30 Days of Avatar: Masculinity

Week 10: Lessons of Avatar Land

Day 28: Masculinity
Day 29: Animal Rights
Day 30: Feminism

Day 28 was supposed to be for portrayals of healthy masculinity but is mostly for erm having a crush on Sokka.

All screenshots from Avatar Spirit.

I’d like to talk about Aang for basically ever because he’s a rounded character with lots of power and combat abilities but he’s not a total jerk.

His defining feature as a fighter is that he’s opposed to violence, so he refuses to kill even his most evil enemy. Even when his enemy is waaaaay more powerful than he is, even when his enemy is trying really hard to kill him, and even when he gets a split-second chance to end it all.

He hesitates and then redirects the lightening, then collapses. He’d rather put himself at even more risk than kill Ozai.

We’ve discussed this already but through the lens of masculinity, this is kind of cool. I mean, Batman does this crap too, but that’s about where the similarities between Batman and Aang end.

He’s a gentle soul.

The three separate screencaps of that are essential.

guru feeding birdsguru and appa

In fact, being kind to animals is a recurring feature linked to wisdom and spirituality for male characters. When I think animated characters being surrounded by animals or helping animals trust them, I mostly think of Disney women like Snow White, Cinderella, Esmarelda, or Rapunzel. In Avatar Land it’s Aang and Pathik. Katara and Toph get along with the Gaang’s pets, but Aang is the real animal lover of the group. Also, he’s the vegetarian.

Another aspect of Aang’s version of masculinity is his being comfortable respecting, learning from, and being impressed by his female companions.

impressed aang

Of course what he likes most about Toph’s Ba Sing Se sand sculpture is Basco with the King. Oh Aang, you lovely predictable thing, you.

OK but can I complain for a second though.

Where I find Aang a bit tiring is when it comes to his relationship with Katara. He spends the majority of the series chewing on the fact that he isn’t sure if Katara likes him like that. He’s told by a group of surprisingly sensitive prisoners that “she’ll come around.” And even Roku tells him that “it gets better” as you get older, and “being the Avatar helps” when Aang exclaims that the girl “who didn’t even know [Roku] existed” ended up marrying him.

I want to be clear: this is all fine. It is. It really is. Of course Aang likes Katara and of course he wants her to like him back. Of course he gets wounded about it occasionally, of course he pours out his heart to random dudes he meets.

But.

He never really tells her how he feels. Instead they have random cutesy moments that mean very little in terms of relationship progression, and then he just kisses her before flying off to fight Ozai (he thinks).

I mean. He just grabs her and kisses her. And she’s not a fan.

Later when he’s grumpy because the actor portraying him in the play based on his adventures is a woman, he says, “So, we kissed at the Yule Ball, and, well, I thought we were gonna be together forever. But we’re not.” And Katara’s like, “Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”

OK fine, that was Starkid’s version* (and it’s better). I wish Katara had really said, “Yeah, that’s pretty much it,” to Aang. He was being unreasonable. Instead she’s at pains to explain that she likes him but right now is not a good time because they’re in the middle of a war.

Also they’re 12 and 14 but that apparently doesn’t matter.

I have a hard time with Aang in “Ember Island Players.” I get that he’d be mad at the actor being a woman because being as sensitive as he is, and being that he’s in the middle of deciding what to do about his enemy when he doesn’t want to kill him and having basically everyone tell him that’s weak, of course he wouldn’t like having his gender be attacked. But it does seem a little fragile.

Especially because it seems like what makes him angriest about it is that it makes his relationship with Katara sexless.

friend zone aang

That’s the face he makes when stage-Katara says she loves him like a brother.

I don’t know. The Aang and Katara relationship never sat right with me because it always seemed like it would make a better friendship, and also, they were too young to worry about it as much as Aang did at least, and also, they were kind of busy. I really do think portraying Aang’s attraction to Katara this way, in a possessive, jealous, angry way near the end dents the otherwise wonderful portrayal of a nice, sweet kid. In some ways the ugliness in his insistence that there’s more between them than friendship is connected to the war getting worse, but when they do kiss for real at the end it doesn’t do much to heal how angry and wounded he has already been about the situation until now.

I don’t know. I’m probably in the minority here but I’m not a fan of it.

You know where I’m not in the minority, though? Crushing on Sokka.

Ty Lee likes him:

Yue likes him:

yue crush

A room full of haiku masters like him:

haiku girls

Even TOPH is crushing on Sokka.

(She thought Sokka saved her, but it was Suki.)

(Ouch.)

I have a gigantic unapologetic thing for characters like this so I’m right there with these ladies. I love a guy who struggles a bit with his gender performance but who ultimately overcomes his insecurities and realizes he can just be himself. Usually it’s imperative that they do because they always seem to fall for the awesomest of ladies, so they need to get it together as best they can. It’s why I love Wash in Firefly and why I love Ron Stoppable in Kim Possible and why Ron Weasley will always be my favourite. Hopefully somewhere in this thing I talk about how Sokka is a good portrayal of healthy masculinity and I don’t just gush but I’m making no promises.

Sokka is… flawed.

