: Lauriver vs Olicity and Westallen vs Snowbarry: Childhood Friend Romance, Action Girl, Brainy Brunette vs Girl Next Door, Endearingly Dorky, Hot Scientist? Or something else? Why are the latter ships so popular in fandom, when the former were stated to be the the main relationships from the outset?
Things that this will not do:
- Bash characters. I don't care whether you like them or not - I'm not going to try to convince you to like anyone, and I'm not going to try to make you hate anyone, either.
- Decide which character is 'best' for another according to subjective opinion e.g. 'X is good for Y because I think they have more chemistry'. This is going to be about what the narrative of each show presents, and analyse shipping reasons for shipping. Ship what you want for whatever reason you want, this is just going to analyse it.
- Argue about character development and which character had the most. The arguments about character development in the Arrowverse - especially the women - could have their own pages on this site, and it's perfectly possible to find long essays arguing about one character is the most developed on one show while finding another seconds later saying that they're completely useless and static. If something is clearly development I'll point it out, but again, I want to keep subjective opinion to a minimum.
- Bash ships. I will point out why they are problematic or have Unfortunate Implications, but at the end of the day, people like what they like for a multitude of reasons.
Things that this will do:
- Talk about the patterns that happens in people who ship what they ship.
- Discuss whether there are deeper implications behind the ships themselves.
- Admittedly, since I stopped watching Arrow a while ago, this will be more Flash-heavy.
- Talk about Olicity and Snowbarry as "alternatives" to Westallen and Lauriver; as such, the traits and fan behaviour of the former two will be discussed more than that of the latter two.
- Tentatively completed as of 6/16/17, but still a work in progress.
Shipping is always a major facet of fandom, especially in genre TV (superheroes, vampires, witches etc.), and the DCTV universe AKA The Arrowverse is no exception. Superhero shows in particular often have large shipping fandoms, usually revolving around the titular hero and his or her love interest. There is also an added layer of interest since most comic book heroes often have one enduring love interest even though they date others in the interim (such as Clark Kent dating Lana Lang but always ending up with Lois Lane, or Barry Allen recently dating Patty Spivot in the New 52, but the writers stating that she was simply a placeholder for his longtime love interest and later wife, Iris West). As such, the creators and writers of the show are often beholden to one love interest and tasked with making it believable and interesting for the audience. Adaptations such as Smallville (which will be talked about in this analysis) are an example of both adherence to and deviation from canon, where Clark Kent did indeed marry Lois Lane, but Oliver Queen was implied to have started a relationship with Chloe Sullivan, a completely original character.
The Arrowverse is no exception, with varying results. Arrow tells the story of Oliver Queen, a billionaire playboy who returns to his home city after five years stranded on an island, intent on saving the city he loves from corruption and ruin. The Flash tells the story of Barry Allen, a CSI who is struck by lightning and wakes up from a nine-month coma with super speed, who works to protect his city from the metahumans and criminals running it. Olivers love interest is Laurel Lance, a woman with whom he was in a relationship before he was killed, and who he is still stated to be in love with when he returns. Barrys love interest is Iris West, his best friend since childhood, the daughter of his former legal guardian, Joe West, and the woman that he has loved since before I even knew what the word love meant. From the outset, the creators of both shows stated that these were the endgame couples, and that viewers could look forward to them getting together and staying together. Years on from their creation, however, this is not completely the case. While Barry and Iris have been successful (as of Duet, they are re-engaged, and have been living together since the end of The Present), Laurel Lances romantic relationship with Oliver Queen ended between seasons 1 and 2, and she was killed off during season 4. Both have had their rival ships, and though Barry and Iris indeed found their way to each other, Westallen had their fair share of ship wars. The strength of shipping even forced the creators of Arrow to deviate from their original plan.
The two rival ships in question are Snowbarry (Barry Allen and Caitlin Snow) and Olicity (Oliver Queen and Felicity Smoak). Unlike Laurel and Iris, Felicity and Caitlin have no bearing on either the Green Arrow or Flash legacy. Felicity Smoak is the name of Ronnie Raymonds stepmother and a minor villain (making her an In Name Only character, as Ronnie Raymond appeared on The Flash as one half of Firestorm during its first season, and never met Felicity before he died), while Caitlin Snow is the third incarnation of the Firestorm villain Killer Frost, and his love interest. Their irrelevance to the legacy of both heroes as a whole, and the lack of groundwork in earlier seasons to establish them as romantic partners (and in Barrys specific case, outright ignoring not only his lack of romantic interest in Caitlin, her interest in men over the seasons who are not Barry, and numerous times where he and other characters stating that Barry will never love anyone the way he loves Iris) did not stop people in fandom from shipping these opposing couples.
That isnt to say that theres anything wrong with this, or shipping in general. Shipping can be a fun way to engage with the material and other fans, and have discussions that arent just to do with the plot. It can also spawn different types of fanworks, like fanfiction, fan art, and mixes and videos. And there isnt anything wrong with wanting to see deviation from the source material, especially if it offers the characters in questions more development and interesting avenues or, in some cases, if it is healthier for both characters (which many think is the case for Oliver and Laurel). This is analysis is not going to demonise shipping or declare which ship is better than the other that is a purely subjective thing. This is going to talk about the reasons why some people ship these ships, and the patterns that I've noticed in people who ship them.
Mostly, this analysis will explore the difference reasons why people ship the alternative relationships to the established canon ones, whether Snowbarry and Olicity have any similarities to each other and other couples on different shows or mediums and finally, whether there is a deeper reason for shipping these particular couples, one that has implications wider than the confines of comic books, fandom, and television as a whole. Specifically, which tropes and situations have led to these couples becoming popular, and how much we can look at tropes for the basis for shipping when there are other possible reasons available.
Laurel is presented as intelligent, capable and loving throughout the first season, though it was often tempered with impulsiveness and some questionable decisions and harshness when it came to how she dealt with Oliver, though this was understandable because of her status as a Broken Bird. Her relationships in general were also more complicated given that most were adversely affected by Oliver and Sara dying on the boat (i.e. her sometimes strained relationship with her father at the beginning of the season). She also had a few Damsel in Distress moments, though it was clear that the writers intended for her to be able to defend herself in dangerous situations. She was shown to be passionate about her job, able to defend herself in physical altercations, and had a good relationship with those she cared about, with the exception of Oliver, for obvious reasons. Laurel was also clearly confident in herself and her abilities, and did not shy away from standing up for herself when those around her (especially the men, which is a recurring problem on all of the Arrowverse shows, even Supergirl) are trying to discourage her.
Iris West, contrastingly, is introduced as Barrys best friend and the first woman on the show with whom we see him. Her first scene shows that even though she cancelled a date to go to Barry to see the opening of S.T.A.R. Labs, she expresses disappointment because he may not get to go. She is also presented as oblivious to Barrys love for her, a fact which continues until the Christmas episode, where he finally tells her hes been in love with her since they were children, that he does not wish to ruin her relationship with Eddie, and apologises for complicating their relationship. Much like Laurel, who was in a relationship with Tommy for much of season 1, it is slowly made clearer that Iris does indeed have feelings for him such as her apparent disappointment when Barry told her he no longer had feelings for her, her jealousy of Linda, and her and Barrys lack of boundaries when it comes to each other. This culminated in a confession of love and a kiss that happened under dire circumstances, which was unfortunately erased when Barry went back in time. Iris admits later in the season that she is thinking about him, and over the course of the next season she comes to terms with her feelings and confesses to him a second time. In this case, the shows narrative showed that Barry and Iris are meant to be together, carefully laying the groundwork for their relationship, and now most consider them to be the Super Couple of the Arrowverse.
Iris is also presented as intelligent, capable, and loving throughout the seasons, though she has also matured considerably over the seasons. Although she expressed disdain about journalism at first when forced to write about Simon Stagg, as soon as she found a subject she was passionate about (namely, The Flash), she dove in headfirst, and was soon offered a job at Central City Picture News, where she came prepared to write about things to pursue her own sense of justice. We also see that she is loving, supporting Barry in whatever way she can despite being Locked Out of the Loop during the first season, and helping him cope with his losses during the following seasons. We also see that her reason for pursuing stories about The Flash in the first place is because she did not want Barry to lose hope in the impossible. Even though Iris is firmly a civilian (and to this day, remains the only character apart from H.R. who is not a metahuman or working for the police), she is capable of defending herself and others, punching out Girder, shooting Dr. Lights helmet off her head, and surprise-shooting William Tockman (The Clock King). She has also protected Linda Park in the situation with Dr. Light, and saved Caitlin from being killed by Peek-A-Boo. Like Laurel, she is confident in herself and her abilities, passionate about her work and her friends, and not easily discouraged whether its a good idea or not.
All of these are recurring traits in the love interests of superheroes, and they are not exclusively limited to DC. Lois Lane, arguably the archetypal superhero love interest, is shown to have many of the same qualities that Laurel and Iris have courageous, loving, capable, intelligent and resourceful, especially after the Golden Age in Lois case, as she shed some of the chickification that came from the conservative values of the eighties. Despite some Damsel in Distress moments, Lois, Iris and Laurel get themselves out of trouble as many times as they get into it, occasionally even saving their superhero boyfriends/husbands lives. Peggy Carter, one of Captain Americas love interests, also possesses many of the same qualities, even though she has a completely different occupation. Her great-niece is also an example of this, and both she and Peggy are both currently some of the biggest Badass Normals of the MCU. This is not surprising, as being the love interest of a superhero often means that one has to deal with that aspect of their lives, and so writers either give them basic combat skills from the outset (as is clearly the case with Iris and Laurel) or have them develop them on the show (which happens later in the seasons as Laurel undergoes her Black Canary training).
