fandom is pretty forgiving of that. Can’t think why), and she couldn’t take the Skyler White position. However, you couldn’t go five Tweets without someone wanting Laurel killed off because of how annoying she was. You can’t swing a cat without finding someone demanding that Iris or Felicity be murdered immediately. And, yes, YouTube comments are a cesspool, but it reveals the same underlying message.

Women are replaceable props. When they are not perfect or acceptable, we can remove them. The constant demands to kill them because they got annoying to certain viewers sounds uncomfortably like “this woman takes up too much space, get rid of her. To add insult to injury, they’ll also demand a more agreeable (read: more obedient) replacement. Moreover, since it’s male fandom that mostly demands their deaths, it speaks to the privilege of the fact that superhero media is mostly men and so it doesn’t make the same impact when they’re killed off; they can demand the death of a female character and it does nothing for their representation. As someone who wants to see more women in science fiction, this is disheartening, but unsurprising. Because how many stories have we heard of women being violently attacked or even killed for not appeasing men? And how many times is the message reinforced, over and over, that to be a woman is to be valued on how well she can take mistreatment and vilified for how much she asserts herself? Fandom hating and calling for the death of female characters because they’ve crossed the line into Skyler White isn’t surprising. Men in real life do it to us all the time.

In November 2017 – when my editors and I were putting the finishing touches on the first half of this series – Arrowverse producer Andrew Kreisberg was suspended from his role after it was revealed that his sexual harassment had caused a toxic environment for writers, producers, and other staff. Though he was later fired, there were the predictably tone-deaf questions from some people about why they hadn’t come forward sooner. And the answer is everything you just read.

No, I’m not saying that sexist YouTube comments cause an environment in which women don’t feel safe to – actually, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Because when we hold women to these ridiculous standards, when we praise them for being quiet and obedient and helpful, when we call their desire to be heard whining and their assertiveness abusive, we are contributing to a society that tells women that their pain does not matter. We are letting them know that if they challenge men too much, or make too much noise, or make mistakes, they’re going to get violence wished upon them. And we are upholding the environment that prevented 19 people from coming forward about their boss fostering an environment so toxic that people would leave the room when he entered it. Because the guy furiously tweeting the writers of The Flash that Iris should have been murdered by Savitar because she dared to raise her voice to Barry is a mere stone’s throw away from the guy who abused his power over men and women to the point where entire writers rooms leave after each season because they don’t feel safe coming to work.

The attitude comes from exactly the same place; anyone who tells you different is lying.

The complaints about Laurel and Iris – and later Felicity –  in terms of their character, development, or anything pertaining to their story were and remain valid. But the complaints that are rooted in misogyny and harmful gender roles once you begin to unpack them are problematic. Unfortunately, they are also unsurprising.

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