The Legend of Korra

The Avatar series currently consists of two animated TV shows: Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. Each series features “benders,” who have special powers tied to an element, such as fire or air. The protagonists of the shows are Avatars, who can master bending all four core elements. They have supportive friends and go on adventures, battling enemies and often saving the world; however, this standard format for children’s animated action shows ultimately proves to be groundbreaking with its gender bending. Avatar: The Last Airbender aired from 2005 to 2008, and won 11 awards along with critical and consumer acclaim. The high quality animation and humor carried on to its sequel, The Legend of Korra, which won 15 shows and garnered similar critical acclaim.

Both shows aired on Nickelodeon, a children’s network with a target audience of children ages 6-11. The exceptions were the last two seasons of The Legend of Korra, which were released via streaming at Nick.com. Television viewing had declined to 1.5 million viewers from the average 3 million per episode, but with a large portion of viewers being outside the target audience for Nickelodeon, the show was more popular online.

Seasons one and two begin with very typical children’s humor, blatantly reinforcing some gender stereotypes:

Ending a relationship is like pulling off a blood sucking leech.”
-Mako (a man)

“Nothing [can save our relationship], that is, except marriage. We will wed at sunset. You may express your joy through tears.”
-Eska (a woman), while horror music plays

The show gets subtly more progressive. It makes light of anime style and how it can portray males and females as exact equals aside from adornment, which is necessary for distinction between them:

By portraying a set of mixed-gender twins by the same art but with eye shadow and hair ties on the girl, it introduces uncertain gender roles. Although this could be construed as perpetuating the idea that women must beautify themselves artificially, Aubrey Plaza’s deadpan humor as the female in the pair almost creates a parody by proving the twins to be far more similar to each other than to their prescribed gender roles. Season two continues the seemingly heterosexual nature of the show by revamping the love triangle among Korra, Asami, and Mako; Mako goes back and forth a couple of times between the women, causing discontent. Friendship proves stronger than the awkward love triangle, which ends with the season.

It becomes clear by season three that although there are strong male support roles, the leads and true heroes of the show are actually heroines. The most evident is Korra herself, who is a physically strong woman who fights in a team sport and in individual sparring matches to help her gain the stamina and willpower to save the world. Even the ever-submissive female, Julie, is lauded by the man who orders her around because he openly acknowledges that he cannot go anywhere without her. When they are separated, he misses her and her various talents dearly as he strives to do things for himself.

By the last season, we see a man who desires a job in which he would have a female superior, a woman being extraordinarily successful in business, a woman who, although she is the “bad guy” in the season, has essentially managed to take over an entire kingdom, and elderly women with mentoring and Yoda-like roles. Things that we don’t see are unrealistically heavily muscled men, women without useful roles, and damsels in distress, which are frequent in other children’s programming. We do see an entire episode of a woman recalling her heroic journey as a man recalls his romantic past, which is a refreshing gender role switch, and not very subtle. We also see a woman, Julie, standing up to her boss by demanding fair and equal treatment; she is no longer happy doing his bidding without his full respect. She gains this respect, and with it, an engagement ring. The most poignant moment in the entire Legend of Korra show, however, is the last scene:

Mimicking the final scene from Avatar: The Last Airbender, this finale launched The Legend of Korra into cartoon history. In the former show, the Avatar and his romantic interest kiss; however, the other parallels between the scenes allowed the fans to fill in the lapse themselves by creating Korrasami via fanart. Thus this children’s show features two women whose sexuality is fluid, even though it is not blatantly stated, which I believe earns The Legend of Korra a spot in this archive.

Tomboy

Listen. I am not doing this to hurt you or to teach  you a lesson. I have to, do you understand? I don’t mind you playing “the boy.” It doesn’t even make me sad. But this can’t go on.

During the recent increase in support of the Transgender Rights Movement, the French film Tomboy was released in 2011. Only one year before the movie came out, France emerged as the first country to declare that Transgenderism is not a mental illness. In the year following the film, the French senate voted to prohibit discrimination specifically against those who identify as transgender. After such a long time in the shadows, daily struggles encountered by trans* people were finally beginning to surface in the mainstream, heteronormative world of both film and government. I believe that the timing played a large role in not only the creation of the film, but also with its success. Céline Sciamma, the director and writer of the film, pointed out in an interview that although France is viewed as one of the most LGBT friendly countries in the world, the film was still very unique for its time.

Tomboy is an artistic and heartfelt film about Mikael, a transgender boy, and his summer experience exploring his gender identity in his new community. The film begins with Mikael and his family settling into their new apartment. Within the first fifteen minutes of the film, Mikael’s gender becomes a topic of opposition; the tomboy-560-x-342audience is both introduced to Mikael as a boy among his new friends, and as a girl among his family. Mikael explores his gender identity by participating in stereotypically male activities such as sports and getting into a physical fight while among the local children. In contrast,  his mother pulls the audience’s, as well as Mikael’s, attention back to his biological sex by constantly referring to him as a girl. Although his family is supportive towards his “tomboy” qualities, allowing him to dress gender ambiguously, have his room painted blue, and cut his hair short, they are unaware that he has all of his friends believing that he is a boy. The film shockingly ends by revealing how his family reacts and attempts to “correct” Mikael’s choices.