They also often have their own ways of pursuing justice outside of supporting their superhero Lois and Iris uncover stories, Laurel is a lawyer, Peggy and Sharon both work for S.H.I.E.L.D. Steve Trevor, a male version, was a WWII fighter pilot. PepperPotts works for Stark Industries and refuses to let the weaponry fall into the wrong hands. All of these features, as well as their generally loving and compassionate nature (and depending on who the character is, this might take a while to see), tend to show why the love interest is drawn to the superhero, and vice versa. The love interest is endeared by the superheros commitment to justice in the face of evil, and the superhero is attracted by their love interests relentless pursuit of justice despite not having powers, especially when it puts them in danger. This is especially the case of Superman/Clark Kent Lois Lane, and The Flash/Barry Allen and Iris West (as well as his successor, Wally West/Kid Flash and Linda Park), who are the two most iconic relationships in the whole DC universe.
There is a reason for recapping these personality traits and the ways in which they share traits with other superhero love interests, though some may argue that some may possess them more than others. This will become clearer as we talk about Snowbarry and Olicity, as well as other ships from other shows.
Caitlin Snow is also introduced on Arrow during its second season, where she and Cisco saved by Felicity and Diggle when theyre both attacked by Deathstroke in a S.T.A.R. Labs facility (interesting enough, they end up talking about how Iris is always visiting him, and Cisco references their relationship). Her character is more fully developed on The Flash, where its revealed that her fiancé, Ronnie Raymond, was killed in the Particle Accelerator explosion. Caitlin is more reserved, not easily excitable, though she does have her moments, and at first opens up to only Cisco and Dr. Wells, she warms up over the course of the season, and is especially overjoyed when Ronnie returns from the dead (when he leaves again, she is so devastated that she leaves the team for six months).
Caitlin warms to Barry over the season, supporting him in his superhero life in the same way that Felicity does. However, unlike Felicity, barring a few Ship Tease moments, she does not harbour any romantic feelings for Barry the way she does Oliver, given that she spends half a season pining for Ronnie (after a year In Universe), and then marries him at the end of the season. Like Felicity, Caitlin did not know Barry until his beginnings as a superhero, and was largely defined in terms of her job as his doctor. As a bio-engineer, she is responsible for diagnosing the teams medical conditions, helping them recover, and coming up with ideas to defeat the metahumans with Cisco and Dr. Wells. She is also somewhat socially awkward, extremely scientifically-minded (again, important), and is more of an Action Survivor than an Action Girl. Caitlin is probably widely considered to be Ciscos best friend rather than Barrys, or something more, but they have a friendship that is not really rocked until Barry causes Flashpoint, which turns her into Killer Frost. Nonetheless, Caitlin is a valued member of the team, being extremely supportive of Cisco in particular.
It is important to recap the personalities and traits of the women in the ships that go against the canon ones. Apart from showing that the Arrowverse shows sans Legends tend to have the same setup, they also use archetypal characters (confident, smart and savvy Action Girl vs Endearingly Dorky, science-minded Action Survivor). It also shows that neither Caitlin nor Felicity had history with Barry or Oliver prior to the beginnings of the show, and that at the time, neither was intended to be a love interest for either character.
Not much can be said about them in terms of comic lore, either. Caitlin Snow, at least, bears similarities to her comic-counterpart, being that her love interest is a Firestorm incarnation and she is a bio-engineer. However, prior to this series, she has never interacted with the Flash on a substantial level, is a fairly recent Killer Frost (first introduced in 2013), and has no bearing on the Flash mythos. Felicity Smoaks ties are even shakier, given that she actually seems like a cross between the wheelchair-bound Barbara Gordon and Chloe Sullivan from Smallville (Harsher in Hindsight for the former, and Hilarious in Hindsight given who Chloe ended up with on Smallville). However, both of these women are important supporting characters on their respective shows, especially because the heroes often need a team to support them, and the need for a support team in superhero fiction is well-documented. Far from being throwaway characters, the women in supporting roles are valued for heart as well as intelligence (even though it may not be to the same degree as the canonical Love Interest). Once again, it's important to see different types of women in different roles, especially for younger viewers.
Watching the shows, you can see that Laurel and Felicity and Iris and Caitlin are very different women. This is understandable writers dont like having characters be too similar as both they and the audience would find that boring. Its much more interesting when they have such contrasting personalities. However, its also important to note that this is an important factor in why people like/dislike them or putting them in different shipping pairings. Here's how the show is set up in the first season of The Flash and the first couple of seasons of Arrow until Iris and Laurel learned the secret:
- Show lead - Oliver/Barry - The Hero
- Lead female/Love Interest - Laurel/Iris - Action Girl, Badass Bookworm, Crusading Lawyer OR Intrepid Reporter
- Supporting female/Team Member - Felicity/Caitlin - Action Survivor, The Smart Girl, Hot Scientist OR The Medic
(though of course their personalities differ)
Shippers of Lauriver often cite their history as friends and lovers, the fact that they know each other, going through crucibles and sacrifices to go on their own heroes journeys, and enjoying their dynamic as teammates, as well as the potential to explore more if/when they became a canon couple as reasons to sip them. Olicity shippers cite their close dynamic as friends and teammates, their healthier relationship in comparison to Laurel and Oliver, and the lack of friction between them as a reason to ship them. On The Flash, people cite Barry and Iris' constant support of one another, their long history as friends on the show and lovers outside of it, and the repeated statements both in and out of the show that neither will love anyone as much as they love the other. Snowbarry shippers cite the fact that they became close friends over the course of his first year as the Flash, that they both deserve happiness after such hardship in their love lives, and they have more in common than Iris and Barry. There are other reasons, but these are some of the most non-controversial opinions. (I have ommitted any references to chemistry, because it is subjective. Grant Gustin and Candice Patton did indeed to a chemistry test - and are the only couple on the Arrowverse to do so - that the producers of the show called 'magical', and there are articles praising their chemistry, but many people also do not see it. Chemistry depends on the person, though this will talk about the patterns of people seeing 'chemistry' in different ships).
When Arrow started, many were disenchanted with the Lauriver ship because of Laurels aversion to Oliver and the discovery of how he cheated on her with multiple women during the course of their relationship. Many called it toxic and could not see how they could be together when their feelings were this complicated, at least at this point. (Many also said that they didnt have chemistry, but as I stated before, thats irrelevant, seeing as the producers are the ones who decided whose chemistry was viable enough to move forward). However, there was also another factor at play. When Felicity came onto the scene and that ship was born, it was not uncommon to see justifications being that Felicity deserved Oliver for reasons ranging from that she didnt whine at him, she was nicer to him, she always supported to him, and she never got in his way. Plus, people tended to cite Felicitys Endearingly Dorky habits as a reason for Oliver to fall in love with her, saying that it would be fresh and new for the hero to fall for the nerdy IT girl instead of someone like Laurel. Furthermore, they used her (scientific) smarts as a way to bash Laurel, and claim that she would be out of place on the team anyway seeing as Felicity helped him more.
A similar thing happened on The Flash, where people decried Iris intent on writing about The Flash as being nosy and disobedient when she was told by her father, best friend and boyfriend to stop. They said that she did not deserve Barry after she rejected him after his love confession, and that because of what Caitlin had been through (losing her job and her fiancé, and then seeing him become someone else not in control of himself), Caitlin did deserve him. They also said that Barry and Caitlin had more in common, that Iris was not intelligent enough to be with Barry, and that her constant demands to be told the truth meant that she was abusive towards Barry.
Of course, a lot of that makes very little sense if you actually watch the show, but it does once we consider several factors about the audience, society, and how the shows are set up. First, look at the demographic of these shows and who the shippers are. Its on The CW, which skews 18-49. Though the shows both star men, The CW has a devoted female following and a lot of fandom is female. They are also the type to be into genre TV, so it wouldnt be remiss to call them nerds (again, nothing wrong with this, proud nerd here). A lot are probably also teenagers or young adults, so they wouldnt be able to understand the complexities of adult relationships in a full way yet, such as thinking that having things in common is one of the only ways to start a relationship. Case in point: Felicity and Caitlin being better for Oliver and Barry because theyre the shy, nerdy, awkwardly adorable type that has trouble in social situations and sometimes around good-looking men. Some of the girls that ship Olicity and Snowbarry were probably these types of girls in high school, or even now, or even just identify with those types more, and see themselves more in Caitlin and Felicity than in Iris and Laurel. Theres nothing wrong with this, of course we identify with people based on emotion, not logic, and of course wed want the people we identify with to end up with the hero.
