On one path, we have racism. On another, we have sexism. Both have the familiar settings of subconscious fears, insecurities, and discriminations. In life, it’s easy to pick out these inherent discriminations, but in television they become veiled underneath the usual rhetoric of fictional stories. They are disguised behind the excuses that a character simply “isn’t likeable” or is “badly written/performed.” Black women in television are often targets for the dual discriminations of gender and race, known as “misogynoir.” And the leading black women on the CW—THE VAMPIRE DIARIES’ Bonnie Bennett and THE FLASH’s Iris West—face this by their would-be supporters: the fans.


Firstly, what is misogynoir besides a beautiful portmanteau coined by queer black feminist Moya Bailey? It is the victimization of black women as tokens in another’s life: as a sexual object, or the passive trophy in a group. It is the desexualization of intellectual black women, framing them as the “strong black woman who don’t need no man.” Just the same, it is the oversexualization of a black woman. It is measuring the worth of a black woman not by her individual capacity, but her contribution to an unsympathetic group of peers. It is the idea of a black woman being only as worthy as what others can get in exchange for them (see also: self-sacrificing). It is comparing black women to the people they could never be. Misogynoir isn’t colorblind. It hides itself behind microaggressions, and appears to be one-sided in its bigotry, either racist or sexist when it is always both.

To the unbecoming eye it appears these are different down the middle, but because a black woman is experiencing this in the dual role as woman and black, they become one.

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The CW audience might not be the first to partake in this weird duality of discrimination known as misogynoir, but they’re swift studies. Thanks to television’s spontaneous embrace of indulgent casting, the CW has grown a collection of diverse ensembles, but leading black women are scarce. That of course is with the exception of THE VAMPIRE DIARIES’ town witch Bonnie Bennett and THE FLASH’s metahuman reporter Iris West.

Though both are, perhaps, equally despised in their individual fandoms, the hatred directed towards Bonnie Bennett is something of legends. Bonnie Bennett’s death has been called for since her inception. In fact, many refer to her as the most hated character in television history, even spawning a satirical blog as a testament to this hatred. Though Bonnie was the most useful and powerful of characters in her show, she was generally hated for her “judgmental” attitudes and abhorrence of the vampires who’ve killed many of her friends —and in many cases, her family as well.  Even with being the most valuable member of the cast—a main character, even—Bonnie’s deaths (yes, numerous, she has the highest recurring death rate of the entire CW billing) are ignored. Each time, in the next episode or season, the show will contrive a new witch with more backstory and character development than Bonnie has seen in six seasons.


But, all of these things can be shrugged off as bad writing. Which it is, because misogynoiry in television isn’t limited to just the audiences; it can be the writers too. An audience can’t be forced to react positively to a character whose writing is flakey at most. Especially Bonnie Bennett, who is only as powerful as the plot demands of her, as opposed to the linear (and in some times escalating) supernatural strengths of other cast members. But it’s the fan reactions that make the misogynoir stand out on top of several racist tropes that have been played out in her character arcs. Bonnie Bennett has been called unattractive numerous times when she is compared to all of her white castmates—and others have made statements that Bonnie Bennett is undeserving of a relationship with anyone else on the show due to her appearance.

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Kat Graham, Bonnie Bennett’s actress, is a model and yet somehow these fans constantly insult how she looks. It’s an insult to the actress and it also becomes a microagression when the fans contrast her appearance with her white cast members in statements like, “She isn’t as pretty as the other girls on the cast,” “She just isn’t pretty as Elena Gilbert,” or, horribly, “Bonnie is like a ghetto Elena Gilbert it’s tragic that she’s still alive on a show like TVD.” Both statements actively have the undertone of making her African features more prominent by comparing them to something they could never be, nor should they have to be. As a black man, that is insulting. To quote Claudia Rankin’s Citizenship: An American Lyric, “I do not always feel colored / I feel most colored when thrown against a sharp white background.”

Speaking of relationships, Bonnie Bennett seems to be the only asexual member of the cast. No, she never once stated she was, but she might as well be with how sparsely she is depicted expressing sexual interest. Characters in the series were out and about having sex since the first season. Yet, Bonnie Bennett clung to her virginity until the first moment she lost her power. Most of the time viewers could commend the series for not placing value in a female character’s relationships, but this was never framed as an empowering gesture of her part. It was as if the writers simply refused to pair Bonnie with anyone. Every love interest she had died horribly, from a black man, Luka Martin, to her longest standing relationship in the series, Jeremy Gilbert. With Jeremy, her sexuality never actually developed either until well into the show’s fourth season, after she raised him from the dead.