I chose to include this film in our digital archive for a few reasons. Firstly, I thought that Mikael’s experiences speak to queer experience more broadly. I think that his struggles with fitting into the normative dichotomy of gender, fearing of how others would react to his gender expression choices, and acting in a way which is not conformational to his biological gender norms align with many topics of queer culture. Mikael’s choices about his appearance, his preferences in activities, as well as his interactions with others contradict normative culture by defying gender norms. Secondly, I chose this film  because it gave a slightly different perspective to queer culture. I feel that a large majority of queer culture revolves around adults and teenagers, and children are often left out of the picture. I felt that Tomboy did a great job of revealing the struggles with identity and gender nonconformity that can affect children. People often feel uncomfortable when there is not a distinct separation between children and topics relating to sexuality, which could be why we do not hear about childhood gender nonconformity frequently. The film reveals that children can have complex identities, which may not fit within the constraining pink and blue boxes that our society assigns children into at birth. It attempts to break down the expectation that one’s identity is always easily discovered through a normative direct path leading from biological sex to gender.

Lisa came by looking for you… She came looking for Mikael. Why are you doing this? You pretend to be a boy.

The film is constantly challenging the audience’s conceptions of the role of gender in the interaction of relationships. The opening scene of Mikael’s father teaching him how to drive, as well as the scene where his father offers him a taste of his beer, embodies the cliche developmental milestone of the coming-to-age interaction between a normative father-son relationship. I think that the importance of these scenes lies within the implication that gender roles are attached to an expectation of how people of a specific gender should interact with others and form relationships. I think that Mikael’s relationship with his father reflects what our society expects out of a father-son relationship, which allows the audience to feel more congruent with Mikael’s masculine gender identity.

tubShortly after the movie begins, there is a scene in which Mikael is bathing with his sister. Mikael’s little sister uses the soap to form Mikael’s hair into a masculine associated Mohawk. As Mikael exits the tub, the audience can see the primary sex characteristics which define and restrain Mikael as a female. The bathtub scene questions the audience’s idea of where the line is drawn between gender and biological sex, where they are correlated, and where they are opposed. So much of the story revolves around Mikael’s masculine gender identity, emphasizing the possible variance of gender expression people can have, which is not dependently restricted by one’s sex. The film reveals that there is no one correct way in which to express gender, and that we should not limit our self expression and identity to restrictive normative roles. In the “TransLiberation: Beyond Pink and Blue” article, Feinberg describes the importance of difference in gender expression.

“We are a movement of masculine females and feminine males, cross-dressers, transsexual men and women, intersexuals born on the anatomical sweep between female and male, gender-blenders, many other sex and gender-variant people, and our significant others. All told, we expand understanding of how many ways there are to be a human being.” -Feinberg

Feinberg is trying to express that everyone is different, and instead of trying to diminish that difference, it should be something that is embraced, encouraged, and accepted. Tomboy is a beautiful and touching portrayal of the variation within childhood gender identity and expression, which leaves the audience more conscientious and welcoming to the possibilities of gender differences.

 I have a big brother, which is way better (than a sister). Cause a big brother can protect you. You know, once my brother fought some boys that were bullying me. He punched them really hard cause they were rude to me. That was in our old home. He was the strongest boy in the neighborhood.

(- Mikael’s sister bragging about Mikael)

Sex and the City

Sex and the City, created by Darren Star, revolves around four women: Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda. Carrie, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, is a sex columnist searching for herself and love. Charlotte, played by Kristin Davis, dreams of living the perfect Upper East Side lifestyle with the perfect husband and family. Miranda, played by Cynthia Nixon, is a hard working lawyer striving for success. Samantha, played by Kim Cattrall, is a strong independent woman who flaunts her sexuality every 425.satc.cast.051408second of every day. These four women are on the hunt to find their soulmates and success in New York City. Friends, lovers, men, women, fashion trends, and apartments come and go throughout the series, but the women always have each other.
This HBO show, which aired between 1998 and 2004, became so popular because the women were so relatable. Maybe their lifestyles were a bit extravagant, but their issues adhere to women everywhere.

One of the most relatable parts of Sex and the City is the friendship between Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha. Women want to be these women and have the same friendship they have. While all these women identify as straight, there are moments throughout the series that show gender and sexuality are on a spectrum. Samantha’s first significant relationship during the series is with a woman named Maria which helps Sam realize sex is noKristin Davist just an animalistic act. Charlotte befriends a group of lesbians and learns that her life should not revolve around men and sex. Carrie dates a bisexual man and has her first sexual encounter with a woman. Miranda plays with normative gender roles through her work and relationships and eventually realizes that she does not fit into the gendered version of woman, wife, or mother. Charlotte dresses in drag for art and finds the self-confidence within herself she had been lacking.