The problem also isn't shipping them outright. Many thought that Felicity and Oliver had more chemistry and even people who liked Laurel tended to think that the Lauriver ship had too much toxic behaviour from and between the two of them to happen at that time. Similarly, many wanted Barry to be with someone who did wanted him, and saw Caitlin helping him as a way for them to bond and fall in love in a more natural way. The problem comes when shippers try to use these reasons to justify things that dont actually make sense within the narrative, or demonise the other women to justify it. Laurel, for example, was decried for whining at Oliver and not supporting him enough. This, of course, ignores the fact that Oliver treated Laurel terribly during their relationship (and then she treated him terribly when he returned - and even if you understand why, she still did it), is responsible for her sister being on a boat that capsized, and then came back from the dead while Laurel was trying to move on with her life. Its understandable that she would at the very least be wary around him given what happened to her, and that he caused a lot of it. It is the same for Iris, who is called whiny, interfering and annoying simply for asking what is going on with her best friend, father and friends, and that her anger once she found out the truth was unjustified because Barry did not have to tell her he was The Flash. This ignores the fact that not only did they make a unilateral decision to lie to her for almost a year, but they actively told other people and recruited those same people not to tell her, especially as her not knowing put her in more danger than knowing.
The claims that Felicity and Caitlin are more intelligent speaks to a very specific brand of elitism that exists in those in STEM over those in the liberal arts or social sciences, and becomes more apparent once you spend more time in science fiction and fantasy fandom. On a very basic level, it ignores the very rigorous training that one has to do to become a lawyer, not to mention one that runs a legal aid office. In the case of Iris, it ignores the fact that she was doing a criminal psychology dissertation in the pilot, likely for a masters degree, and then investigated and wrote about metahumans The Flash so well that it got her a job at Central City Picture News. This led her to investigate what was going on at S.T.A.R. Labs at the encouragement of her mentor, and she was the only character to figure out that the Particle Accelerator was what gave the metahumans their powers everyone else was told, including the audience. So even if one doesnt believe that theres any value in the liberal arts or social sciences, both shows prove that the women are smart, and that it does place value on those things. Furthermore, it ignores the fact that science is not always the answer on these shows, such as the time during the second crossover when the heroes used their skills as fighters to defeat Vandal Savage, or when Iris snapped Barry out of Grodd's mind control using her voice, or the many times where the day was saved by anything other than S.T.A.R. Labs. Quite frankly, the notion that theres a yardstick of intelligence (not to mention that it has to be scientific intelligence) when it comes to who the titular character should be with is ridiculous you might as well say that Iris isnt tall enough to be with Barry because Grant Gustin is 62 and Candice Patton is 54. This is also ignoring the fact that Barry actively says that he does not want someone who is similar to him when he dates Felicity not everyone wants Birds of a Feather, including Caitlin herself, who stated that Ronnie was her total opposite and she loved him for it.
The claims that one character deserves the hero over another speaks to a brand of sexism that treats Oliver and Barry as rewards for suffering, which makes very little sense. Oliver and Barry are not objects, and relationships are based on love, trust, and mutual understanding, not some notion of whos suffered more and thus deserves the titular characters love. (Of course, Oliver and Felicity did go into a romantic relationship, but that wasnt until all of those things were fully realised between them). It also ignores Caitlin and Felicitys feelings, especially the formers, since she had a fiancé she spent much of the season pining over. Finally, it also presents the uncomfortable notion that women must suffer emotionally, but not complain too much about it, and accommodate or otherwise support a man over their own feelings while excusing or otherwise being totally fine with all of their actions, even if they hurt the people around them, in order to 'deserve' love. Again, it's important to say that it isn't all shippers who do this, or even all of the reasons that people don't ship them, just enough that you can notice a pattern.
However, again, we should look at the demographic. The people who say that Felicity and Caitlin deserve Oliver and Barry more than the women that theyre in love with may have a tendency to take traits that Laurel and Iris have and demonise them. Both women were raked over the coals for rejecting them when they were told of the heros feelings, even though both were in relationships at the time, many claiming that they were bitches for breaking their hearts (even though, if I am not mistaken, both heroes acknowledged the situation and only claimed to want them to know). In fanfic, fans tend to reduce them to the popular girl, Alpha Bitch stereotype who ignores Oliver or Barry, likely because of their status within the actual narrative as women who do not stand down when ordered to do so. In short, in terms of reasons for not shipping them with their love interests, Laurel and Iris were demonised for standing up for themselves. One only has to look at society to see that sexism and internalised misogyny are very real things, and society (men and women) tends to punish women who do not conform (if youre confused, look at how Hillary Clinton was treated during her entire political life). They did not do as the hero wanted them to do, or otherwise did something to make them sad, which meant that, in the minds of shippers, they did not deserve them. Moreover, as noted, a lot of the more enthusiastic shippers tend to be much younger and thus don't understand the complexities of relationships yet, which is why they reduce the characters to these stereotypes and then write them off.
These girls/women could have been the less popular, awkward girl and so see Laurel and Iris as the popular girl who has the hero pining after them, similar to situations in high school when the same thing happened. Its why the complaints from Olicity and Snowbarry shippers in the beginning often included claims that it was cliché for the hero to end up with the popular girl on a superhero show. Quite apart from the fact that Laurel and Iris arent high school and that everyone involved is an adult, this is more projection than truth; theyre remembering situations in school, not whats onscreen. Barry always ends up with Iris, Wally always ends up with Linda, Steve dates two adult women who are experts in their fields, none of Bruces girlfriends fit the popular girl stereotype, Tony is in love with Pepper Potts, the other Bruce ends up with a doctor who specialises in cellular biology, and the X-Men have so many relationships that it would be fruitless to try and fit any of them to a pattern. The shipping patterns and justifications for some people who ship Olicity and Snowbarry are eerily indicative of a resentment of the popular girl who rejects the hero, so the dprky girl can be used as an Escapist Character to save The Hero from the evil Alpha Bitch, because clearly the dorky girl deserves The Heros love.
Its clear, then, that some shippers are equating confidence, assertiveness and determination with being a popular girl Alpha Bitch, and scientific intelligence and dorkiness as being the Nice Girl. This is blatantly untrue, after all (since implies that popular girls cant be nice, and that if youre intelligent, you cant be popular), but is more to do with interpretation than the narrative. It is also a disservice to Caitlin and Felicity, because it implies that they would not react in the same way if they were treated the way Laurel and Iris were treated. During the first season of both shows, Caitlin and Felicity were well aware of the heroes secret. They were not lied to, they were not endangered by the secret, and they were not gaslit when they tried to find out more. Of course, they did not whine at Barry/Oliver they did not get a chance to, because they had no reason to do so. (Telling of the sexism in fandom and society, when Felicity did start to stand up to Oliver, people started calling her whiny, and when Caitlin moved onto Jay, they said that she didnt support Barry enough).
Felicity would be well within her rights to be angry with Oliver if he lied to her a fact which most, if not all, Olicity shippers pointed out when Oliver lied to her about his son. When Caitlin brought up all of Barrys failures, ruined his relationship with Cisco, and tried to kill him, Snowbarry shippers not only rewrote the whole thing as subtext (more on that later), but praised her for her actions even though she caused a huge amount of emotional pain. Those same shippers villainised Laurel and Iris for their very human reactions. It is extremely unfair to Felicity and Caitlin if the praise afforded to them is that they, theoretically, would be indifferent to being mistreated.
It should be noted that this isn't even a new phenomenon - a very similar thing happened on Smallville. Chloe Sullivan, a original character created to be Clark Kent's best friend harboured an unrequited crush on Clark for several seasons. However, unlike in the case of Barry and Iris, Chloe's feelings were decidedly one-sided and would always remain that way. The producers of The Flash always maintained that Barry and Iris would end up together, and while the creators of Smallville were not entirely sure whether they would get Lois Lane due to licensing, they did not shy away from the fact that Clark and Lois would end up together when she did appear on the show. Clark and Chloe had an extremely close relationship even as he loved Lana and later Lois, and between all the other Love Interests that he had. This relationship continued until the end of the show, where it was implied that she started a relationship with Oliver Queen (ironic, given that she is another dorky blonde IT that ends up having a relationship with the Green Arrow instead of the Black Canary).
Of course, because this is television, it didn't stop fans from Shipping them. However, 'Chlark' fans often went above and beyond the bounds of 'normal' shipping, in many ways that we see above. First of all, despite evidence to the contrary, the more overzealous Chlark shippers often reduced Lois to a Hard-Drinking Party Girl, slut-shamed her, and declared that she did not deserve Clark. They often said that Chloe's smarts made her a better fit for him, she supported him 'better', etc. They also said that she deserved him because she had harboured love for him for the longest. This, and similar arguments around Oliver/Laurel and Barry/Iris are of course ludicrous, because in real life, we would argue that Clark, Barry and Oliver are the ones who are supposed to decide who 'deserves' their love. A subset of these shippers also had the 'Chlois Theory' (more below), which was that Chloe was the 'real Lois Lane', and that after the 'imposter' died, Clark would be with the true Lois. There are many reasons for this (greatly explored in the section 'Canon - It's Not For Everyone' section), but it cannot be denied that Chloe shared many of her traits with Felicity and Caitlin - Endearingly Dorky, science-minded women who are more Action Survivor than Action Girl, and not as confident as the other woman on the show. In fact, many people will openly admit that Felicty is just an Expy of Barbara Gordon, Chloe Sullivan, and Penelope Garcia.
