You can pretend Stephanie co-wrote this because we texted about this. She’s pretty awesome because she started recognizing a lot of this before I even talked about it.
I found myself growing pretty frustrated with Korra as a character, and I know I wasn’t the only one. She’s hot-headed, basically. Kind of rude sometimes. She’s the opposite of what we saw in the carefree Aang: a sense of peace, child-like nature, strictly non-violent. He seemed, as I told Stephanie, to be the epitome of “all things good and wonderful.”
In essence, and partly because he was an Airbender, he was the sweetest Avatar I had ever seen. When he was the main character, I forgot that an Avatar could have flaws, even though I clearly knew they do.
While Aang’s flaws are hidden, Korra’s seem overly obvious to us. We just cannot seem to ignore them. I remember screaming at her for the first episode of Book 2. She resented her own family, had to have her own way, and was dead-set on being the world’s savior, while Aang was much more hesitant.
Now. I think ATLA and LOK, so far, have addressed gender issues well. Aang didn’t see a need to be a “conventional” boy. He was frustrated when he saw that he was portrayed by agiggly actress from the Ember Island players because he had no reason to believe that a boy can’t love peace, animals, and pretty things. He doesn’t hunt. So what? I thought that was brilliant. It’s perfectly okay to be a Sokka or a Zuko, but it’s fine to be an Aang too. They are all versions of a boy.
I think that Bryke’s doing the same thing with Korra. I think they’re getting us to accept all the versions of males and females that exist. It’s almost as if they’re defying stereotypes.
Media can be so gender-slanted that even women we think of as badass are often the hottest, sexiest characters on the show. They look amazing, wear tight clothing, and wink every time they know they’ve accomplished something. They can kill or fight, for sure, but they’re also objectified.
What scared me about Korra as a character is that all my dislike towards her was some sort of internalized sexism. Somehow I only liked females characters that were both skilled and traditionally “pretty,” like Katara or Asami (I still do like them). Korra has some similar traits to both of these women, but on the whole, she is not like them. As I said, her most notable trait is her fiery hot-headedness.
What other character was like that? Zuko.
Did I resent Zuko? No. I knew he was the antagonist for much of the series. Just like Korra, he went against his family and thought he could do everything on his own. But did it bother me? No. I just accepted it as part of his character. I even thought it was kind of hot. But unconsciously, I must have accepted the kind of person he was because it was what I expected from a boy.
Korra is the protagonist, but I don’t think that’s the only reason her flaws upset us. I think her flaws upset me because she was a girl. It’s like I couldn’t accept that a character could be a great heroine if she didn’t also have something traditionally beautiful, like Asami’s eyes or Katara’s small frame. Korra has rad muscles and a deep voice. That’s beautiful too. And so is her willingness to be exactly who she is.
After writing this I’m beginning to like Korra much more, and I respect ATLA+LOK and Bryke so much for making me challenge internalized sexism. I’m beginning to rethink who Korra is and what she stands for.
UPDATE: I understand that I still have new perspectives/lenses through which to evaluate the show and if anyone wants to talk to me about it, I think that would be awesome. I can still be ignorant or stuck in my own way of seeing things (somewhat like Korra) so I love discussing the show with other people. I just learned that the show itself has some inherent flaws, even if it is difficult for me to accept.