Not Just an OTP: The Many Faces of Iris West

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How Much Is that Dog (Whistle) In the Window?

Having covered how fans were racist towards Iris before the show started, we’re going to take a more general approach and talk about dog-whistle politics and stereotypes. These are the examples of racism that have carried over from earlier seasons, especially as many viewers who were overtly racist have either stopped or, more likely, learned to hide it more effectively.

Dog-whistle politics is political messaging that appears to mean one thing, but to a specific group, it means something derogatory. Like when certain politicians say “thug” in reference to Black people, you can be certain they mean the n-word. Or when men say women are “bossy,” they really mean that they’re bitches. The list goes on, and it manifests in fandom as well, through phrases like “strong, independent Black woman who don’t need no man” *finger snaps*. I’m going to talk about the stereotypes that Iris is pushed into by those who need to justify hating her, which includes stereotypes that they already see her as because she is a Black woman.

The Many Faces of Iris West

There are many different stereotypes attached to Black women such as Iris due to misinformation, bias, and history.

Now, to hear many viewers tell it, Iris West is a one-dimensional character with no depth and very little personality. However, when they do see vestiges of a personality, it is lazy, manipulative, slutty, and selfish. And considering how faithfully and firmly they call her one-dimensional, they sure do give her personality a lot of facets:

Iris West, the Jezebel

Iris West likes sex. At least, the narrative portrays Iris as a woman who has a healthy sex life, is comfortable with her sexuality, and has had partners that not only appreciate her body, but are as comfortable in their relationship as she is. While The Flash is more of a family show than Arrow, the writers have never shied away from the fact that Barry and Iris like to have sex. Which…well, is normal. People have sex, and normalising sex for young people means that they don’t see it as some evil thing that will kill them. It’s especially good for Black women to see themselves in this position because it reinforces the idea that we can have this kind of safe sexual relationship for ourselves.

But for some, this is negative. They see Iris as a nymphomaniac who’s always about five seconds away from leaving Barry for the next halfway-attractive man that wanders onscreen. Because apparently when Iris has sex, or wears sexy dresses, or appreciates the attractiveness of other men, she’s a slut. To these shippers, Iris West is the Jezebel.

You will see this stereotype in rap videos, where the women suggestively dancing are almost always Black women (darker-skinned in the back, lighter-skinned in the front). You’ll see it in waxwork figures of female rappers depicted in positions that conjure up imagery of being exploited for sex. And you’ll get the implication pretty clearly when stars like Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus use Black female bodies to seem “street,” but leave out the Black people when running through fields of colonial-era Africa to evoke purity.

It’s not hard for some Snowbarry shippers to slut-shame Iris, because society has been subconsciously feeding us the message that Black women are whores since the Victorian times. Iris was slut-shamed for not knowing Barry loved her and therefore rejecting him, then for writing about The Flash, then for breathing too loudly near The Flash, then for kissing Barry while having a boyfriend, then for still being in love with her boyfriend because that kiss was erased, then for getting over Eddie too quickly, then for deciding to go on a date, then for not going on that date because she liked Barry, then for falling in love with Barry, then for the clothes she wore while she was dating Barry, then for having breasts, and my personal favourite from recent memory, for her wedding dress.

Fans will also use any innocuous piece of evidence to point to the fact that Iris isn’t really in love with Barry and that she’s just waiting until someone better comes along. Take the infamous “three list,” for example. We hear about it in the first crossover, when Iris meets Oliver Queen. She informs Barry that Oliver is on her list of people she’s allowed to cheat on Eddie with. Barry was not impressed by this, since he was in love with her and everything. Now, most people have heard of this list, which usually has five celebrities rather than three. It’s not only a humorous way to talk about who we find attractive, it’s also a solid indicator of a healthy relationship.

This might be one of the reasons people say Snowbarry shippers are watching a different show

To Snowbarry shippers, however, this made Iris no better than a whore. They declared that she was worthy of neither Eddie nor Barry, that she wasn’t a faithful girlfriend and, given the first opportunity, she would cheat on Barry. Quite apart from the fact that I have no idea why Iris would even consider cheating with someone who got married during her wedding, Iris specifically said she has eyes for only Barry once they got together.

You can tell this is racial because Iris is the only one subjected to this standard.