It comes from different places. The first, as we mentioned, is the different personalities of the women, with Felicity and Caitlin being less challenging to the hero during their arcs by virtue of where they stood in the story. It is telling that, for example, as soon as Felicity came into conflict with Oliver, whether you agree with her reasons or not, many in the fandom turned on her. However, another origin of this phenomenon comes from not only the personalities of the women, but the professions and interests of the women. We have mentioned that even though all four women are presented as intelligent, Felicity and Caitlin's intelligence is always held up as the standard because it is related to IT and science. The demographics of science fiction shows, especially in the past, more often than not contains large numbers of people who are interested in those kind of subjects, or at the very least, those who elevate them to high levels of importance. There may also be an undercurrent of resentment since while these subjects have traditionally been seen as difficult, they are not as "glamorous" as lawyers, doctors, detectives, reporters, politicians etc. These are the professions that are often focused on in television and film (Suits and GreysAnatomy to name a couple), and so science fiction offers a chance to glorify characters that have these kinds of interests even as the others exist. While it is less prominent on Arrow because neither Oliver nor Diggle are particularly scientific, there is definitely an emphasis from both Olicity and Snowbarry shippers on "science" being behind the heroism of the show, especially when it is used to highlight the importance. This is shown especially in the fact that Snowbarry shippers, going into Season 4 of The Flash, are complaining that the show is focusing too much on the West family, Iris shouldn't be a leader because she is not a scientist, and the heart of The Flash is the fact that Barry, Cisco and Caitlin are "science heroes that solve crimes".
Essentially, there is a kind of gatekeeping that manifests in shipping preferences, and even people's feelings towards the characters themselves. Because science fiction shows were traditionally created as a safe haven for "nerd" types to see themselves as heroes, there is a feeling of disgruntlement when other character archetypes are given higher importance than the other, more "scientific" ones. This might seem trivial, but there is a definite pattern of this behaviour when it comes to shipping, giving another explanation as to why all four women are reduced to their professions, and then Laurel and Iris are shamed by shippers for not being "smart" enough - they mean they are not "scientifically" smart enough, meaning that they have no place on a science fiction show, despite the notion of a woman's worth being dependent on how good she is at science being ridiculous.
Its important to reiterate that not all shippers are like this. However, that some are is extremely problematic and emblematic of a problem in society. Women should be allowed to be multifaceted, complicated characters without being demonised for it. There is nothing wrong with Laurel refusing to take the man who caused her pain for five years back, there is nothing wrong with Iris standing up for herself, there is nothing wrong with Caitlin being reserved, and there is nothing wrong with Felicity being quirky. That one set of women were villainised for essentially refusing to be told what to do and demanding respect, while another were upheld as the standard of how women should behave indicates something deeper than simply preferring one character with the hero over another. Moreover, the gatekeeping that happens in all fandoms, where characters that don't fit the "traditional" mould of archetypes of characters in science fiction and are subtly criticised for it indicates that, for all the steps that have been taken so far, there is still more work to be done to make fandom more inclusive.
It is much the same for comic book adaptations. Often times, the events and relationships that make up the story are often intrinsically tied to the narrative in a way that would make its removal problematic at best and extremely damaging to the source material at best. One example of this is the death of Uncle in the early life of SpiderMan, after a newly-turned Peter refuses to stop a criminal on the grounds that it is not his job but is then horrified to learn that this same criminal was responsible for the death of his uncle. With this development, Peter learned Spidermans most enduring credence with great power comes great responsibility. This is but one example of how an event in comic canon is important, since it helps to construct the fabric of the character.
However, there are always those who wish that the canon be changed when an adaptation happens, because they think it would better fit the story as a whole, the original was extremely unpopular, or they simply dont like what happened in the original, especially when it comes to pairings. One such example is the Harmione shippers, who thought that Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffes chemistry in the movies, as well as Harry and Hermiones baity moments, made a case for them ending up together over Ron and Hermione. There is also a kind of fatigue with knowing exactly where the characters will end up and who theyre going to end up with, so the audience can get bored with the story if the writers dont make it interesting enough. This was the case with the Clana vs. Chlark ship war, and then the Clois vs. Chlark one the audience members knew in both cases that Lana and Lois were the two women who dominated Clark Kents romantic life during his whole comic run, and so knew that those were the women the writers would invest in and develop as romantic partners for him. Chlark shippers, however, often argued that it would be fresher and more interesting if he ended up with someone not in canon, and someone with whom he could have different dynamic.
The same arguments were made when it came to Olicity and Snowbarry vs. Lauriver and Westallen. Both women were said to offer a newer dynamic for both heroes, and that the romances between their comic book love interests were cliché and boring (especially in the case of Westallen, who are quickly becoming one of TVs most recognisable Childhood Friend Romance examples). Since both Felicity and Caitlin have no bearing on the original Green Arrow or Flash mythos, these shippers often disregard the importance of canon when it comes to relationships (e.g. some Snowbarry shippers downplaying the importance of Bart Allen, historically the grandson of Barry and Iris, who comes back from the future to accidentally inform his grandfather that Iris is pregnant).
In addition to this, there is the reappearance of who deserves the hero more. Unlike in comic book adaptations, which usually have the character having their powers and be at a point in their development where they can handle threats for themselves (i.e. there is no need for a Team Arrow, a Team Flash, or for Clark to have a large group of people helping him that is not the Justice League), television adaptations often have people supporting hero. In the comics, Oliver works with Laurel as the Black Canary and/or the various characters who don the Speedy moniker. Barry works with Wally West, Jay Garrick or Hal Jordan. Both heroes also work with the Justice League as members. On the television series, they each have teams (as described in the dynamic pattern above), so there are new relationships to explore. And as mentioned, shippers often place importance on who assists the hero in their heroism, and so conclude that because in this adaptation of the canon material, since Felicity and Caitlin help Oliver and Barry in their heroic activities, they deserve to be with them more. This of course ignores the help that Laurel and Iris gave when they were not in the loop and the help they continue to give (until the point of Laurels death) when they were allowed in on the secret. Essentially, because relationships exist on the show that dont exist within the original canon, shippers use this as fodder to say that one character deserves the affections of the hero.
Another reason for people disregarding canon is escapism. The worlds built by comic books are vast and exciting, with a range of characters to root for. However, that doesnt mean that everyone will find a character they automatically relate to. As such, characters who arent in the original mythos, such as Cisco, Caitlin, Diggle or Felicity, become escapist characters that audience members can use to insert themselves in the story and feel involved. This is a positive change since its always good to see oneself in television, especially since comic books have been moving towards being more diverse (which is why the West family is African-American in the Arrowverse). It is certainly a positive change for people to be able to see Action Girls like Iris and Laurel, but also more science-minded women such as Caitlin and Felicity, and have the show emphasise that there are different kinds of intelligence and heroism (Laurels position as a lawyer fighting for justice, Felicity using her skills as a hacker to help the team, Caitlin talking Julian through her own surgery, and Iris going after stories and getting herself out of dangerous situations). When it comes to shipping, they can use these characters to tie themselves more closely to the mythos after all, both shows are fairly popular, and they will be able to take comfort in the fact that, in one popular adaptation of their favourite comic book, the creators disregarded canon and put their favourite character with the hero or realised their preferred ship.
However, the other side of this gives another reason to disregard canon. When people try to write themselves closely into the narrative through escapist characters, it does come from a desire to see someone with your own personality as important, but for a lot of shippers it also highlights resentment that their favourite isnt already significant. Looking at the mythos of the Green Arrow, all iterations of the character have a significant relationship with Dinah Lance (or Laurel Lance, as our case is), almost always romantic. The same can be said for Mia Dearden (Thea Queen), Roy Harper, and Connor Hawke (John Diggle, Jr.), even though they have their names changed in this adaptation. The same can be said for Barry Allen, whose relationship with Iris West is second only to the one between Clark and Lois, and whose relationship with Wally West the only one that supersedes the one between Batman and Robin. The characters also have significant relationships with their parental figures on the show, especially Joe West. There are also Jesse Quick and Jay Garrick, two characters intrinsic to the Flash legacy. Characters like Tommy Merlyn and Eddie Thawne, while not specific characters in the comics, share last names with important characters so they are still important to the narrative. Because of this, as the characters grow and evolve until theyre closer to their comic book versions, the characters closer to their legacies become more and more invaluable to the narrative. Essentially, the closer you are to the main character and especially to their legacy, the safer you are.
Other characters, such as Diggle, Felicity, Walter Steele, most of the newer members of Team Arrow, Caitlin, Cisco, whichever version of Harrison Wells happens to be around, and Tracy Brand, do not have a meaningful link to either characters legacy, and so can be written out or killed off without hindering the story in a major way (in theory in practice, and after many years being on air, killing certain characters could have a negative effect on the show - Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy). However, most shippers realise that in a comic book adaptation, showrunners are going to concentrate on those who are going to be in the story from beginning to end. So shipping becomes a way to write their favourite character into the narrative in such a way that means they wont be killed off. Because of this, they often have an interesting relationship with canon they tout it when it supports their ship, but disregard it when it gives evidence that their ship could sink. For example, Olicity shippers usually point to the fact that Oliver and Dinah are divorced in some continuities as a reason that they should not be together in this one, ignoring the fact that most characters (specifically, Wally West, for example), then point out that they should be together. Similarly, Snowbarry shippers point to the fact that Barry is in a serious relationship with Patty Spivot in the New 52 (the comic book continuity that precedes DC: Rebirth, which is the current one, and the character herself was introduced on the show in 2015. Yet they ignore the fact that Barry and Iris very obviously have feelings for each other while this is happening (feelings that Patty notices), that the comic book writers intended the character as a placeholder for Iris and to show her importance to his story, and that Barry on the show started off their relationship by informing Joe that the reason he hasnt been pursuing Patty is because she isnt Iris.
