(I’m not going to quote out the whole original post because it’d make this twice as long, but, needless to say, this is a response and one would be better off reading the original post first)
While I do think that considering how one would feel about a Rule 63 version of the show can be really interesting, I think such swaps are far too complicated to say, “because the Rule 63 version is bad, the canon version is also bad.”[…]
This is a really cool and well-thought out response, thank you for writing it. I actually agree with most of it!
I feel I should clear something up that wasn’t clear in my original post—I wasn’t arguing, that, for example, the bit with the protester is problematic in canon because it’s problematic in 63!verse. I get that context is a thing, no really, I do.
I do also think that the 63’d versions of most of those scenes are worse than the canon ones, because they play into stereotypes, yes, but I think gender-switching a stereotype (which canon overtly does, to subvert stereotypes, such as showing a woman who abuses physical power and fails to understand sexual boundaries) is still playing into them to a degree. But is it subverting it entirely if the woman is just played as very masculine, and has the same issues regarding femininity?
(Korra does try Asami’s makeup, but she more pokes at it and finds it unpleasant than actually makes herself up, and it’s played for comedy. Femininity is funny, guys, all those weird mysterious things femme people put on themselves. Korra barely interacts with Pema at all, except for that one advice-giving scene. She may not feel in a position to approve or disapprove of Pema’s life choices, and besides, she’s a mom, she’s totally old, she doesn’t feel threatened by her gender expression in the way she does Asami’s, or Tahno’s.)
As for Tahno, I can see the sexual aggression angle, but the thing is that Korra never calls Tahno a pervert, or sleazy, or a creep (she does say “who’s that creepy guy” before he approaches them, but by this point he hasn’t done those things yet)—things that imply her problem with him is his sexual aggressiveness. She calls him “pretty boy,” and says “I’m going to knock his stupid hair off his stupid head.” She attacks his femme presentation rather than his creepiness with her. Tahno, with his excess of hair product, his eyeliner, his much more flamboyant style than any of the other male characters, is supposed to make us uncomfortable, and not just because he sexually harassed our heroine. His very femmey way of presenting (seriously, look how the dude walks, the sashaying hips wasn’t just for 63!Tahno) is alternately played as villainous and as funny. He’s a parody of himself, that funny man in makeup who flails about and screams like a girl. It’s been pointed out by others before that he was queer-coded, and I think the use of femininity/queerness on him was because it makes the (male) creators uncomfortable and angry, because when they think of a guy you’re supposed to want to punch in the face, they think of a smug man who is sexually threatening because he invites the homo. TBH that scene would have made the most sense if Korra and Tahno were both dudes.
(I have legitimately wondered if the original script featured dude!Korra with lady!Mako, not only because they carry so much of the baggage of those genders, but because DiMartino and Konietzko have a history of creating male characters and then feminizing them—Azula and Toph are two examples, both of whom were widely praised and adored by the fandom for how feminist they were, something the more feminine Katara got a good deal less of, and a good deal more hate. I’ve heard the school of thought that to write a good female character, write them as a man first and then change all the pronouns. I seriously wonder if they took this advice, to avoid putting feminine gender expectations and unconscious sexism on their heroine.)
While the message gets kinda twisted and weird by changing the concept up on a lady Tahno, I do think there’s something weird there about how we’re supposed to both hate and laugh at Tahno because he’s so girly and fancy. Combined with how Asami only gets permission to exist as a femme woman because she can ALSO be a badass, it makes me uncomfortable.