First of all, he’s a fan of meat. Despite his vow to the universe and to Foofoo Cuddlypoops that if he were to be rescued from the random hole he’s randomly stuck in he’d give up meat and sarcasm, the first thing he asks for when Aang shows up is meat. Which is probably a sarcastic request because Aang is a vegetarian.

Sokka has also been known to fail. His invasion plan during the Day of Black Sun doesn’t go the way anyone wants it to at all. During the battle he allows himself to be emotionally manipulated by Azula and he wastes all of their time. He takes this loss about as hard as Aang does, which is pretty freaking hard.

In the final battle, he fights well but if not for Suki’s rescue in the end, he and Toph would have died. Like. In flames. This isn’t his fault, of course, but the thing about Sokka is that he’s not a super powerful bender like most of the other main characters. He’s not a bender at all.

Occasionally this gets to him. Early on especially, his insecurities do show up and bite him. One time of note is when he meets and is defeated by Suki, and is horrified because she’s a girl. And then he gets defeated by her a bunch of other times, humiliatingly, until he humbly asks her to teach him, he wears a dress and makeup, becomes a better fighter with her help, and learns to respect women, I guess.

Another notable time is in “Jet,” which is a beautiful episode for deconstructing masculinity.

jet - sokka

Don’t you just want to punch him?

OK, probably not, if you’ve seen “Lake Laogi.” But still.

In “Jet,” Sokka is making a whole big thing about how he’s in charge because he’s the oldest, and Katara mocks his presumption of this because his voice still cracks and he hasn’t kissed a girl.

I’d take a moment to complain at Katara because, even though Sokka needs to be taken down a peg in that moment, that’s not a good way to do it (the “Sokka’s instincts” joke she and Aang do moments later is a better way), but, well, the episode does it for me.

Soon they run into Jet, an unquestioned leader of freedom fighters. Katara falls in love.

lol katara

Aang respects Jet immediately. Sokka hates him, of course. At first, it seems like jealousy, and Katara dismisses Sokka’s dislike as stupid macho posturing. But as time goes on we see that Sokka’s mistrust is valid.

Jet is not a nice dude. We do learn later that he did genuinely like Katara, but he’s not a genuine force for good in Avatar Land like he claims. He’s trying to drown an entire town because they’re Fire Nation and therefore acceptable targets. He tricks Aang and Katara into helping him do it.

The only reason it doesn’t work is because Sokka warned the people in time. For Katara’s part, it’s not until Jet himself tells her what his plan is that she believes that he’s that awful, and it’s not fun for her.

She also actually says the words, “I’m sorry I ever doubted you,” about her brother while she’s hoping that he was able to somehow save the town.

The next time she sees Jet she tries to kill him, also. If you were wondering whether this experience had a lasting effect on her or anything.

tell it to some other girl jet

“Tell it to some other girl, Jet.”

He seems like the perfect guy. Fighting the Fire Nation, looking after a scrappy band of kids, confident, assured, a leader. But he manipulates her attraction and her feelings for him and is almost successful using her to kill an entire town’s worth of people.

Sokka, who makes mistakes and is not as smooth as Jet and who hasn’t kissed anyone yet and whose voice still cracks and who flies Appa the wrong way when he’s driving and who is sometimes bossy and insecure is still more reliable and a much better person overall.

As we discussed previously as well.

kasokka fight 11

Also he turns out to be a decent leader throughout their adventures.

I like a couple of things in particular about Sokka.

Number one: he has a couple of kiss-mishaps like Aang but he handles them way better.

yue almost kiss

That was when he thought he should kiss Yue but then she stopped and then it was super awkward.

sokka suki 10sokka suki 11

This was him stopping with Suki because despite liking her a lot, he’s going through some complex emotional issues related to the moon seen in that second shot.

He handles both of these better because they talk about them. He’s not a master of “I’m totally fine with whatever, but just so I know could you tell me what went wrong…” or anything. He’s definitely uncomfortable both with apparent rejection and also being the rejector. But he has the conversations anyway.

Also. Look at the faces he makes whenever he sees Suki.

This is a series I call “:/ D: Oh it’s you!! C: :D”

sokka suki 1sokka suki 2

The best part is that Zuko is there.

My favourite thing about Sokka though is while occasionally he gets down about how he has less abilities than most of his friends since he’s the main non-bender of the group, he still is a major fanboy.

Of course he fanboys for Suki’s awesomeness:

sokka suki 3sokka suki 4

But he’s a huge fan of Toph.

sokkafanboying1sokkafanboying2sokkafanboying3

That’s just one instance. But I really love that. I love that he’s secure enough to be smitten by her abilities when he has nothing that compares.

Sokka is a goofball with serious leadership capabilities and he’s a big fan of his dangerous lady friends. He makes it clear that it’s OK to feel your feelings, it’s OK to not be the coolest guy in the room, it’s OK to fail sometimes, even if you’re the oldest and therefore the leader. Of course I love him.

This is a compilation of him being ridiculous and I love it too.

*UM. Did you know that half the dialogue in A Very Potter Musical/Sequel is basically straight out of Avatar? Because I didn’t until just now.

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