UPDATED: The Wall Street Journal On Gender And The Legend Of Korra

Updated at the bottom.

Via: The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal is the straight man of American journalism. It’s supposedly “above the fray” of other news organizations that would rather concern themselves with celebrity gossip than real news. Of course all that is less true now that the Journal is owned by the same person whose made a killing muckracking others, but that’s beside the point.

What IS the point is that they currently have a very nice write-up of the new Nickelodeon series Legend of Korra. (The direct link to the WSJ is here, but for the proles among us, I recommend going to Google News and searching for “The Next ‘Airbender’ Gets Older, Wiser and Adds a Feminine Touch” in order to get the full text).

While the article provides a good overview of the new series and its origins in Avatar: The Last Airbender, what makes it stand out is the deceleration that while this series is more girl-friendly than the original, male viewer numbers won’t be affected:

According to Nickelodeon, the median age of “Avatar” viewers is 12.8 years old, and the audience is roughly 65% male and 35% female. Mr. Konietzko said Nickelodeon tested the new series and young boys readily accepted the show’s female hero. “You can’t say it’s gonna fail when there aren’t that many things to point to in animation like this,” Mr. Konietzko said. “Luckily, Nick was brave enough to let us do it.”

Now in fairness to Nickelodeon, they’ve been a bit more progressive than others when it comes to the whole matter of female-led shows with the likes of My Life as a Teenage Robot being a great example. The paragraph above flies in the face of conventional traditional “wisdom” which states that boys won’t watch a show with a female lead. While I think  that is pure bunk, it nonetheless was on Disney’s mind when they altered their film from Rapunzel to Tangled.

Perhaps the best indicator of things to come though, is in this quote, which sums up very nicely the current trend in movies:

“Korra” has been in the works for years, but Mr. DiMartino said that with the success of “The Hunger Games” movie and the coming Pixar film “Brave,” which both feature strong female leads, “The time is right in the cultural zeitgeist for all these female heroes to come out.”

I can’t wait to see them when they do  🙂

Update: Megan over at Forever Young Adult has written a very enthusiastic post about the series that did a good job of confirming that I should catch this show. On top of that, she had this to say about Korra herself.

Guys, Korra is a kick-ass heroine to be reckoned with. She’s strong, brash, and stubborn. But she’s also kind-hearted, fun and brave. You will love her almost instantly. Plus, when was the last time you saw a show that had a non-white 17 year old girl (albeit, animated girl) as its lead? And when was the last time you had a YA girl as a lead in something that wasn’t (at least originally) exclusively marketed toward YA girls?? It sounds so pathetic, but THIS IS THE SHOW I’VE BEEN DREAMING OF. This is the kind of show you should watch with your daughters AND sons because it’s important for them to have an awesome young woman to look up to and emulate and/or admire. And it’s great for us olds, because I know I always want to read about/watch cool ladies, 24/7/365! Also, look at those guns! You should watch the show for her guns alone.

While it comes close to going over the top, it is nonetheless a great description of the main protagonist and why there is so much to like about her. I certainly hope we see more series like this one promises to be.

What Makes A Strong Female Character?

It’s no secret (or maybe it is) that I find much to celebrate in female characters, especially lead female protagonists who are also strong female characters. There is much to commend a show with a female lead, especially one that does not pander to traditional ‘girly’ notions.

Which is important to note because there is a certain belief that boys are not attracted to content with a female slant. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are no reasons why a boy can’t also watch the same shows as girls, there is just a very strong societal pressure when it comes to these kinds of things. Boys do ‘boys’ things and girls do ‘girls’ things. There is no or very little middle ground around the crucial ages.

What are the crucial ages you ask? They are the ages of 6-10, where children are most ripe for commercialisation. They are of course, subject to and receptive of more advertising than any other age group, and advertisers are in no mood to alter the status quo. That’s why you get girls toys and boys toys with unisex toys limited to board games and the like.

There are a few female protagonists out there that can serve as role models, the one above is one, below is another one.

What makes these characters strong? How about some of these traits:

  • Decisiveness
  • Independence
  • Resourcefulness
  • Leadership
  • Companionship (with boys too!)
  • Intelligence
  • Understanding
  • Vulnerability
  • Thoughtfulness

Do Jenny and Kim share a few of these? You bet! You’ll notice that I did not mention looks nor did I mention interests. As much an emphasis as our society places on looks, they are not the be all and the end all when it comes to characters. Look at Bessie Higgenbottom from the Mighty B (below). Being attractive ain’t her strong point but her character as a whole is.

What interests the character isn’t important either. Female characters can be quite capable of enjoying or not enjoying girly things. There is also the other extreme to consider where the character is a tomboy. Nothing wrong with that (it worked for Helga in Hey Arnold) although pulling off takes care. Sam from Danny Phantom is a good example, she hangs out with the boys but also enjoys her own, more girly  things in private.

The point of this post, I suppose, is to challenge the notion that female characters and protagonists must conform to certain boundaries when portrayed on TV or in films. That is not to say we need to ban all girly shows, far from it, they have their place too. Just that we should be able to see more of a balance when it comes to content. Boys and girls do enjoy different things, but they also enjoy a lot of the same things too. Something for you, and the networks, to think about.