Fandom can be wonderful, it really can. People coming together because of their passion for a TV show, movie, or certain characters can be a beautiful thing. But sometimes it can also get very, very ugly. Within fandom’s walls, besides spirited discussion and a love of entertainment and storytelling, sits a mirror that reflects a society still unwilling to see anyone but white people at the forefront of stories. And if you’ve been a part of any fandom with people of color as main characters or leads, then you’re more than likely to have seen some of the racism and sexism that can dwell in these spaces. While this applies to multiple fandoms, including Star Wars (in which people have sympathized with a known killer like Kylo Ren, but not with Finn) and Doctor Who (Martha Jones has long been the center of fandom’s ire), I’m choosing to focus on The Flash’s Iris West (Candice Patton) and the misogynoir that continues to rear its ugly head four seasons in. Since the inception of The Flash, some fans have piled their unwarranted and vile hatred on her and these same people continue to be loud and illogical the more Iris continues to gain in popularity and prominence within the narrative.
The Flash’s season four has upped Iris’ status to Team Flash Leader and it’s one of the smartest moves the show has ever made. Since the writers seem really attached to STAR Labs and don’t wish to further explore anyone’s jobs outside its walls, Iris’ position as team leader is an important one. In the six months since Barry’s (Grant Gustin) disappearance into the speed force, Iris did what she promised him and kept running. Not giving way to crying and curling herself into a ball forever, Iris saw the need to keep the team going in Barry’s absence. And the team took to her as leader, acknowledging her status and worked in cooperation with her to help the city. Once Barry came back, she kept the job and excels at it, too, besting even Barry at it. And here’s the thing: Iris has always led the team in one form or another throughout the series. In season one when Barry was under Grodd’s mind control and the team was at a loss over what to do, Iris stepped in and broke him out of it. In season two when Barry was stuck in the speed force, she took charge and came up with a plan to lure the meta of the week back to STAR Labs, and in season three, while Barry and Kara (Melissa Benoist) were stuck in the Music Meister’s world and the team was once again at a loss as to how to get them out, Iris took charge and figured something out, saving Barry and, by extension, Kara. But people want to act like this is a new thing.
Fandom can be very racist and sexist, hiding their biases by voicing what sounds like concern, but are actually nonsensical arguments; segments of The Flash fandom continue to prove just how transparent they can be when it comes to the show’s leading lady. Simply put, fandom’s laser-focus on Iris is very obvious, especially since no other character is ever criticized in the same ruthless manner. An example is with the famous “We’re the Flash” line. So many memes were made making sure to let Iris know that, no, Barry was The Flash and she had nothing to do with that (it’s a metaphor for partnership if that wasn’t made obvious to those who don’t watch with their thinking caps on). However, the same memes never showed up for Barry when he was the one to say it first in the episode “The Trial of the Flash.” Moreover, these same fans claim they love Barry, but clearly can’t stand the woman he obviously loves (and he’s only mentioned it about a thousand times, so it’s really hard to miss unless you’re willfully ignorant of the narrative).
Some fans have called for Iris’ death, posted long threads about how she doesn’t qualify or is smart enough to be a leader, ask that she go back to journalism, and call her useless, a bitch, and so many other horrid things that I won’t get into here. But why are they transparent, you ask? Well, they’re the most vocal the more Iris gets stuff to do. Currently, racists and sexists are intent on “bringing back original team flash,” which, by the way, was never a thing. They’ll argue that Iris was the best in the first half of season two, a point in time when she had the least amount of screen time and lacked in quality content. The more Iris takes up narrative space and continues to develop as a character, the angrier a certain segment of fans become. Their blatant hate-filled arguments only serve to prove that they can’t seem to stand that the black female lead is valued, loved, cherished, and an important character on the show. For the people with any common sense, leadership doesn’t require you to be “science smart,” but for argument’s sake, allow me to break down the nonsensical arguments used to devalue Iris as a character and then debunk them.
Iris isn’t intelligent (also a roundabout way to say she doesn’t know science) and can’t be team leader.
This is probably the worst argument because it allows for people to sit on their high horses and look down upon any character who doesn’t happen to be able to spontaneously spout science jargon. And it’s downright insulting because it’s saying that if you don’t have a science degree, you’re not smart at all. But Iris is not only highly intelligent, she’s strong-willed, a quick thinker, good at rallying people and uplifting them when need be, is capable of making hard and time-sensitive decisions, and often puts the city’s needs above her own feelings. She has more emotional intelligence than most of the other characters. Leadership requires all of these qualities and she has them in spades.
Caitlin or Harry would be better at leading the team.
This is funny. Look, both characters have their merits, but let’s not forget that Harry tried to be team leader on his earth and got kicked out by his own daughter. He also spends most of his time bickering with Cisco and having a terrible bedside manner. And while he might be good at deciphering plans, a leader he is not. Likewise with Caitlin. She spent most of season three trying to evade her powers, kill her friends, and sided with a villain. In season four, she has to be coerced into helping to save the city by being shouted at by Cisco and Harry and gets taken out within the span of a minute while in the field. She might have multiple degrees, but that doesn’t make her a leader. I won’t even discuss why Cisco and Joe are also not options to lead, but certain fans only think of them in their attempts to make Iris seem incapable and don’t actually care for either character, so I’ll leave them out of it.
Iris is a journalist, not a leader.
And Barry’s both a CSI and The Flash, Joe a cop and a father, Cisco an engineer and a CCPD consultant. But hey, I guess fans are all about characters only being one thing at any given time. Talk about the inability to cope with characters being three-dimensional. I can’t relate. These same fans are the ones who say she was better as a journalist, but also complained when she was doing more journalism (calling her nosy and whatnot) and so this argument only goes to prove that they’d just rather not have her hanging around STAR Labs at all, sidelining her within the narrative and essentially removing her from Barry’s orbit.
Iris is useless and needs to die.
Defining a character’s usefulness only in relation to what they can do for the logistics of the team is not exactly a logical argument because I could go on for hours about other characters not named Iris and their perceived “value” to the “team.” That’s not how characters should function within a story, just like they don’t function this way in real life. Do people tell their friends and significant others how useful they are based on what they can do with a computer? No, of course not. Furthermore, calling for the writers to kill off the black female lead just speaks to the sexism so rooted in fandom as a whole. It’s even worse when some people want her to die to prop another woman. But the thing is The Flash attempted to fridge Iris in season three through a storyline that was never going to fridge her to begin with. And now that she’s escaped death, she’s become even more embedded into the fabric of the show and her role as leader has allowed her even more opportunities to grow and express herself this season. Based on some fans’ ideas of “usefulness,” I’ll argue that Iris is now more “useful” than ever because the team is running much more smoothly (note that they waste a lot less time going back and forth and are more efficient).
Iris isn’t qualified to be a leader because she’s a damsel in distress.
This phrase is often used to undermine women. On a basic level, the need to occasionally be saved doesn’t make one somehow lesser or makes them weak in any way. As an example, I give you Barry Allen himself. The hero of the story has been kidnapped by Clifford and Marlize DeVoe and by Earth-X Nazis just this season alone. But in terms of being called a damsel? Crickets. And if we’re looking at this just from a statistical standpoint, Iris has been kidnapped the least of any of the characters. She is a three-dimensional character in her own right and calling her a damsel is both untrue and a means to negate her importance and value. This is a woman who is more than willing to run (or drive, like in “Honey, I Shrunk Team Flash”) into the field wielding only a gun, sans any powers, in order to help her team. She doesn’t stop to think how it could affect her or if she’ll get hurt, nor does she need to be convinced to do it. Iris simply does what needs to be done as a leader should.
Iris being leader is unrealistic and forced.
This is from fans who are willing to believe that a man was struck by lightning and gained super speed, an animated shark can wear shorts, and a gorilla can read minds. But sure, let’s make it seem as if Iris being team leader is the most unrealistic thing ever seen on this show. Iris is arguably the most realistic person on The Flash. She doesn’t have any powers, yet her need to help people comes from an inherent place of goodness; her desire to find justice while giving Central City hope is exemplary. We’ve seen that since season one. The argument that her new role is forced is also invalid. There’s been plenty of small buildup into her role as a leader, seen in episodes like season three’s “Cause and Effect” in which she took charge and made sure everyone didn’t lose their heads after Barry got amnesia and then also helped pull him out of it. She’s even been able to talk down Killer Frost and convince her she didn’t have to kill Amunet.
I’m sure there are other arguments floating around, but the point is that fandom can be toxic in their disgusting hatred and racism toward Iris. She can’t win in the eyes of these fans no matter what she does. Some will go to great lengths to prove that she is incompetent and an insufferable character even though that is far from the truth. The Flash writers and the narrative have not only shown, but told us over and over again how valuable a character Iris is: be it with her bravery and strength, her leadership skills, her emotional intelligence, capacity to forgive, or the depth of her love and loyalty. Iris West is very much at the core of The Flash and the louder some people are in their hatred of her just means she’s getting to do even greater things this season, and will continue to rise above the toxicity and vitriol. And, in the words of Candice Patton herself, Iris “ain’t going nowhere.”