In essence, some shippers of couples that arent the comic canon one know how important canon is, which is why they campaign so hard for their favourite to become so important to the narrative (i.e. be in a relationship to the main character) that removing that character and not pursuing that relationship would be bad for the characters overall legacy. However, they also feel resentment towards it because it is so hard to overcome. As it currently stands, Caitlin Snow can for example, theoretically, be written off without a large effect on the show because her primary relationships have always been with supporting characters (Ronnie, Cisco, Julian, and H.R.). Of course, the characters would mourn her and there would be time spent feeling her absence, but it would not fundamentally alter the course of Barry Allen or the legacy of the Flash. This is in contrast to Iris, who in addition to being the lead female of the show, has primary relationships with the lead and the other supporting character intrinsic to the Flash legacy (Barry, Wally), is part of the main family of the show (Barry, Iris, Joe and Wally), and is a canon character herself. This is in addition to the fact that Season 3 has essentially been a study in Iris' important to the team and the narrative of the Flash. Felicity and Laurel are more complicated, since the Arrow showrunners have made it clear that they are more lenient with comic canon. That they killed off Laurel Lance in 2016 and incurred severe fan and critic backlash could mean that this theory applies to them as well, but it is also very clear that at this point, Felicity is a very important part of this Oliver Queen's narrative and legacy, so even though she was not in that position at the outset, she is certainly there now.
This explains what happened in the Smallville fandom when Lois Lane entered the show and the Clois vs. Chlark ship war started. Instead of simply saying that Chloe should be with Clark, they posited that Chloe was the real Lois Lane and that Erica Durances character was an impostor or a placeholder. They cite evidence that Chloe was a reporter and so closer to the iconic Lois Lane character when she was introduced, an episode where she cited a paper-thin disguise that meant she was disguising herself as Chloe Sullivan and was really Lois Lane, and the episode in Lexs fever dream after he got shot and she appeared to be with Clark; because she did not say her name, people used this to think that she had changed her name to Lois Lane, especially because Lois wasnt there. All of this ignores very strong evidence that Erica Durances Lois is the real Lois (such as Chloe moving away from journalism and Lois moving into it, Lois having General Lane as a father and Lucy Lane as a sister, and that Erica Durance contractually could not be in all the episodes).
- They both often check their watches
- They both have brown hair
- They both wear high heels
- They both have been carried by the Flash
- They both have said ring/rang a bell?
- They both have blue coats
- Among others
These reasons are not only extremely insignificant, they do are not traits that are specific to and symbolic of Iris West such as her reporting job, her relationship with Wally West, and her status as Barry Allens lightning rod and the matriarch of the Flash family.
Finally, there is also the wish for Felicity Smoak to become the Black Canary, although this admittedly isnt as big as the other two because of the status of Felicitys character in later seasons. Instead, there are campaigns to get her more focus and make her an invaluable part of Oliver's life. It should be pointed out that Felicity is an important part of Oliver's life. Since early Season 2 (depending on when you think the writers decided to put Oliver and Felicity together), there have been hints that they are going to get together (explored more in the Subtext section). Similar to Lauriver in the beginning and Westallen throughout the show, the Arrow showrunners have taken steps to show that Felicity is important to his growth as a hero, whether as a teammate or a lover. This, as well as how important Felicity has become to Arrow's canon, indicates that even though Olicity and Snowbarry have being the alternative non-canon ship in common, they may have more differences than similarities.
What we have to consider, however, is how important these love interests are to the stories. Anyone reading The Flash comics, especially those to do with Barry Allen and Wally West, know how important their love interests are to them. Because powers of both speedsters are drawn from the Speed Force, and an "anchor" of sorts is needed to both keep them out of the Speed Force an activate their powers, no medium ever downplays their connection. In terms of the Green Arrow, while Dinah Drake is integral to the story of Oliver Queen, she is not integral to his status as a hero, since he has no supernatural powers or entity such as the Speed Force. As such, it is hard to compare the stories of Barry Allen and Oliver Queen. The Flash has made no qualms about the fact that it is sticking to the aspect of canon that says that Iris West is integral to Barry Allen's story. To further the point made above, changing this aspect of the story would alter the show past the point of making sense. In the case of Oliver Queen on Arrow, the writers have done the opposite, closing the chapter (apparently permanently) on the Lauriver romance, as they have made it less of a necessity than the romance between Barry and Iris.
In effect, some shippers of non-canon ships often have one of two relationships with canon material when they dont like the rival love interest they disregard canon and say that this is a new iteration that can offer a fresh take on the original story, or they strive to have their favourite replace the canonical love interest in the story, either by removing her from the narrative (i.e. killing her off or otherwise removing her from her position as the love interest), or insisting that she is the true canon love interest. However, while we can say that Olicity shippers are similar to Snowbarry shippers in wanting canon to be changed, the fact that the showrunners have created their own canon in which Felicity Smoak is important to the character of Oliver Queen distances them from Snowbarry, since they have canonical moments where their ship is happening onscreen. The Flash showrunners have done no such thing with the character of Caitlin Snow.
This usually happens with a Crack Pairing. If were looking at The Flash, for example, the Crack Pairing of Barry and Eddie has plenty of Subtext, since they spend a lot of time together, have both put themselves in danger for one another, and had a scene where Barry was practicing on a punching bag that Eddie was holding while he growled Harder!. However, it remains a Crack Pairing because they do no enter into a relationship with each other, and the subtext doesnt really exist.
Most of the time, writers put subtext there on purpose, and that is most definitely the case with the relationships the characters are pursuing in the Arrowverse. Since The Flash is more of a straight example, we will start with that one. During the first season, Iris declares that she has cancelled a date to go and see the Particle Accelerator turn on even though its clear she has no interest in it, she tells Eddie that her life had always been full with Barry, her father and school/work, and when talking to Barry while hes in his coma, she says that she does dumb things when hes not around and her specific example is that she accepted when Eddie asked her on a date. This is subtext because we see that Iris does have feelings for Barry it is confirmed in 1x15, and then confirmed again in 1x21 after Barry changed the timeline. So the subtext looks like this:
- Besides, I cancelled a date for this. she doesnt care that she cancelled a date, because shes hanging out with Barry.
- My life has always been full. she didnt have room to date anyone until Barry was in a coma.
- I do dumb things like that when youre not around. because Barry takes up the place of a boyfriend in her life, without him around, she didnt have anyone else to consider.
All of these suggest that Iris is Oblivious to Love when it comes to her own feelings.
With Laurel and Oliver it is less obvious because their relationship is more complicated, but the subtext does not have to be as present because they were in a relationship before the show started. Their complicated feelings, Olivers continued love for Laurel, and everyones insistence that they can see that Laurel still loves Oliver as well as her inability to write him off completely show that she is still in love with him. This is realised when they kiss and have sex later in the season. So, again, the subtext has follow through.
With Felicity and Oliver, one can see when the writers changed course so that they became the main couple. Felicitys feelings for Oliver were never in doubt, so a lot of the subtext fell to Oliver. Lines like him calling her his best girl, promising that he can always tell her about his day, breaking his Thou Shalt Not Kill rule when she was kidnapped despite an important event in his own life, and him calling her his partner serve as subtext that is proven when they get together in the next season. Oliver and Felicity consistently support each other throughout Season 2, alongside Diggle, and constantly build each other up. The writers have even paralleled them with Barry and Iris by having Oliver forlornly proclaim that guys like them don't get the girl when talking to Barry about Iris (who, again, was the producers' plans from the outset as Barry's long-term love interest interest). They confide in each other and support each other as friends so that they make more sense as lovers - which is what fans and critics alike have said about Barry and Iris. So there is Sub Text with Olicity because the writers carefully constructed moments that could be used later on as evidence that they had feelings for one another. And finally, we should talk about the fact that while all of this Subtext was happening to justify the Olicity relationship, the one between Oliver and Laurel was deteriorating, as she was spiralling into addiction and lashing out at everyone, and Oliver largely cut ties with her during this period. He also entered into a relationship with Sara, straining their relationship further, but which also served to highlight Felicity's jealous - which is more Subtext.
Snowbarry, however, do not have subtext. Or, in any case, they have Ship Tease moments that could serve as subtext but do not because Barry and Caitlin do not show any romantic interest in one another and do not end up together. For example, Cisco says early in the season that the only person that could make Caitlin as angry as she had been at Barry was her fiancée suggesting that she had feelings for him, she offers to let him take a peek at her breasts, and she revealed she would not leave S.T.A.R. Labs because she would have had to leave Wells, Cisco and Barry.