Desexualization of characters isn’t even standard to the CW, a network that capitalizes on teen dramas and romances. Even in the newly minted superhero line-up, the television shows still have the romantic flare of a soap opera. The more experienced viewer will see similar desexualization in THE WALKING DEAD’s Michonne, who many fans believed was far too “strong” to be considered Rick Grimmes’ love interest. This trend often manifests within the Token Black characters in television. They’re often depicted as so consumed with their relationship to their group or friend that they are oblivious to any other long-term commitments. Bonnie Bennett’s self-sacrificing nature and role as de facto plot device (as well as primary magical negro) for the series is often the reason she is incapable of maintaining any relationship.

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Bonnie Bennett’s character is also considered a Mary Sue by the audience. Ignoring how misogynist this pseudo-literary terminology is (after all, many male characters have fit this qualifier since the dawn of literature), it isn’t accurate according to the show. Bonnie Bennett dies numerous times to save her friends and comes back to life according to the laws of the series. Additionally, her powers and feats are nothing exclusive—many characters also pull off the same tricks as her, and she is far from the most liked person in the show. She is outclassed by other witches, she is defeated by vampires, and the one time she is made to be a badass warrior-witch, her victory is cut short five minutes later with her spontaneous death, as bringing Jeremy Gilbert back to life sadly kills her—and promptly brought the enemy back into the game. Her decisions sometimes have radical effects, but are done to protect all of her loved ones and see them survive, even at her own expense. Yet, audiences despise her above all else, and view her perseverance and continued survival as a flaw in the writing.


If there is still any belief that most of the CW’s audience’s disdain for Bonnie Bennett is an issue of characterization, we can reflect on THE FLASH’s Iris West, played by Candice Patton. First and foremost, the CW audiences disagreed with Candice’s casting on the grounds she “wasn’t true to the character,” and accused the CW of blackwashing, or whatever the reverse racism equivalent of whitewashing is called. Worse, once Iris was in full swing as a character, audiences tried to link parallels between all of Barry Allen’s white friends on the show and in the comics together, in hopes of finding an interpretation they approved of. Suddenly, all of the audience’s arguments for a strict adaptation of THE FLASH comics went out of the window to avoid seeing the Flash with a now Black Iris West.


Most of Iris haters share a common disagreement. Iris West is accused of being selfish and vindictive. Apparently, these are very valid criticisms of her character and if the situations were different they would serve to make the writers analyze how they’ve been structuring her character for future storylines. Except, Iris Wests’ actions are far from the most selfish or vindictive in the series. Keep in mind, the Season 2 finale of THE FLASH featured a man violating core laws of physics and morality by violating rules of time travel to save his parents solely because “he wanted to.” Thus, he created a butterfly effect that probably ended the lives of hundreds of thousands, wiping many, many people out of the timeline who probably would’ve been born if not for these slight changes. Our hero, Barry Allen, also made out with Earth-2 Iris Allen (that universe’s Iris West and Earth-2 Barry Allen’s wife), and spent an entire day with her off-screen basking in her love without ever telling her he isn’t her husband. I’m not 100% up on cosmic-level ethics, but that seems extremely rapey, if not blatantly problematic.

Then, we have characters like Caitlin Snow, who are equally as selfish as Iris West. She verbally berated a lab tech all because she had an attitude and makes every death-themed conversation about her— even as Barry Allen is tortured with the fact that he not only watched his mother die, but his father as well. Also, there is that distinct episode where Caitlin Snow is extremely classist towards the then-Firestorm candidate, Jax Jackson, by implying he was incapable of being Firestorm because he didn’t attend college and came from a “different” background.

Or, Cisco Ramon, who created a weapon that was literally designed to one day “incapacitate” his best friend. Or, Cisco Ramon, who hid his metahuman powers from his friends though they served a very vital use in the protection of the city. Or, again, Cisco Ramon and his occasionally sexist remarks towards female metahumans—especially in the case of naming Mari Mccabe “Vixen” because, “Dude, look at her.”