The way agency is attributed is quite possibly the weirdest among these, of course, which plays a huge role in the way the love quadrangle is interpreted. Mako is assumed to have more agency than he does and Korra is assumed to have less because he’s male and she’s female and that’s how those things usually go. Mako’s role in the romance plot is overwhelmingly passive, apart from the one time he gave Korra an ultimatum to try to get her to stop persecuting his girlfriend’s father – both Korra and Asami make advances on their own and his biggest failing is indecisiveness about which offer to accept. His agency was seriously compromised when Korra kissed him, both because she essentially bypassed his rational mind completely by catching him by surprise and because the whole situation is really awkward due to how much he needs her in the immediate future and how much he owes her already. He’s perceived, however, as being manipulative and domineering, partially due to an over-focus on the scenes in which he actually is active and partially because, as a guy, his inability to choose between two women is immediately assumed to be a badly-justified attempt to retain easy access to both girls’ bodies and beds rather than a mixture of romantic indecisiveness, difficulty in navigating relationships, and an attempt to avoid hurting the feelings of two people to whom he feels highly indebted that backfired horribly.
Korra, on the other hand, is assumed to have less agency than she really does, which is a pretty big problem given that her power and control issues influence her behavior pretty heavily, including her part of the romance plot. The show itself is perfectly willing to accept that her behavior is problematic, and demonstrates that through smug/sleazy facial expressions and a clear and consistent link between her romantic insecurities and power-plays (both against Mako himself and against uninvolved Probending opponents). That the audience misses the show’s disapproval for Korra’s tendency towards power-play seems to have more to do with the reversal of gender expectations than anything else – the show isn’t seen as calling Korra bad by the audience because the audience sees Korra as childishly impulsive rather than dangerously inclined to abuse the power she has over others to feel better about herself, and she isn’t seen as doing anything dangerous largely because she’s a girl and therefore is believed to be operating from a position of weakness and ineffectual frustration even when she’s operating from a position of overwhelming power.
I’m really just quoting that bit because I love it and think everyone should read it. This is more or less the point I was trying to make, though I guess that wasn’t coming across that well.
The only part I sorta kneejerked at was “she essentially bypassed his rational mind completely by catching him by surprise,” I could be completely misinterpreting this, I’m not sure, but I sorta get a sense of that “his body was willing” mentality in there which I find really problematic, especially with our society’s belief that men are always consenting, 24/7, even if their minds say no, because their bodies are raging sex machines that are always up for action. This has come up a fair bit in Doctor Who fandom, as the Doctor gets repeatedly non-consensually kissed by women (I can think of eight separate instances offhand) and sometimes he flails about or stumbles backwards over furniture trying to get away from their lips, and sometimes he kisses back out of politeness or just because what else do you do when someone’s lips are on yours, and it doesn’t seem to matter, because EVERYTHING HE DOES IS CONSTRUED AS HIM SECRETLY LIKING IT. (In the most recent episode: “You kissed me!” “You blushed.” Apparently that’s how consent works now? News to me.)
This is further complicated by the fact that Mako does in fact have some romantic feelings for Korra. But romantic feelings don’t mean consent, or date rape would not be rape. So basically what I’m saying is even if he went along with the kiss, that doesn’t mean she bypassed his rational mind and he just went with what his body really wanted. This kind of “betrayed by your own body” thing belongs in dubconny fantasies, not serious interpretations. You can respond to a kiss by kissing back because you feel pressured to do so, because the other person has such force of personality, because you don’t know what else you’re supposed to do that won’t anger or offend or hurt them. It doesn’t mean you’ve given up your rationality.
So, yeah, Korra has consent issues, but Korra’s consent issues are part of a broader arc of problematic behavior that begins with defiance of authority and consistent attempts to deal with insecurity through violence against others and grows so extreme that she takes grim satisfaction in mocking a guy scrambling away from her in terror for his helplessness before trying to burn him alive. The kiss, as much as it’s another manifestation of Korra’s need to retake control in whatever way she can, is something she recognizes as an issue and learns from.
You know, I have argued that Korra does in fact learn and grow over the course of the story, but at the same time, I don’t think her need for power or control is lessened, or possibly even can be lessened, given her personality. After having power taken away from her (not only the physical power of bending, but her belief that she is the Avatar) Korra contemplates suicide—the last resort for someone looking to reestablish control over their lives when they feel out of control. Then she’s given her powers and title back, and we see in the preview for season 2 that she uses the Avatar State to win an airbending race against children.