However, Caitlin has just as many, if not more, moments of Ship Tease with Cisco. Both refer to the other one as their best friend, Cisco is the one she opens up to regarding Ronnies death and her kidnap by Zoom, and when Cisco kisses Lisa Snart, Caitlin reacts with anger and disgust. In fact, Cisco and Caitlin would make much more sense than Barry and Caitlin, since they are best friends like Barry and Iris are, constantly confide in and support each other, and have saved each others lives on occasion. Snowbarry shippers do not consider this subtext.
Moreover, as stated, Barry and Caitlin do not have any feelings for each other. Their Ship Tease moments took place in season 1 and some early episodes of season 2, but as Barry moved on to Patty and Caitlin moved on to Jay, their Ship Tease moments lessened, and so did the possibility for subtext. In fact, of all the relationships that have continued as the seasons wore on, the one between Barry and Caitlin has deteriorated the most, as Barry caused her to turn into Killer Frost and she subsequently sided with Savitar in his quest to kill Iris.
Despite this, Snowbarry shippers will insist that Barry and Caitlins relationship is based almost entirely in subtext, especially as they have less conversations with each other as the writers build Barrys relationships with his family (Iris, Wally and Joe) instead of Caitlin and Cisco, with some of the following examples:
- They both wear watches
- They both wear dark colours on occasion
- They both stand with their hands on their hips
- They both look in the same direction at the same time on occasion
- Among others
Subtext is a tricky subject because it is subjective, like chemistry, but unlike chemistry, we can prove something was subtext by having it confirmed in canon later on. If not, it is just Ship Tease, either accidental because of little cues from the actors or on purpose because shows operate on Rule of Drama. Lauriver had subtext based on their previous relationship, Olicity had subtext because of Olivers feelings, and Westallen had subtext because of Iris. These are all reasons to ship the couple that there are feelings underneath the surface that the characters are not acknowledging. However, because of the way storytelling works, if they are never acknowledged in canon, then we can assume that the characters never had feelings for each other. This is why Snowbarrys subtext is more Ship Tease for viewers that subsided as they moved on to different love interests. However, as stated, Snowbarry continues to be a large ship even as Barry and Iris get together, move in together, and get engaged. The full reason for this, including other reasons why people dislike Lauriver, will be explored in the last section.
Subtext is a reason for shipping because, as we stated, it shows that characters have feelings underneath the surface that have not been explored; however, if they are not explored or acknowledged, they are Ship Tease at best, or projection from viewers to see Subtext where there isn't any.
With Laurel, much of the reasoning stops at this point. Without counting acting and chemistry (subjective), we have already covered the reasons why people might not like the Lauriver ship that they dont like Laurel and Oliver together after their history, they treated each other horribly, Laurel whined too much, especially in the earlier seasons, she did not want Oliver when he wanted her, she refused to be told what to do, seeing her as the Alpha Bitch etc. And, of course, simply not liking a character. We have also seen similar reasons for Westallen she did not want Barry when he confessed to her, she didnt figure out Barry was the Flash on time, shes not smart enough to be with him, Westallen is incest, she only likes him because hes the Flash, she's not useful to the story, she's nothing but a Love Interest etc. However, there is a reason that we have not discussed, and that is the fact that Iris is played by an African-American woman.
Of course, before we go on, I should reiterate that I do not believe that all Snowbarry shippers are racist. That would be a gross generalisation of the pattern seen in people who do not like Iris. Moreover, racism is more complicated than not liking people of colour. Accusing someone of being racist is serious, but that does not mean that people who do not think of themselves as racist cannot be capable of racist actions, or at the very least, problematic behaviour when it comes to people of another race.
I should also point out that there is nothing wrong with Snowbarry in theory. Shipping Barry with a friend that cares for him who has similar interests and similar losses makes sense. However, Snowbarry shippers tend display problematic behaviour, and it is this pattern that we will explore,
Snowbarry shippers, for the most part, do not like Iris, which is not surprising (a common refrain from Snowbarry shippers is that they like her, just not with Barry, or they liked her better with Eddie, or they like her but dont like her in S.T.A.R. Labs, which will be discussed) people who ship opposing things sometimes dont like the rival ship. However, Snowbarry shippers have the biggest problem with their rival most Westallen shippers either like her or dont, but most are indifferent, Killervibe shippers do not have a problem with Julian or with Gypsy, and shippers of Gypsy and Cisco do not have a problem with Caitlin. Snowbarry shippers, for the most part, do not like Iris, Jay, or Julian, and see Cisco as a strictly platonic relationship for Caitlin (more later). Moreover, Snowbarry shippers spend a lot of time hating on Iris character, while the shippers of the other pairings mostly ignore Caitlin. So it is clear that they ship Barry and Caitlin because, for whatever reason, they do not like Iris.
Moving onto the ship itself, we should look at the chronology and timeline of the Flash as a TV show. This tumblr post shows that Snowbarry began before The Flash pilot leaked, and that the ship itself was born in May of 2014. Though Snowbarry shippers often cite the biggest reason for shipping them to be their chemistry, the fact that they started shipping it before the show started renders this argument moot. Of course this ignores the shippers who did wait for the pilot, but the fact that there are many who didnt means that they based their shipping preferences on who was cast as who. When the Flash was announced, and when the characters were announced, nobody shipped Barry with Caitlin, because most people were aware of the iconic nature of Westallen. It was not until after Candice Patton was cast that people started shipping Snowbarry so they decided that Caitlin would be better with Barry based on appearance. Since both women are brunettes who are very attractive (this is The CW, after all), there is very little option other than to conclude that this ship was born because of Iris being African-American. Unless they think that Candice Patton is too short, or they were witness to Grant Gustin and Danielle Panabaker filming their scenes.
Compare that to the of Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity Smoak. She was cast in 2012, also before the series started airing, but after it had started shooting (she did not appear until episode 3). Nobody started shipping the two of them together, which makes sense they hadnt been seen together. Nobody started shipping them until they were seen onscreen together, including the producers, who kept her on based on her chemistry with Stephen Amell.
Therein lies the difference between Olicity and Snowbarry the former was born after seeing the characters interact and as an alternative to what people were seeing as a toxic relationship, as well as a positive relationship built on support. Snowbarry was born as a reaction to who was playing Iris and Caitlin and probably more Iris, since there was nothing about Snowbarry after Danielle Panabaker was cast. One could argue that the shipping was started based on both characters interest in science, but this is as superficial as shipping them both because they both have dark hair and also doesnt explain why Killervibe isnt as big a ship as Snowbarry. One of the common complaints about Barry and Iris is that they don't "look right" together. This, in addition to the fact that producers warned Candice Patton to stay off the internet to avoid racist reactions to her casting, shows that at least some of the dislike of Iris comes from her being Black, and that at least some Snowbarry shippers are guilty of this (unconsciously or not) because of when they decided to ship their ship. So these Snowbarry shippers ship it because they preferred the idea of Caitlin with Barry before they knew what Caitlin and Barry would be like together.
Next we move onto the treatment of Iris as a character by the fandom, and especially Snowbarry shippers. Much like Laurel, Iris was polarising in the first season for many reasons some liked the character but did not like the writing around her, some felt she was boring and added nothing to the show, and some did not like her dynamic with Barry. She did have a large fanbase, but there is no doubt that she was the most polarising character (Caitlin less so). And, unsurprisingly, Iris and Candice Patton was and is subject to abuse from the fandom (TW for racial and gendered slurs), which was worse in the first season but still remains. Numbers 2, 6, 7, 8, 11, 13, 14, 24, 25, 27, 28, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 40, 41 and 45 all include explicit racism, implicit racism, or abuse that Candice Patton received online (usually both), not including comments on articles. While of course everyone has the right to dislike certain characters, sending abuse to actors is never acceptable. Moreover, the vast majority, if not all, of this abuse comes from Snowbarry shippers, which strengthens the argument that Snowbarry shippers do not like Iris, and it is because she is Black.
From this, we can feasibly conclude that the reason people ship Snowbarry is because they do not like Iris (for any of the above reasons, or because she is Black). Because they do not like Iris, they are subject to a phenomenon called Selective Perception, which is defined as when people only see what they want and ignore whatever contradicts that message. Snowbarry shippers often ignore any indication that Barry has feelings for Iris and she has feelings for him, and that Caitlin does not have feelings for Barry, in order to ship it. Evidence throughout the seasons support this:
- During the first season, Barry unequivocally states time and again that he is in love with Iris. Caitlin pines for Ronnie for much of the first season and marries him at the end of it. Iris is shown to have feelings for both Barry and Eddie. Snowbarry shippers ignore all of this and declare that Barry and Caitlin had several moments that declared that they were in love.
- Iris admits to Barry that she has been thinking of Barry romantically in 1x15, while she does not know he is the Flash. Snowbarry shippers ignore this and say that Iris is only in love with the Flash even after she has stated that she loves all of him.
- Barry is faced with changing the past by saving his mother, and looks devastated during Ronnie and Caitlins wedding because he could take away their happiness. Snowbarry shippers ignore this and say that Barry was sad because Caitlin was marrying someone that wasnt him even though in the same episode he admitted to Iris that his feelings for her were still there.
- Barry talks about trying new things in the second season, talking about dating Patty. Snowbarry shippers ignore this and make gifsets about it applying to Barry and Caitlin.
- Barry is seen to be happy that Caitlin and Jay kissed in the Christmas episode of the second season. Snowbarry shippers ignore this and say that Barry is hiding his jealousy.
- Iris admits to Caitlin that she is in love with Barry and Caitlin encourages her to pursue it. Snowbarry shippers ignore this and say that Caitlin is hiding her jealousy.
- Caitlin begs Zoom not to kill Barry. Snowbarry shippers decide that this is because Caitlin is in love with Barry, despite evidence to the contrary.
- Barry is happy that Caitlin returns from being kidnapped by Zoom. Snowbarry shippers decide that this is because Barry is in love with Caitlin, despite evidence to the contrary.
- Barry creates Flashpoint right after telling Iris he will always love her. Snowbarry shippers ignore this and decide that Barry is going to fall in love with Caitlin in the alternate timeline.
- Barry undoes Flashpoint after falling in love with that version of Iris. Snowbarry shippers ignore this and decide that Barry is going to fall in love with Caitlin in this timeline.
- Barry spends season 3 declaring to most everyone who will listen that Iris is the love of his life and that he would be devastated to lose her. Snowbarry shippers ignore this and decide that Barry is just going through a phase and that theyll break up eventually.
- Barry also spends season 3 telling Iris that he would be nowhere without her support, love, and admiration, and it has been this way for him since the beginning, and then sings a song about it. Snowbarry shippers ignore this and say that Iris is abusive towards Barry.
- Barry meets a twisted version of himself that wants to murder Iris and terrorise all is friends. Snowbarry shippers declare that Savitar is a better friend than Barry is, since he didn't abandon Caitlin.
- Caitlin throws Barrys failures (including his dead parents) in his face, ruins his relationship with Cisco, and tries to kill him. Snowbarry shippers write this off as subtext because she is really in love with him.
- Savitar uses Caitlin/Killer Frost for his own ends and tells Cisco hell kill her if he doesnt do what he wants. Snowbarry shippers ignore this and decide that Savitar is in love with Caitlin/Killer Frost.
- Savitar is jealous because even if he lives, hell never find some way to be with Iris. Snowbarry shippers ignore this and decide that Savitar is in love with Caitlin/Killer Frost.
- The Flash is based on the comic books, where Barry and Iris fall in love and get married. Snowbarry shippers are ignoring this and complaining that the show is turning into fanfiction because Barry and Iris are in love and are getting married.
- Barry Allen is the son of Henry and Nora Allen; Iris West is the daughter of Joe and Francine West. Snowbarry shippers are ignoring this and are saying that Westallen is incest.
- Barry declares to Iris that she has always been Iris West-Allen and always will be. Snowbarry shippers are ignoring this because Barry is in love with Caitlin.
These are just some of many examples, but it is clear that Snowbarry shippers ignore what they do not like to support what they do like. Not only that, but Snowbarry shippers tend to twist facts or make up situations that show that Barry and Caitlin are in love. When you think about it like this, why the ship exists makes sense. Caitlins behaviour towards Barry is excused and Iris is demonised because it fits with their narrative. Caitlin is a better type of woman for Barry because they dont like Iris. Iris dates one man in a year, cancels a date with another, and is slutshamed for it; Caitlin dates one man per season, and is not. Scientific intelligence is more important than whatever intelligence Iris possesses because they dont like Iris. Canon shouldnt be important to the Flash because it would elevate and highlight Iris importance. Caitlin and Barry have large amounts of subtext because Barry cannot possibly be in love with Iris. Snowbarry shippers twist everything into Subtext - because they don't like Iris, it is impossible for them to imagine that he is in love with her. So, obviously, the fact that they stand next to each other, speak, wear watches, wear dark colours, and look in the same direction on occasion means that they must be in love. Because the romantic relationship between Barry and Caitlin has never been shown onscreen, Snowbarry shippers have to use Subtext (which is open to interpretation) to find "evidence" for their ship, and more often than not it is poorly-defined and/or false.
Moreover, it is clear that Snowbarry shippers are alright with any pairing that is not Iris. When Patty Spivot, who is white, was introduced in season 2, many Snowbarry shippers decided that they liked Spallen together, and did not say anything when fans and critics complained that Iris was being side-lined, even though Snowbarry shippers usually claim to love Iris. When Patty left and Iris started to get more focus, the hate for her increased once more. Patty and Iris essentially had the same storyline Barry is lying to them about being the Flash and they are trying to find out. When Iris asked Barry what was going on (as well as the other people who were lying to her), she was called nosy, whiny and annoying by shippers. When Patty tried to force Barry and Joe to tell her, she was praised for her tenacity, including the moment where she outed him on a train. Furthermore, Snowbarry shippers were curiously onboard with comic canon when it came to Barry and Patty's relationship. Because of selective perception, they ignore any evidence that Iris could be in the right, but grant leniency to other characters. They also ship him with Kara and Felicity, where he has shown no interest in the former and does not want a relationship with the latter.
One ship that is not as popular to Snowbarry shippers is Parkallen Linda Park and Barry Allen. Coincidentally, Linda Park is played by Malese Jow, a woman of colour, and Snowbarry shippers often say that Barry only has chemistry with Caitlin, Felicity, Patty, or Kara, but none with Iris or Linda. This, too, is not a new phenomenon. The list of White leading men who are curiously and consistently said to lack chemistry with their Black love interest (by shippers who just so happen to ship the leading man with the nearest available White woman) includes but is not limited to Barry and Iris, Sam and Mercedes, Rick and Michonne, Ichabod and Abbie, and Damon and Bonnie. This article goes further, pointing out that any ship involving Bonnie and a prominent male character is usually shot down by the fandom, as that would usually threaten the status of the White women on the show. In an interesting aside that parallels the situation with Barry and Iris, Bonnie was also a red-headed White woman in the books, and fans had no problems shipping the two of them together. Snowbarry fans often say that they don't have a problem with Westallen in the comics, but for some reason dislike it on the show...while at the same time saying that Caitlin "looks" like the Iris from the comics, which many have seen as a transparent way of saying that Caitlin/Danielle Panabaker looks like the real Iris because she is White. This article also points out that Bonnie is tolerated the most when she is seen and not heard - the same thing that happened when Iris was sidelined during the beginning of Season 2, Barry was dating Patty and Snowbarry shippers suddenly loved her character - which would not happen were she in a relationship with any of the more prominent male characters on the show. The same can be said about Snowbarry shippers.
Even declarations that they love Iris are transparent, and only highlights that they dont like her at all. They frequently say that they liked her with Eddie and are sad that he died but they rarely, if ever, talk about their moments together. It is actually more of an attempt to keep Iris away from Barry if she is pining for a dead man, she has no reason to move onto Barry. They do not care about her mother coming back from the dead, her brother becoming part of her life, or the fact that she is fated to die during season 3. They only care about her so they can keep her away from their ship.
They also try to keep her as far away from the action as possible. During the first season, when she didnt know the secret, they complained that she was useless because she wasnt on the team and didnt help Barry as the Flash. When she did become part of the team, she was declared to be in the way and should go back to her job. When she is at her job, they say that her job and skills are useless. They advocate for Original Team Flash, complaining that they miss the dynamic from S1. However, they usually limit this to Barry, Caitlin and Cisco. Cisco is used to show that they either arent racist or arent just putting Barry and Caitlin together. Dr. Wells is remembered some of the time, but he is not a threat to their ship. Joe is almost always excluded because Joe is a reminder that Iris exists. Curiously, the concept of Original Team Flash did not exist until May 2015 the same month where Iris learned the secret and helped defeat Grodd.
Thus, we can see that Snowbarry is not really about Barry and Caitlin, it is about Iris. It was started in response to Iris; in order to ship it, you have to ignore Iris and her importance to the narrative; they tend to ship Barry with everyone but Iris, including Jesse, who is a minor; they always try to exclude her from the narrative.
Olicity shippers are not defined by this. There are undoubtedly Olicity shippers that engage in this behaviour, but their ship is more about a love of Felicity than a hatred of Laurel, especially because Oliver and Felicity had none of the emotional baggage that Oliver and Laurel did. They look at proven instances where the relationship between Oliver and Felicity was allowed to grow and develop organically, without ignoring the emphasis that Laurel has in his life (apart from a few enthusiastic shippers). Moreover, both Lauriver and Olicity shippers, while detracting and degrading the other relationship on several occasions, do not pretend the other relationship never happened and conjure up one that hasn't happened in its place. This is because the relationships between Oliver and Laurel and Oliver and Felicity happened onscreen, they have evidence and canon to support their ship. Because Snowbarry, as we have seen, is at least partially based on a dislike of Iris, they have to disregard canon and make up Subtext in order to justify hating her and shipping Barry with Caitlin.
