Updated: Nov 30, 2020
Has the patriarchy completely taken over our minds?! It has, in a sense, but not necessarily in a mind-control type of way–rather, through subconscious bias. As we grow up, we are taught societal norms and how we should fit into them, and due to the internalization of said norms, we tend to push those ideals onto ourselves and those around us. Most recently there has been a great debate between the Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend Of Korra fandoms on whether Korra, the strong independent protagonist, is a quality character or not. Many take the stance that she is an empowering woman and a great source of LGBTQ representation, while others criticize her for her lack of feminine qualities and her muscular physique. With one of these arguments being more heavily favored than the other, it is such a wonder that so many people have internalized sexist ideas without even realizing it. By looking at the sexist critiques of The Legend Of Korra as well as the formulation of prejudice in psychology, one can begin to understand how relationships between the audience and character are created and why we like the characters that we do.
As soon as we come out of the womb, we are immediately bound to our parents, and throughout the course of our life we tend to see them as a reliable source of information. By taking on the beliefs of others, we can be blindly subjected to prejudiced views without even knowing it! Of course, we tend to stray away from our parents’ beliefs as we get older, however, due to being compliant all those years, our attitudes on certain stances may remain the same. In those instances, it can cause cognitive dissonance (when you have conflicting thoughts due to a change within your environment or behavior that does not coincide with your original belief) which can leave people in a state of denial and cause them to stick with their initial belief regardless of any disproving evidence.
In the book Understanding Psychology by Richard A. Kasschau, Dr. Kasschau explains that “Prejudice is strengthened and maintained by inflexible stereotypes and rigid views of roles.” Keeping in mind the nurturing influence of society, and that the many people who wrote the sexist comments towards Korra have a negative prejudice towards women, those views are considered “normal” to some. Scary thought, right? And, with confirmation bias, those with prejudice will continue to interpret information that confirms their beliefs. When bonding to characters, some may have a difficult time if they have negative prejudice towards women and that projects itself onto any female character that strays away from stereotypical qualities. The problem with this is that every woman is unique in their own way, and by putting pressure on us as to how we should behave and look, we continue to perpetuate a culture of conformity and misogyny.
"Avatar: The Last Airbender is quite possibly one of the greatest animated TV shows of all time. It will make you laugh, cry, and fall in love,” stated one anonymous google reviewer. Beginning with its release in 2005, Avatar: The Last Airbender it played an iconic role in multiple generations’ childhoods. A wholesome storyline about a 12-year-old boy with superpowers traveling around the world to restore peace with his three friends, an adorable flying bison, and a lemur, was brought to Nickelodeon. Avatar: The Last Airbender was the highest-rated show for its demographic (6-11), and in 2012, a sequel The Legend Of Korra was released. The show broke many barriers by having an LGBTQ woman of color lead whose ongoing development was vulnerable and inspiring. However, many others didn’t feel the same and the show was pulled off air after 4 seasons.
“One of the worst things TV writers can do is make an unpleasant protagonist that the watchers cannot be drawn to. Korra is an incompetent, indecisive, unrestrained, stupid brat,” yet another google reviewer comments. With hundreds of comments just like this one all over the web, this show did not go over well with some audiences. With many people claiming that Korra is a “whiny woman,” it is overlooked that she’s just a teenager who is still growing up. In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the loveable protagonist, Aang, was just a 12-year-old boy that not only had the challenges of being the avatar, a person with the supernatural power to control the four natural elements (earth, fire, water, and air), but also growing up and establishing his own sense of self. Sound familiar? It should because that is the exact same development as Korra’s character. The stereotype that girls need to grow up as fast as possible to become nurturers is what fuels sexist comments on Korra’s lack of grounding. As a high school-aged kid, do you really think that you could handle the whole world relying on you to create balance and peace while trying to have a teenager experience? I don’t think so.
Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend Of Korra are both sensational shows that have captivated audiences all over the world. However, there is no denying that The Legend Of Korra receives far more than its fair share of criticism since she is a woman who breaks gender stereotypes. By understanding how prejudice is formed we can begin to understand why preconceived sexist biases cause people to not connect with female characters. With society constantly pushing horrible standards onto women, it really makes one just want to ride off into the sunset on a flying bison. Oh, that is the dream.