The arguments against kataang that call Aang possessive because of words he rarely uses (once unconsciously in a dream, and the other he never said, but agreed with) are odd to me. The two main things are “forever girl” and “the Avatar’s girl”. While I see the term ‘forever girl’ to mean: a girl you spend the rest of your life with, we’ll extend the phrase to ‘my forever girl’ to be fair. Possessive, right? If you want to observe any normal facet of the English language, then yea, of course it’s possessive. This train of logic would mean calling someone ‘my friend’ would result in the shockingly oppressive objectification of him or her because I just called them ‘mine’.
A funnier example would be that the phrase ‘I love you’ or even ‘I like you’ would be objectification because in those two sentences, you is the object of the sentence.
“But I am willing to forgive you.”
(katara is objectifying Zuko, and honestly constantly threatened him many times, where is the backlash)
But more people like talk about “the Avatar’s girl”. The possessive apostrophe makes it all the more intriguing because in school you learn that apostrophe denotes “the girl belonging to the Avatar” or “the girl of the Avatar”. So since I can’t just wave this one away because of that deeper apostrophe thing, let’s examine feminist perspectives on objectification and see if everything adds up with Aang and Katara. I’m going to be using a helpful list describing different kinds of objectification by Martha Nussbaum in 1995.
instrumentality: the treatment of a person as a tool for the objectifier’s purposes;
I feel like how it is in the show is the opposite of what people expect. In the first season, Katara is relying on Aang to teach her waterbending, or at least tote her around the entire world to go find someone who can. Over time, they definitely became closer friends, but originally Katara was heavily relying on Aang as a means to get her to the North Pole. She uses him to help her with schemes pretty often (Imprisoned, Painted Lady ep). Regardless, I can’t find a lot of examples of Aang using Katara to get to any of his objectives. Katara’s independent, and in a lot of episodes, will usually go out and do something for the Gaang herself unprompted.
2. denial of autonomy: the treatment of a person as lacking in autonomy and self-determination;
Aang does the opposite of this throughout the series as well. Aang respects Katara’s autonomy. He brings her all the way to the North Pole because he believes in her determination to master her element. Aang is at times surprisingly supportive of Katara even when she thinks he won’t be.
Aang: So you’ve been sneaking out at night? Wait, is Appa even sick? Katara: He might be sick of the purple berries I’ve been feeding him, but other than that he’s fine! Aang: I can’t believe you lied to everyone, so you could help these people. Katara: I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t have … Aang: [Happily.] No, I think it’s great! You’re like a secret hero.
3. inertness: the treatment of a person as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity;
I interpret this to mean “Denial of the other’s influence or power in a situation”. This can be refuted with Aang’s behavior during The Waterbending Master. Aang defies Master Paku because he is so adamant about Katara’s ability to waterbend.
Aang: [Also just as angry.] Yeah, they’re not fair! If you won’t teach Katara, then … Pakku: Then what? Aang: Then I won’t learn from you!
Further on this, Aang doesn’t discourage Katara from trying to take on Master Paku herself because he is fully reassured in her ability. He trusts her because he knows she’s a good fighter, and doesn’t put his attachment to her before that.
Aang: Go Katara!
4. fungibility: the treatment of a person as interchangeable with other objects;
This is just not something Aang would do to anyone. Moving on.
5. violability: the treatment of a person as lacking in boundary-integrity;
People are going to jump on this one and we all know why.
(notably, Katara has an extra eyebrow in this image)
This is one time Aang overstepped Katara’s boundaries while they were both confused about their situation, and neither were sure of what to think of their relationship. But it’s not like he keeps believing that Katara lacks any boundaries and justifies himself in his wrong action. In fact, he regrets it only moments after.
6. Ownership: the objectifier treats the object as something that is owned by another, can be bought or sold, etc.
Possessive apostrophes obviously don’t count here. Maybe this is proof June or Zuko objectify Aang as a commodity they have to capture in return for great rewards. But Aang to Katara? There’s really nothing here. And the interpretation of the “Avatar’s Girl” thing more just means they’re in a relationship rather than implying Aang owns Katara in any way.
7. denial of subjectivity: the treatment of a person as something whose experiences and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account.
Southern Raiders. Aang takes into Katara’s feelings about her mother, relates to them with his losses and tries to convince her not to take her revenge too far in a calm way.
The Guru. He sees a vision of her in trouble and rushes to save her. Her experience in that moment is everything to him, because he doesn’t want her to be in danger.
And throughout most of the show there’s really nothing to say that Aang absolutely ISN’T considering her emotions at any one point in time anyway, save for one mistake in EIP, which was more like a misinterpretation than a complete ignorance of her feelings.
And even despite all of this, according to this list, some forms of objectification aren’t inherently bad either. It’s more of a neutral term that, depending on the scenario, can have differing effects. Which is why the argument about which speech Aang unconsciously uses or inwardly agrees with is “objectifying” Katara is kind of flimsy. Even in the first point of this list by a notable philosopher, you could objectify your partner by resting your head on their lap. I mean, you’re using their lap as a pillow, right? And that’s how I see the interpretation of those two times Aang ‘objectified’ Katara. I think him nodding to ‘I thought you were the Avatar’s girl’ was ultimately harmless. Some people like to try to portray Aang as a maniachal abuser because of one thing he agreed with because he was sure Katara returned his feelings. Not because he demanded those feelings to be reciprocated or expected them for no reason, but because she had actually previously shown interest. And that’s harmless.