Furthermore, it is about resentment about what Iris has as opposed to Caitlin. Snowbarry shippers write fanfiction where Caitlin gives birth to Barrys children, or where Iris has them, dies, and then leaves them to Caitlin and Barry. Snowbarry shippers complain that Barry cares too much about Iris and should be trying to save Caitlin from becoming Killer Frost, even though she has two people who love her trying to save her. They complain that Joe doesnt care enough about Caitlin, his other daughter. Snowbarry shippers do not ship her with Cisco, even though they have more in common and are closer than Caitlin and Barry, because Cisco is a supporting character and a man of colour, and they wish to see Caitlin with the lead because of the aforementioned proximity to the lead meaning that it's less likely she'll be killed off. In an odd meta example, when Barry proposed to Iris the first time, a Snowbarry shipper came to this site and removed any reference to Iris being intelligent, important, or loved by Barry, replacing them with lies (e.g. Removing the "Nice Girl" example, and complaning that Iris did not accept Barry's "Flash" persona). Snowbarry shippers, who tend to claim Westallen is boring and has no chemistry, photoshop Iris out of scenes with Barry and paste Caitlin in her place, or use lines that Barry has said to Iris for Caitlin. Snowbarry, at least in part, is about taking what belongs to Iris and then giving it to Caitlin, because for whatever reason (and at least part of it is based on race), they do not like her and/or feel she doesnt deserve it.
This even extends outside of the show. Because they do not like Iris and cannot fathom that Barry is in love with her, they declare that Snowbarry was the original plan and that the writers deviated (despite the fact that the Flash is based on a comic book), demand that their ship be made canon, and complain that it is unfair that Caitlin hasn't been given her chance with Barry. Going to their Twitter feeds will often show long complaints about why their ship has not happened yet, feeling that they are entitled to Snowbarry becoming canon and that their wishes as shippers should be realised despite neither the narrative or the writers indicating it was going in that direction, and anger that Iris is both getting more focus than Caitlin and not being demoted in importance because of their hatred of her. Thus, it is more about Caitlin being more entitled to the things Iris has, and resenting the fact that she has it.
Again, this highlights the difference between Olicity and Snowbarry. Olicity shippers may dislike Laurel; Lauriver shippers may dislike Felicity. And in the DCTV fandom, the reputation of Olicity shippers is well-known amongst anyone who frequents social media. However, it is common to find shippers of both who like the other women. Many shippers of both fandoms would actually like them to become closer friends and think that they would have a lot to bond over, especially as Katie Cassidy and Emily Bett Rickards are good friends. Olicity shippers tend not to want Felicity to have what Laurel has, per se (definitely not in the same way Snowbarry shippers do) - they just want her importance emphasised. The same cannot be said for Snowbarry shippers, except in a transparent attempt to keep Iris away from Barry by saying they ship her with Eddie. Now, that is not to assume that Olicity shippers (or any of the group of shippers) don't engage in wrong behaviour. There have been incidents where Olicity shippers send hatred to the cast members, campaign relentlessly for Laurel to be killed off (and sent pictures of dead birds to Katie Cassidy when it happened), and harass the writers of the show. In fact, all four groups of shippers often display problematic behaviour. However, while Olicity fans and Snowbarry fans may have reasons in common for disliking the woman in their 'rival' ship, they still possess one glaring difference. While Olicity was seen as an alternative to Lauriver that didn't have such a toxic history, and most definitely contains people who dislike Laurel to an extreme degree, Snowbarry is largely a response to Iris and mostly comprises people who dont like her. The ship war on Arrow didnt start until both women had interacted with Oliver; the ship war on The Flash started after people found out Iris would be Black.
Thus, one of the reasons Snowbarry exists is because they do not like Iris, and one the reasons is because she is Black. All of the above evidence only serves to highlight how much they dislike her, and the lengths they will go to to advocate for Snowbarry as a ship.
It is hard to say what will be endgame on Arrow, simply because the writers are notorious for their writing choices. Both Laurel and Felicity have had deep, meaningful relationships with Oliver, and even though Laurel is dead, there is still her Earth-2 counterpart to consider, as Oliver hinted in 5x08 that he still loved Laurel. Their importance to Oliver is proven and secure because the writers have chosen to explore it. Whichever option they decide to go with (if they choose either), it will be after genuine subtext and build-up, and will be believable. It would be safer to say that Oliver and Felicity will end up together, since the version of Laurel that Oliver was in love with is dead, of all the romantic relationships that Oliver currently has on the show, Felicity is the deepest and, most importantly, the writers have shown them working through their issues so that they can find their way back to each other. However, if the writers decided to pursue a relationship between Earth-2 Laurel and Oliver, while it would definitely be unpopular for some shippers, the history between Oliver and the original Laurel, his desire to do right by Laurel's memory, and the possible chance of a redemption arc for Earth-2 Laurel means that it would not come out of left field. While I would not be surprised if the writers were at least considering the possibility, I personally feel that Olicity is endgame, because of all the work that the writers have put into rebuilding their relationship and the continued emphasis on their importance to one another.
The Flash is clearer (the benefits of not having any alternate-Earth doppelgangers running around), since Barry has always been shown to be in love with one woman. It has not deviated from the fact that Barry Allen and Iris West are destined to be together. Even though Barry was sucked into the Speed Force in 3x23, many expect them to reunite and get married later on. Snowbarry, however, will continue, because it is a response to Iris. They will continue to insist that Barry and Caitlin have a connection based on them standing next to each other. They will continue to devalue Iris as a character. They will continue to dislike Westallen. As long as Iris is on the show, Snowbarry will exist. And, since we have seen one of the primary reasons for not shipping Iris with Barry is because of her race, if Patty Spivot returned, or woman in Barry's age range who is white happens to be brought on and Caitlin leaves, people will jump ship to that one instead.
Lauriver and Westallen have history and connection between the characters, while Westallen has significant moments of support and continually vocalise how much they mean to each other. Olicity have a relationship that was based on being partners first that evolved into love; even though they are no longer together, it is clear that they have deep feelings for one another and may still end up together. Apart from the Unfortunate Implications in the pattern of demonising women for standing up for themselves in the case of Laurel and Iris, or placing much of their value in how they help men, like what sometimes happens with Felicity and Caitlin, there is nothing wrong with these ships. However, Snowbarry usually crosses into Unfortunate Implications based on not liking Iris because of her race (explicitly or implicitly). Olicity is based on a relationship built on trust and understanding, a lack of guilt, no bad history, and genuine care between the two characters. Calling Olicity similar to Snowbarry would be incorrect because Olicity had a relationship that elevated Felicity's importance in Oliver's narrative, gave her feelings that were discussed onscreen with other characters and acknowledged by herself, introduced moments of Sub Text to justify it and then, most importantly, put them in a relationship. By the time Olicity happened, the Arrow writers clearly intended them to be a parallel of Westallen, and had done the work to make it believable that it would happen. Essentially, at different points during the respective shows, Lauriver, Olicity and Westallen have been realised relationships on the show. Snowbarry, in contrast, only exists outside of the show.
Thus, while the comic book history of Lauriver and Westallen and the 'alternative' ship nature of Olicity and Snowbarry would say that these ships are the similar ones, this analysis proves this isn't true. Olicity is actually closer to Westallen in terms of build-up and relationships based on support. Lauriver had been based on support, but because the relationship was so volatile, it was hard for some people to get onboard with it. However, all three have significant relationship moments, instances that can be seen as Subtext, and moments where they were seen as importance to the canon and narrative of the show. Snowbarry does not, which is why it does not truly have anything in common with the others. Barring the Ship Tease moments, because of the fact that they have not shown any romantic interest in each other, Snowbarry as it exists in the current state (as in, when both characters are in other relationships and do not have feelings for one another), is more similar to a Crack Pairing on par with ColdFlash or Thallen, i.e. there are moments that spell out potential, but nothing concrete. To recap the points above:
- Both Olicity and Snowbarry shippers are fans of women who are more similar to the Endearingly Dorky nerdy girl archetype, which is valid, but problematic when these women are held up as the standard, or worse, reduced to these stereotypes and praised for not "getting in the way" of the hero.
- Olicity has moments that elevated Felicity's importance in Oliver's life and therefore made her an intractable part of this incarnation of the Green Arrow's canon; Snowbarry does not.
- Olicity has purposeful and deliberate Subtext that was rewarded with follow-through, making their relationship believable and sufficiently foreshadowed. Snowbarry had/has moments of Ship Tease that, while they would have been Subtext had the writers chosen to put them in a relationship, have lessened in later seasons.
- Shipping Olicity does not necessarily mean a hatred of Laurel, given that many wanted them to be closer friends and were saddened that she was killed off, while most Snowbarry fans celebrated the fact that Iris died as they had been advocating for her death since the beginning of the show. Both fandoms, however, have been characterised by a hatred of the other woman.
- Olicity did not start until Oliver and Felicity interacted; Snowbarry started when Candice Patton was cast as Iris.
And the fact that Snowbarry shippers ignore Iris' contribution to the narrative, vilify her for actions that they deem acceptable in men or white women, and are the shippers most known for sending Candice Patton racial abuse and speaking about Iris in racially coded terms deems the ship, or more accurately the people who ship it and engage with these behaviours since the ship does not exist on the show, the most problematic of all four.
To conclude, we can see that there are a multitude of reasons for not shipping things. Some people dont like the characters, some people dont like romance, some people dont care. It doesnt matter what the reasons are, and people shouldnt be shamed for their preferences. However, we should consider whether or not they are problematic. Moreover, reducing the women to objects in service of men and then using that to justify shipping (i.e. "I don't like her because she's not giving the hero enough of what he wants") is another problematic aspect of shipping and fandom that indicates that, even though shipping is mostly seen as something with which women engage, there is still a lot of racism, sexism, and internalised misogyny to unpack.