“Avatar” is a children’s show, but a smart one that treats its young audience with respect. As an action cartoon inspired by shōnen anime that aired on Nickelodeon, it would especially appeal to boys. Sokka’s arc teaches them sexism is wrong and feminity isn’t a weakness in an organic way. It’s not subtle to an adult’s eye, but for kids, seeing a character who they like learn a lesson in stages will stay with them more than a simple lecture. Plus, a boy wearing a dress and not being treated as a punchline? That’s a pretty progressive statement on gender for 2005.
Of course, “Avatar: The Last Airbender” has many female fans too. My colleague (and “Avatar” super-fan) Valerie Ettenhoffer has testified that Katara calling Sokka out in “The Boy in the Iceberg” was probably the first time she’d ever heard of sexism. Seeing female characters like Katara and Suki be unafraid to stand up against belittling treatment from men is just as valuable a lesson for girls.
Ousley (also interviewed by Entertainment Weekly) agreed with Kiawentiio and said, “There are things that were redirected just because it might play a little differently [in live-action].” I feel this notion that a heroic character can’t be seen as unsympathetic by the audience is part of a worrying trend. Many still fail to grasp the idea that depiction is not an endorsement; it should be especially obvious in Sokka’s case that the show only endorses him changing his sexist ways. People demand media be shaped to fit their personal moral compass so they can feel superior for consuming the “right” kind of art.