From the South Pole Iceberg to the Republic City Portal: A Critical Study of the Avatar Franchise: Part Eight
ATLA Book One:Water
Chapter Nine: The Waterbending Scroll
In which Sokka cleans
Momo’s toes, Iroh goes shopping, and Aang blows a whistle.
In a very welcome move after two episodes that don’t give
her a lot to do, we get the show’s second big Katara episode. “The Waterbending
Scroll” picks up on a thread from “Imprisoned” and much of her characterisation
this season, and focuses on the importance of waterbending to Katara’s identity.
The first way the episode portrays this importance is
through the parallels between Katara and Aang. I would suggest that “The
Waterbending Scroll” is tacitly the beginning of Katara being Aang’s
waterbending teacher, as she proves to be a natural teacher for Aang, with the
gentle encouragement he responds to when she officially becomes her teacher
being evident as she teaches him the few moves she has mastered so far. Of
course, not being a master, she isn’t quite ready to teach Aang yet, with his
natural aptitude for waterbending allowing him to quickly surpass Katara’s
hard-earned skills. However, in retrospect, it is safe to say there is some
truth in Aang’s suggestion that he was able to learn so quickly because Katara
is a great teacher. Furthermore, while both characters have different learning
styles and abilities, this episode reemphasises the fact that both are on the
same path over the course of this season: travelling to the north pole to find
a waterbending teacher and master their control of the element.
Katara’s mastery of water whip
over the course of this episode exemplifies the very organic evolution of her
bending confidence and ability over the course of the season. Her tenacity is
evident throughout her self-taught mastery of the elements, as she starts the
season struggling with simpler moves and having to adjust for her limitations
(as discussed in previous posts), until she masters the water whip in this
episode with the help of the scroll. It would seem the scroll helps her grasp
basic form, as she makes less mistakes and pulls off increasingly powerful
bending over the course of the season until she is able to freeze tanks in “The
Northern Air Temple”. While her growth isn’t made explicit until her fight with
Paku, it happens steadily, organically, and is plainly there for whole audience
to see. Her bending slowly grows more complex over the course of the season, so
that her standing up to and living with master Paku without any formal training
isn’t actually jarring, just an awesome moment, and a sign of Katara’s sheer
tenacity and willpower.
The episode also furthers Katara’s characterisation by
continuing the plot thread surrounding her mother’s necklace, as she discovers
Zuko has stolen it. We don’t learn much more about Katara’s connection to the
necklace, but the revelation does change the dynamics between the characters,
as Katara now knows that Zuko has something that is precious to her. The use of
Zuko and Iroh in this episode is also interesting: we get the first hints of
the white lotus through Iroh’s search for his tile over the course of this
episode, but those hints are shrouded in a comic tone for the shopping subplot.
They are also buried because Iroh and Zuko once again collide with the Gaang,
hinting for the second episode in a row that intersecting with the Gaang’s
narrative is something holds back narrative revelations and development of Zuko
and Iroh. Once again, however, they are placed in a space just away from that
of villains, as they come into conflict with the pirates when Sokka
successfully turns them against each other. By giving them an enjoyable, if
seemingly innocuous, comic subplot, and having them fight other antagonists,
the narrative stops Zuko and Iroh being simple villains while still letting
them be a threat to the Gaang.
Also noteworthy is Katara’s moral ambiguity throughout this
episode. “The Waterbending Scroll” sees Katara occupy the most morally grey
space she’s been allowed to be so far. She has withheld information from Aang
before in “The Southern Air Temple”, but that was with clear good intentions.
For most of the show so far, Katara has been the moral centre of the series,
taking on the position of the show’s “heart”: a position shows like ATLA often
give unquestioningly to their female leads. However, here, Katara’s mistakes in
the face of the thing she most wants are laid bare, as she lies to her friends
and steals the scroll in pursuit of a chance to improve her waterbending. These
actions show just how desperately important learning about this part of herself
is to Katara. And her actions cause damage, as they lead to the Gaang being
captured and endangered by Zuko. However, it is crucial that Katara gets to
make these mistakes, because, as I said, too many female characters aren’t
given the chance to by their writers: she is not an idealised female paragon of
morality, but a complex, flawed, character.
In spite of the highlighting of Katara’s mistakes and flaws in
this episode, it is questionable whether stealing the scroll could be considered
a wrong action for Katara. She is, as she points out at the end of the episode,
stealing from Pirates, and is remarkably unapologetic for doing so. This is
understandable: the Pirates stealing the scroll is yet another example of the
damage done to Water tribe culture, possibly over the course of the war, (it is
quite possible to imagine they took advantage of the chaos of the war in order
to gain access to the waterbending scroll). And Katara’s theft is an act of
reclaiming a culture that belongs to her, and will probably be valued by her
far more than the rich Earth Kingdom buyer who would have little use for the
scroll. It is also significant that the scroll is from the northern tribe: it
is an example of the knowledge and privilege the Northern tribe have that
Katara has not been allowed living in the less privileged Southern Tribe.
Ultimately, the episode condemns Katara’s lies to the people
close to her, but validates her stealing the scroll to reclaim her cultural
heritage. While lying to Aang and Sokka causes damage, placing the two of them
and herself in danger, stealing the scroll is a way for Katara to gain crucial
access to parts of her identity she otherwise could not. In short: