Before watching Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra, I didn’t consider myself much of a shipper. When I would watch other shows or movies before, if I saw a couple end up together at the end, I would go “oh cute” and leave it at that. Seeing a couple hook up at the end didn’t create intense feelings for me.
Then, everything changed when Maiko attacked. Zuko was (and is still) one of my favorite characters from ATLA and I really enjoyed Mai’s character. Despite their arguments, they were still genuinely happy when they were together and had some awkwardly cute moments (“You’re so beautiful when you hate the world.”). While I still haven’t read them, I heard that Mai broke up with Zuko in the Avatar comics. Although I understood the circumstances that led to Mai breaking up with him, all I could think about was “No! They’re so sweet together! They can’t break up again!” It was at that moment when I realized that I had an OTP.
Of course not everyone ships endgame couples, and that’s perfectly fine. During ATLA’s run (and now), a popular ship that came from that show was Zuko and Katara (Zutara). While many Zutara shippers were fine with Mai, others weren’t very pleased. This led to many fanfics and fanart of fans of the series bashing Mai and exaggerating her stoic personality. Mai wasn’t the only one getting burned by fans. Poor Suki received a bit of a wrath from fans since she continued her relationship with Sokka after breaking out of Boiling Rock.
I wish I can say that this stopped when Korra came around, but that wasn’t the case. Asami was the bane of many a Mako x Korra (Makorra) shipper and got heat in fanfiction. In canon, Asami joined team Avatar after finding out her father was working for the Equalist movement. In some fanfics? She suddenly turned evil. Since Mako and Korra broke up in the season two finale, things quieted down. Then things picked up again when Korra and Asami became the endgame couple in the series finale. Thankfully, a majority of Makorra shippers were happy to see Korrasami become canon and some even congratulated the Korrasami fans. However, since the finale, there’s been a vocal minority trying to find holes in Asami and Korrasami. It got so bad that some people created an anti-Korrasami bingo to show how ridiculous the accusations were.
Unfortunately, this type of behavior isn’t exclusive to the ATLA/Korra fandom. From Ginny Weasley in Harry Potter, to any female character that isn’t Misty from Pokémon, if a character appears to be “getting in the way” of someone’s ship or OTP, that character gets a lot of heat. You sometimes see that manifest in fanfiction where that character turns out to have evil intentions in store for their love interest. Usually fanfic like that ends up with one half of the shipper’s OTP to come in and save the love interest from their abuser. Behavior like that is why the Ron the Death Eater trope exists.
Even though male characters get this treatment as well, there appears to be more “die for our ship” mentality thrown at female characters. Many of us, me included, easily latch onto characters that we see ourselves in. So it’s no wonder that we want to pair off said characters with those that we think will lead to a life full of love and happiness for them. However, bashing characters and exaggerating their flaws or making claims that they’re “slutty” in the name of a ship or OTP creates the unfortunate “not like other girls” mindset.
There have been instances in fandoms attempting to stop this behavior. Prior to the first season of Free! premiering, you saw a lot of fangirls shutting down any hate towards Gou down. Despite it popping up from time to time, most people in the Free! fandom treats Gou well. Hopefully in time, we can move away from such actions and enjoy shipping without bringing characters down. So remember to please ship responsibly.
Janelle Smith is a TV & Film Writer at Girls in Capes. She recently graduated from the Ohio State University with a degree in film studies.