Throughout season 1, if the character of Iris West so much as breathed, she was a problem that had to be killed. And frankly, that seems to be a recurring issue when we are discussing black women on television. Rather than being put on a bus, or written out of the show, or merely given less screen time, viewers will petition for characters to be killed in some unheroic, brutal fashion. For the life of me, I cannot recall when the last time this happened to a character who was widely disliked of any other race on television. Yes, some were killed very suddenly, but for fans to demand a character to die is different. Last year, ARROW’s Felicity was a subject to much fanhate, but I’ve never seen fans rallying for her brutal death.

These situations are problematic and a definite case of misogynoir. Misogynoir encompasses situations where a black woman would behave in a similar way as any other person in that situation would, but instead of being accepted for it, they’re ridiculed. Iris West behaves much like a normal person should, at least in THE FLASH’s universe, but finds herself with a lot of unhealthy hatred.

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Recently, Whatculture did one of its many lists, this time on the 20 Most Hated Characters in Television. Most of the article is a leisurely stroll through the characters’ history and the general dislikes, until we’re talking about black women such as TRUE BLOOD’s Tara Thornton. If you don’t know what the difference between character dislike/poor writing and viewer misogynoiry, take a look at her section. Though she is a lowly 14 on the list, her description is full of extreme terms like “drunken, trash-talking douchecanoe.” Whereas characters like GAME OF THRONES’ Jamie Lannister is given a flowery, open-hearted description. The writer also gives leeway to other main characters with tragic pasts, somehow exempting them from their mistakes and character flaws that are generally negative (keep in mind, Sookie Stackhouse’s penchant for dating vampires has caused hundreds of deaths), while Tara Thornton is suddenly a bad person for living with the same tragic pasts that other characters are praised for. This is a case that is similar to both Iris West and Bonnie Bennett, who are tragically hated by the audiences for making mistakes other castmates make, but having the audacity of being a black women while doing it.

The viciousness of audience perspective online doesn’t even end at blogs. Most of the time—not just some, virtually always—the hate is broadcasted on social media. If you wonder how it is possible to convey hate towards a fictional character via social media, it isn’t. It’s almost always aimed towards the unfortunate actresses who play these characters, as if they’re the same people.

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Kat Graham has been the target of CW fan bullies for years. On several occasions, she’s been forced to block some of the more severe commentators. Sometimes, she’s been forced to address the commentators head-on. During an interview with Seventeen, Kat Graham went vocal about a recurring issue with blogs and racism: “I had racially prejudiced comments directed at me on different blogs,” Kat said. “People think that just because you’re in the spotlight you’re fair game. It’s hard, and I don’t think you’re ready at any age for it.”

Sadly, CW’s audience ignored the damages of racial maliciousness over social media and reignited that candle as soon as Candice Patton joined the CW’s lineup of actors.

In three different interviews, Candice Patton has adamantly stated that she has shied away from reading any comments on Twitter. Though she isn’t explicit about this being because of the racially charged hate, she does reference the challenges with being an African-American woman in this traditionally white role.


Specifically in Patton’s MTV interview, she said, “It’s so weird because when I was thinking about pilot season before I went in for ‘The Flash,’ I just remember saying to myself, ‘I would love to get a role that changes the landscape of being an African-American woman in television and film.’ And lo and behold I got ‘Flash,’ playing a traditionally white character, and I didn’t realize what would come with that. It’s been incredibly difficult, but at the same time I’ve been in a position to give a lot of young actors that look like me hope that more characters are going to be written like Iris West and Joe West.”

The underlying racism associated with her role and fan interactions even appear in Patton’s interview with Glamour. When asked for advice for other African-American actresses, Candice Patton answered with candor: “Work hard, obviously, and don’t let your race or people’s idea of your race stop you. I’ve never let that stop me from doing anything.”

Racism in fandoms are a problem, but it’s when it is resting under the new, subtle abuse of misogynoir, it resists addressing. With such an active combination of racism and sexism, it is important that this subject becomes shamed. Yes, to the more sophomore eyes, it appears that a character is just getting its justifiable criticism, but it’s vital that these critics take a step back and ask why these actions work for other characters and for some reason don’t work on this specific one. Black women are going nowhere, so it’s time viewers either got over their conscious—or sometime unconscious—issues and join the wave.

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