Kid Flash The Super Creep: The Problem With ‘Funny Harassment’

Content Warning: this post discusses sexual harassment, stalking, and sexual assault.

Kid Flash

Kid Flash

I’ve recently been introduced to Young Justice, a superhero cartoon featuring beloved sidekicks of the Justice League. It started in 2010 and wrapped up earlier this year. I’m a big fan of superhero cartoons, having grown up on the DC Animated Universe. So Young Justice is right up my alley.

But if Kid Flash doesn’t have a drastic character adjustment pretty soon, I’m giving up on the show.

Kid Flash, AKA Wally West, is one of the founding members of the Justice League’s covert junior team. As soon as he meets teammate Miss Martian, he starts hitting on her. She brushes him off.

And so begins a campaign of sexual harassment that, seven episodes in, shows no sign of ending soon. It’s annoying enough to watch as a viewer, because harassment isn’t funny, but what it says about this world and the morals of these alleged ‘heroes’ is pretty gross.

Aside from Robin making fun of Kid Flash with no apparent concern for Miss Martian’s personhood, no one has called him out. Neither Robin nor team leader Aqualad has pulled him aside and said “Bro. She’s not interested. Quit being a creep.” The adult members of the Justice League don’t seem concerned, either–though given how the adult Flash behaves, it’d not hard to work out where young Wally picked up his views on women.

So Miss Martian has to put up with not just killer robots and evil monsters, but also with an incessant campaign of sexual harassment. On top of that, she has to rely on a team that clearly doesn’t have her back. They’d rather laugh about Kid Flash’s behavior than tell him to knock it off.

As far as the show is concerned, this situation is funny. We’re meant to laugh at Wally and his pathetic antics, rather than empathize with how awkward and uncomfortable his harassment makes things for Miss Martian.

If it were just this one obnoxious character on one show, it’d be an ignorant joke in terrible taste. But Kid Flash is part of a larger pattern[1] of pop culture heroes portraying sexual harassment as funny or endearing.

Miss Martian

Miss Martian

This stuff matters–not just because it’s an annoying trope that alienates harassment and assault survivors, but because it leads to real people getting harassed and assaulted in the real world. It perpetuates the idea that harassment is normal courting behavior, and that “no” actually means “keep asking me until I change my fickle girly mind and fall madly in love with you.” Some folks who’ve been raised on a steady diet of this trope have it so bad that they take anger and contempt as signs that their victim secretly likes them back.

A guy who assaulted me went on to subject me to this kind of ‘funny’ harassment. He was a friend of my brother’s and a member of a social club I was very heavily involved in, so I had no good way to avoid him.

Among other obnoxious behavior, he was constantly calling me ‘babe.’ Every single time he did it, I told him to knock it off. I tried patiently explaining that I found it demeaning. I tried yelling. I tried getting up and leaving the room. I tried flipping him off and calling him sexist.

He kept right on doing it.

One day he told me he did it because the main character in his favorite book did it.

I bet the romantic interest in that book told the main character to quit calling her ‘babe,’ too. I’ll bet she was a Strong Female Character who Didn’t Put Up With Nonsense.

And I’ll bet by the end of the book, his campaign of harassment had changed her fickle, girly mind and she’d fallen madly in love with him, thus completing his hero narrative of the good guy getting the girl.

They guy who assaulted me? His campaign of harassment didn’t end that way.

It ended with him assaulting me a second time.

Since I grew up watching cartoons, I’m used to superheroes telling me about seat-belts, recycling, stranger danger, staying away from guns, and not trying superheroics at home. Would it have killed Young Justice to have a member of the Justice League take young Wally aside and tell him that heroes treat women with respect?

Or, better yet, they could have just not included ‘funny harassment’ at all, because harassment isn’t funny, and Miss Martian is supposed to be there to fight bad guys, not to teach socially-awkward boy geniuses like Wally how to behave around women.

[1] TV Tropes has several pages full of examples, including:

  1. [CW: Harassment, stalking] “The Dogged Nice Guy”
  2. [CW: Harassment, stalking, misogyny]: “Defrosting the Ice Queen”
  3. [CW: harassment, stalking]: “Belligerent Sexual Tension”
  4. [CW: Stalking]: “Stalking is love”

6 thoughts on “Kid Flash The Super Creep: The Problem With ‘Funny Harassment’

  1. Mars

    Thank you for this post. I am a huge fan of Wally West (in all incarnations, including YJ), but your criticism of his behavior/the writing is 100% on-point. It is hugely problematic and it is never really dealt with in a way that addresses what is at issue.

    In light of your post as a whole, it seems insensitive and reductive to focus on the question, implicit in your first paragraph, of whether or not you should keep watching. Everyone has different deal-breakers, after all. However, as someone who watched the show and was also troubled by this aspect of it, I wanted to offer my opinion of how the series as a whole deals with Wally’s harassment. Short answer: it doesn’t. It is never dealt with, but it stops after Wally’s birthday episode (episode 20–so pretty far into the first season). Why it stops is, I think, also problematic (because it reeks of “she belongs to someone else” rather than “she’s not interested and you’re violating her boundaries”), but it does stop.

    I apologize for the derail. Thanks again for a great post.

    1. Annalee Post author

      No need to apologize! I’m glad to hear he cuts it out. It’d be nice if they dealt with it, but honestly at this point I’ll take it just stopping, because the show is otherwise pretty fun.

  2. Selki

    Unfortunately, some folks really do see “humor” as a magic cure for any possible harm from their actions. True story: a couple of years ago, the official company newsletter (of my soon to be former employer) printed a column from the company lawyer, where he “interviewed” an HR chick about her time with the company, and during the “interview” asked her for a date over and over and over and over again. Because it was *funny*!

    1. Annalee Post author

      I had someone try to tell me on twitter that there’s not causal relationship between this trope in fiction and bad behavior in the real world.

      I would have loved to agree with him, but he’s oh so wrong.

    2. Suzanne

      Even in a case when “humor” like this isn’t a thinly veiled screen for what people really think and want (and thus, poses a genuine threat), it’s still a terrible excuse for saying intimidating, threatening, or offensive things. It’s pretty arrogant to say, “Well, I think it’s funny, and therefore you don’t have a right to be bothered by it.”

  3. Devin

    I don’t really have anything salient to contribute to your point other than voicing my agreement. I’ve always found this kind of behavior off-putting from protagonists in television shows, movies, and so on. But, as you said, it’s depicted so often that we guys get it hammered into our subconscious that “this is how you win the heart of a girl who doesn’t seem initially interested.” Just try harder, keep it up, and eventually, she’ll fall for you and reveal that she thought your “devotion” was charming all along.

    I’ve never felt comfortable with the idea, but it shows up so often in entertainment and so rarely seems to be rebutted the way you’ve suggested that we end up half-convinced that this is how girls think.

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