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Do You Have a TV Character Bias?

Think about your top 10 favorite TV characters. Quickly, jot them down now.

Have you written them down?

If any of the top three are women, I’d say you’re probably in the minority. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if out of the top 10, only one or two of them are women. Take any TV show, and the most popular character is probably a man. In Friends the most popular character is Joey or Chandler, and in The Office it’s usually Michael, Dwight, and sometimes Jim. While women are often “up there” for a show, usually they just never make the cut for a “favorite” character.

So, what gives? Are TV show creators just writing more likeable men, or does the audience just favor male characters? I’d argue it’s both, and I’ll be using Katara from Avatar the Last Airbender as a good example of a female character that I feel got needlessly dragged through the mud.

Aang and Katara from Avatar the Last Airbender

When I watched ATLA as a child, I absolutely loved and identified with Katara’s character. But since ATLA made it onto American Netflix, I’ve had many friends rewatch the show who absolutely despise Katara, so much so that I got into the mindset of despising her myself — until I asked myself why.

And before people get all up in arms about Toph being a super likeable character, I’d consider why you think of her that way. There’s nothing wrong with liking Toph — I like Toph too. In fact, I find it important to mention at this point that I actually love almost all the ATLA characters. But if you find yourself liking Toph and not Katara, maybe ask yourself: Is it perhaps because she rejects feminine stereotypes? Later down, I’ll be highlighting some things I realized which changed my own mindset on how I saw Katara and Toph as characters.

The main reason why people seem to dislike Katara is because she “centers the world around her personal trauma.” Firstly, I hope that people can see how harmful that mindset might be if applied to a person in their lives who has experienced trauma. This type of phrasing can be really destructive, and even applying it to TV characters, to me, is inappropriate.  

Katara doesn’t even bring up her mom many times during the course of the show, considering that it’s one of the main plot points driving this whole series. If you’re really curious, here’s a Tumblr post tallying the amount of times she mentions her, but as stated in the post, it’s always relevant to the context of the show. Comparing that to how many times Zuko mentions his honor or wanting to find the avatar, it’s really not that much.

To-do, list, paper, pen, journal
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters from Unsplash

It would be hard to find a person who doesn’t like Zuko or Sokka, and yet, consider that they also had their issues as well. Zuko only met the avatar because he was setting out to hunt him down, and Sokka was incredibly sexist in the beginning of the show. But of course, people manage to find excuses for those characters. Even Toph is annoying and snappy to Katara in several episodes.  

Since Katara acts nurturing and feminine, she is held to incredible standards. Many people forget that she is 14 years old at the time of this show, and constantly cast into the “mom” role of the group. And many people only like Toph in contrast to Katara — because they hate stereotypically feminine female characters.  

There’s nothing wrong with being nurturing and gentle. The next time you find yourself thinking that a female character is “too girly” or “has no personality,” maybe it’s time to ask whether there’s something more to the character that you aren’t yet seeing.

Freshman in EECS at UC Berkeley
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