Nobody cared when the very first thing that Cisco had to say about Iris after Barry woke up was “she’s hot,” despite Iris apparently having visited all the time for several months. Or when he made similar comments about Bette Sans Souci, Lisa Snart, or Cynthia Reynolds. Nobody shamed Barry for checking out a stripper at his bachelor party. Because Cisco’s actions were presented as harmless, and everyone knows Barry’s not going to leave Iris for a stripper. But there is something about Iris that makes fans lose all sense of logic.

Viewers shamed Iris for finding Oliver Queen attractive, and for moving on too quickly from Eddie. But not Caitlin. She’s allowed to find Oliver Queen attractive, as well as Eddie, Ray, and Jay Garrick. She’s allowed to move on to Jay Garrick after Ronnie. They vilify Iris for telling Barry about her feelings while Caitlin was kidnapped because saving her should have been his main concern, but ignored the fact that Caitlin told Jay she wanted him to stay despite his earth needing its Flash. They shame Iris for wearing “club outfits,” yet ignore Caitlin’s miniskirts and get excited that Killer Frost wears sexier clothes.

Iris, before she married Barry, refused the idea of not dating him just because of a lacklustre first try, quite literally did not care who knew that she and Barry were intimate despite hiding her relationship with Eddie from her father for months, moved in with Barry after a few months, got engaged a few months later, didn’t leave him when his evil time remnant was the thing that was going to kill her, was devastated that he left her, and was so terrified of the idea of not being married to Barry that she waited until after a funeral had been finished and tried to get married then. Yet, fans think she’s seconds away from cheating on Barry, despite the fact that she’s never cheated bef-

Wait. Wait. That’s not quite true, is it? Because Iris has cheated on a boyfriend, at least in the most technical sense of the word. While Iris is still with Eddie, she and Barry kiss after confessing their feelings in a desperate moment as a tsunami threatens to destroy the city. Of course Barry, being Barry, accidentally erased this moment about three minutes later. Gosh. I suppose Iris is a filthy cheater, and since no one else on the show has ever-

It’s Iris’ fault that…Barry was mean to Eddie?

Wait. Silly me. I’m forgetting that Barry was cheating on his significant other during this kiss – Linda. That, of course, is Iris’ fault, as was Barry trying to break her up with her boyfriend. If we’re scrutinizing everyone so closely, we have to examine Caitlin as well. During a season 1 episode, a shapeshifter called Everyman knocks Barry out and infiltrates STAR Labs. He runs into Caitlin and then kisses her, twice. To this day, Snowbarry shippers insist that Everyman sensed the chemistry between Barry and Caitlin, and that’s why Caitlin responded so positively to the kiss. Which would be fine if Caitlin didn’t have a fiancé.

As they are wont to do, fans completely forget Ronnie existed in order to celebrate Caitlin kissing a character played by Grant Gustin. Of course, Caitlin is not shamed for the fact that she, according to them, wanted who she thought was Barry, despite the fact that she’d discovered that Ronnie was alive. Caitlin did not believe she was about to die. She was not finally admitting she’d been in love with Barry for years. Her father was not in danger and there was no tsunami heading for STAR Labs. Yet Iris is a horrible cheater for kissing someone who isn’t her boyfriend under duress, but it’s just fine for Caitlin to kiss someone who isn’t her fiancé on a perfectly normal Tuesday.

These viewers say they don’t ship Barry and Iris because she’s a filthy whore who will abandon Barry in an instant, but the fact that she hasn’t done anything objectively worse than Caitlin proves that this is just a transparent lie. Caitlin, Barry, Cisco, and others have done what Iris did, and none of them get anywhere near the level of vitriol that Iris gets. They are merely using the sexuality of a Black woman, bolstered by historical stereotypes, against her in order to deem her unworthy compared to the pure white woman who’s standing in the corner doing the same thing. Caitlin has never been called damaged goods by Snowbarry shippers for dating men other than Barry. She’s never been accused of being “on every dick in Central City.” And were Caitlin in Iris’ position, nobody would be hoping for her to cheat on her husband so that another character could enact physical violence on her.

 

Caitlin is a white woman, so the Jezebel stereotype can’t be used against her. Because when they say they don’t ship Westallen because she might be unfaithful to Barry, they mean they don’t ship Westallen because Iris is Black.

They’ve just found a convenient – if rather pathetic and extremely predictable – way to hide it.

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