 

All of these experiences queer the gendered role of “woman”. These moments show the audience that gender and sexuality are not black and white concepts, but that there are shades of gray in between and we all fall somewhere along that scale. Because Sex and the City is a show that millions of women relate to, seeing the characters sliding around this spectrum helps viewers to understand and accept their own gender and sexuality, whatever it may be.

The experiences these women have with each other all fall along the lesbian continuum created by Adrienne Rich. Rich states, “I mean the term lesbian continuum to include a range – through each woman’s life and throughout history – of woman-identified experience, not simply the fact that a woman has had or consciously desired genital sexual experience with another woman.” The continuum ranges from friendship to sex. Adrienne Rich describes “the bonding against the male tyranny” as part of the lesbian continuum, which pretty much sums up the friendship between the four women. Two of the most famous quotes from Sex and the City are:

“Don’t laugh at me, but maybe we could be each other’s soulmates? And then we could let men be just these great nice guys to have fun with?”

  

“We made a deal ages ago. Men, babies, it doesn’t matter. We’re soulmates.”

They realize that men come and go and that it is their relationship with each other that truly matters; no matter what happens to any of them, as long as they have the bonds with each other, they are fine. Some other events from Sex and the City that Adrienne Rich would consider to fall along the lesbian continuum include: holding hasex-and-the-citynds, going on a honeymoon together, discussing who of the four of them they would have a threesome with, Samantha helping Carrie retrieve her diaphragm, watching porn together, shopping for lingerie together, and Carrie helping Miranda give birth. The love for each other is so powerful. These experiences that lie between friendship and sex fall somewhere along Rich’s Lesbian Continuum.

 

 

Although Sex and the City is almost 20 years old, it plays on tv every single day. This show is still relevant decades later, not because of the relationships between the women and men, but because of the friendships and relationships the women have with each other. These bonds and connections leave a much longer lasting impression. Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte push the boundaries of what it means to be a “woman” and help viewers realize that you do not have to fall into one category or the other, you just have to be yourself.

Little Game

Ben J. Pierce is a 16 year old Youtube star, who runs the Youtube channel “KidPOV” (Kid Point of View) which he started on August 28, 2011.  Pierce also runs a second channel for his music called “BENNY”, which is where he released his debut single “Little Game”. This music video focuses on how harmful gender roles can be to kids. Pierce has also released two other videos questioning gender roles on KidPOV, “Why Boys Can’t Wear Pink” and “Why Double Standards Are Great”. In the first video, Pierce relays to his audience the three negative reactions he got for going trick or treating as a pink loofah; in the second, he discusses the double standards in the reactions between a photo shoot Nick Jonas did and Miley Cyrus did. Pierce released “Little Game” on October 25, 2014, which soon went viral and currently has a million and a half views.

The music video uses color and gendered toys and clothes to visually contrast the two gender roles society forces children into from a young age. The video revolves around two main characters, a boy and a girl, who question the roles they are forced into. The boy tries to pick up and play with a pink doll while the girl opens a book instead of balancing it on her head like the other 3 girls, at 0:37 and 1:21 respectively. As the video progresses, we see how both children’s peers react threateningly to these displays of independence. The boy and the girl then get thrown into a room for “broken toys” where it seems that other children who have also broken from their gender roles were sent. The other kids in this room are still trying to conform to the gender norms despite already being ostracized from the group. Our two main kids find some blue and pink powder and shake hands after touching it at 3:02. This mixes the colors that represent the two genders and breaks the other kids from the “game” of gender, allowing everyone to be themselves. More colored powder is added to visually represent the mixing of the two “genders” and the children end up putting the opposite gender’s color on their faces to show that everyone is done playing the “little game” of gender.

The video visually represents Judith Butler’s idea that when the minority in the population queers gender or sexuality, they pave the way for the majority of the population to have more freedom. The two main kids break from their gender performativity, and stop performing as their assigned gender even though they are shunned for it. By breaking this performativity, they end up showing their own peers that it is okay to be themselves. At the end of the video, the boys and girls are interacting and sharing their genders with each other, visually represented with blue and pink powder being blown around. There is also a visual representation of the breaking of the genders through the breaking of blue and pink objects, which then mix together at 3:05. The minority group (the boy and girl) queer gender and allow for the majority group (the other kids) to explore their genders farther.

The lyrics of the song further the idea of Judith Butler’s Gender Performativity. The song starts out saying that the people are played “like pawns” with “absent minds”; the kids are dolls who have to perform to the expectations of their society based on what they were assigned at birth. The song goes on to say, “You’re raising suicidal with your predetermined titles” and “Gender roles impose control and deceive progressive time”. These lyrics show how gender is predetermined without the person’s say and how it serves more to control those people. It also stressed that, despite the idea that society should be progressive, this is not actually the case. The song ends with a repeat of, “Play our little game” and a question, “Won’t you play with me?” Society wants everyone to play the game of gender and perform their gender correctly, but each person has the ability to say no and reject their gender roles or performance, thereby queering gender.