(It’s interesting that people interpret Korra’s need for and possession of power so differently because she’s a girl. I’m thinking of the Abuse Cycle here, a series of fanfics where Korra is the victim of emotional domestic abuse from Mako, which cuts her down and alters her. I believe the author has said it’s drawn from her own experience. Perhaps the moral of canon—that Korra should have less power—was triggering to a woman who had power taken from her. It’s also interesting that femininity is often used in that fanfic to restrict or minimize Korra, to cage her personality and make her more pleasing to others. But that’s not canon, so that’s neither here nor there.)
I do think the show conflates femininity (on women) with weakness, and does something else with femininity on men where it’s threatening because of the homo (to the presumed male audience? To the creators? IDK that part was just weird) and that rule 63ing it makes it more evident. I also think that the handling of Amon and the Equalists was super problematic in canon. The only reason it looks worse in rule 63 form is that women are an actual oppressed group in real life, so it’s a lot more sledgehammery than bender vs. non-bender, which is not an actual thing real people have to deal with. Making Amon and many of the Equalists women makes it overtly a story about women’s suffrage, even when they’re talking about bender oppression. I am aware this changes the context and was not a thing in the actual show. The reason this highlights problems that were already there, however, is because it’s taking the narrative of oppression without tying it to real-world issues, then bungling it a lot. What I’m saying is that they kinda made a mess of it, and it would be more noticeable if it had also been more overtly tied to a real form of oppression instead of an imaginary one.
Rule 63ing creates a whole fuckton of problems that weren’t in the original work—and I talked about some of those because it’s a cool thought experiment and shows how the context of gender changes things. (Like, I think f!Tahno would be about slut-shaming, whereas m!Tahno is more about homophobia.) But it also does make a few problems in the original more visible by shifting that context.
Oh and also before I close here I’m gonna siderant about your use of the term “manpain,” I’ve seen that a lot and it just really bothers me, because one of the ways in which the patriarchy hurts men is by saying they’re not allowed to have feelings or cry or be human basically. I get that there’s a problem in media where male problems are important and female problems aren’t, or they only exist to add to male problems, but I think the problem here is the dismissive attitude towards female problems, not the fact that male problems are ever given weight. I often feel shamed for enjoying this kind of narrative (on both men and women, though as mentioned men unfortunately get it more) because I just fucking like angst okay, it’s beautiful and cathartic and then I get to see the men mocked because they dared show pain, because so what you were forced to commit genocide against your own species, stop crying you wimp. I feel that this invalidation of male feelings because men aren’t allowed to be sad feeds into the patriarchy rather than fights it.
If Amon had been telling the truth about being orphaned and having his face burned off, that would be a legitimate thing to be sad about, whether the character was male or female. Murder and disfigurement aren’t fucking “manpain,” they are things that happen and it’s okay to be upset about. I really just loathe the word “manpain” in general, because it’s mocking and dismissive of any kind of pain felt by a man (and by extension, any fan who enjoys characters feeling sad when those characters happen to be male).
And also, while I really do enjoy lady pain as well, I have a particular liking for doing really horrible things to fictional men, especially degrading or violating things, because it lets me experience and recontextualize the horrors and fears of being a woman in this fucked-up world in a safe environment where I have control, without the horribly disempowering feeling of seeing these things happen to a woman. This also gets dismissed as “manpain” a lot. :/ Just offering a different perspective on why a lot of women in fandom, even lesbians and whatnot, enjoy narratives of male pain. (Or, why I write hundreds of thousands of words of fanfic where Tahno has horrible things happen to him and suffers.)
Aaanyway that’s just a hot button of mine rant over.
But tl;dr I think you oversimplified a lot of what I was trying to say and came to some conclusions that weren’t exactly what I was going for, and a lot of that was probably just because how I write posts is sort of a rambling stream of consciousness. :/ We agree on a lot and the discussion is interesting, would have been happier without the reductive thing in the end kinda putting words in my mouth tho. I really liked how you framed a lot of the problematic stuff in canon.
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