Avatar: The Last Airbender and the 80's
I received a question on Facebook the other day . . . It was a good question - a question I've asked myself - and ultimately a question that I've struggled to answer. Here it goes: Is Kira the Rainbow Princess 'girly'? Or, in other words, is Kira a book that is targeted toward a female audience?
For me, the difficulty of the question is rooted in both the past and the present - in a childhood filled with reinforced gender stereotypes and a changing world that often rejects such a neat categorization. But understanding the complexity of the question is far from an answer. Is Kira a book intended just for girls?
To answer this question we need to go directly to the source of all social context - CARTOONS!
I grew up in the 1980's and for most of that decade cartoons were sharply divided down gender lines. A typical cartoon line-up for me often included: He-Man, Voltron, GI Joe, Transformers, and Thundercats.
These were all "boy" cartoons. Almost all of them employed a token female character (with the exception of Transformers, which avoided the inclusion of a female robot through the entire first generation story) but they were undoubtedly intended for a male audience.
There were "girl" cartoons, too. Their fare consisted of programs like: She-Ra, Rainbow Brite, and Jem.
So when I view my book through the lens of the 80's, it seems my answer would be yes - Kira the Rainbow Princess is a book for girls. A cursory glance of the cover is all it takes to identify the female iconography - The main character is a girl, she has PINK hair, the back cover is PURPLE, there are Butterflies, Rainbows, Princesses . . . according to the 80's, that's all girl stuff!
BUT WE DON'T LIVE IN THE 80's ANY LONGER!!!
By the early 90's, cartoons had changed. You can point to the slate of after school Disney shows which included offerings such as Duck Tales and Gummi Bears, and then later shows in the decade like Pokemon. These cartoons were gender neutral, and that neutrality is a trend that has continued into the present day.
No where is this more obvious than in the amazing work of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
This is a show that is cut from the same action-adventure cloth as cartoons from the 80's with a rich mythology and compelling characters, but unlike those 80's cartoons which gave us one or two token female characters, Avatar puts the spotlight squarely on their female cast.
The main villain in seasons 2 and 3 of Avatar is a woman (Azula). The scariest character in the series is a woman (Hama, the Bloodbender). The toughest character is a woman (Toph). The most competent character is a woman (Suki). And arguably the heart and soul of the entire series is a woman (Katara).
By 80's logic, with so many leading female characters, Avatar should be a show made for girls . . . but it's not. It's a show for all of us because the female characters listed above are never reduced to just their gender. Even Suki, the leader of a band of female warriors, cannot be defined by just her gender.
Suki is not treated as a great fighter EVEN THOUGH she's a woman. Likewise, she's not treated as a great fighter BECAUSE she's a woman. Instead, she's considered a great fighter AND she's a woman.
And that subtle difference makes all the difference.
So I can tell you now, with 100% confidence, that Kira is not a book intended only for girls.
Yes, Kira is a girl. She is also a Rainbow Princess. But more than either of those things, Kira is brave, and scared, and smart, and strong, and a leader, and a friend . . . and those words have no gender. No matter what decade you're living in.
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