Gender, the Transformers, and Me

WindbladeAs with the rest of American society, gender has recently been a hot topic in the world of Transformers. In the fandom, the comic books, the cartoons and the toys themselves, the brand is responding to a call for greater gender parity among our favorite robots in disguise. There was even a recent article about female Transformers on USAToday.com. While the evolutionary rationale behind gender diversity in Cybertronians has not been truly explained in the fiction -- at least, no more than the traditional maleness of our classic characters has been explained -- the fact is that female Transformers are growing in both number and prominence. They are here to stay. And I have some thoughts to share on this topic. And some mixed feelings, both regretful and hopeful.

First, let me start off by saying that I consider myself a feminist. I believe that women can be just as capable as men in any area of employment or recreation. I don't believe in pigeon-holing women (or men) within traditional stereotypes of appearance or occupation or interests. I certainly don't believe in paying them less than men for the same job.

That said, I don't believe that men and women are equal any more than I believe that any two people are equal. People aren't equal! People vary in terms of strength, intelligence, skill and creativity. We may all deserve equal representation under law, but we are not equal. We are all different, and different things cannot truly be equal (though they can be equally respected).

If we were to re-design ourselves as a species from scratch, I'm sure we would try to level the playing field, but millions of years of evolution have delivered us where we are now. Only one gender is blessed/cursed with bearing children and that has a social and economic impact. There are also generalities -- not absolutes, but generalities -- that distinguish the genders in terms of how our brains and bodies work. I want to be absolutely clear here: I'm not saying "women think differently than men" because that would be generalizing both women and men; I'm saying that most women function differently than most men due to innate differences in the brains and hormones of each gender. I feel the trick is to acknowledge these generalities without expecting or demanding that men and women conform to them.

Bringing this back around to Transformers, if you aren't aware of it already I'd like to refer you to one of my favorite articles on TFWiki.net: To sell toys. We must remember that all the movies and comics and conventions all exist primarily to sell more toys. Until this point in history it was believed by the toy-makers that there was no market for female Transformers. They were probably right. In the 1980s I didn't know any girls that were interested in Transformers. You could argue that it was because there were very, very few female Transformers in the cartoons and none on the toy store shelves, but my gut tells me that society at large was not yet ready to accept boys playing with Barbie and girls playing with Omega Supreme.

But times change, and if female Transformers can sell these days, and if they help in pulling in an entirely new demographic or make an existing demographic more devoted, then damn it, they will make and sell you those toys!

Now let me tell you just a little more about myself.

I may not watch or play sports, but most people consider me a man's man. I have realized a common theme to a great many of my interests, which I have come to generalize as "men yelling". They include traditionally male-dominated things like heavy metal, Transformers, comic books, samurai epics, and so forth. Glengarry Glen Ross, Citizen Kane and Fight Club are three of my favorite films. I am stereotypically stoic and unemotional. My poker nights are generally all-male and I cannot imagine having a woman in my band (which is called Die Like Gentlemen). While I have many women friends, I just relate to my male friends a hell of a lot more. It's just my preference. I find men comparatively uncomplicated. I find them (generally) more logical than emotional, and I appreciate that. We are more likely to share similar interests and concerns.

I used to find this same comfort in the Transformers, albeit unconsciously. While they may have been "technically" genderless, they were always given male voices and used male pronouns to refer to each other. There was no romance and its attendant complexities. There was camaraderie, but no sisterliness. I related. Sure, Arcee was introduced in the animated movie as the token female -- really, the Princess Leia analogue -- but I always felt she was largely forgettable. In fact, I don't recall a single episode actually revolving around her.

Back in 2013 when Hasbro held their first "Fan-Built Bot" series of polls to let the fans decide on the attributes of a new toy character, the fans chose female as the gender and thus Windblade was created. And I remember thinking, "Oh boy, here we go." Sure enough, the focus on female Transformers has only increased.

And I confess that I miss the simplicity and comfort of monogendered Transformers. I am not ashamed to admit that, no more than I am ashamed to admit that I am generally more comfortable with men than women. I don't think I should feel any more guilty about this than "bronies" should feel about their love of My Little Pony. I don't see it as any different than having a gender preference in terms of sexual attraction. I'm hard-wired a certain way and I have no problem with this.

All that said...

I'm a huge fan of the current Transformers comics, specifically More Than Meets the Eye, which has helped pave the way for both gender diversity among the Transformers and introduced notions such as Transformers with committed relationships and "life partners". They also use projected human character avatars that are occasionally female.

When I went to CybFest last year, I was surprised to find that the number of female fan artists greatly outnumbered the male artists. Characters from MTMTE, particularly Tailgate and Cyclonus (two characters who have entered into an ambiguous relationship), as well as the various new female Transformers, dominated the fan art. I bought this image from puromaru because I was greatly intrigued and couldn't help myself:

Much of the art was in this style. I found it remarkable and surprising.

Because it was a discussion topic I'd seen recently on the boards, I asked the artist whether she, like others, thought that Tailgate was actually female. Her reply was perfect: "Why does it matter?" And that's really the point: increasing gender parity while simultaneously downplaying the importance of gender as a defining characteristic. The feminist I believe myself to be welcomes this progressive philosophy.

The truth is that Transformers are not robots from Cybertron: they're fictional characters. They resemble us because they're really just people. And as we change as a society, so will the society of the Transformers change to reflect us.

So my feelings are bittersweet. I'll always have the male-dominated fiction of yesteryear -- it hasn't gone anywhere -- and while I personally may wish that the Transformers remained all-male, I concede that the current trend is for the greater good.

But I have one more confession: while I read the Windblade comics -- because I read all the G1 Transformer comics -- I haven't bought the new Windblade or any of the recent female toys. In part, it's because they're not real G1 any more than those Beast Wars characters they're now inserting into the G1 mythos; in part because the toys don't look very impressive; but also, in part, because they just don't resonate with me. I just don't want female Transformers in my collection.

Fortunately, I believe sales of the these toys are doing just fine without my support.


Comments
Lets face it... female Transformers just aren't G1 enough. Whilst your attitude and perspective on the topic is healthy, you are a purest Botch.

As mentioned in the USA article on this topic, ""And for the '80s generation now having their own children, especially dads with daughters, "it's very important for them to have strong female characters so that they can relate and bridge that love with their kids...""

I for one really look forward to the all female combiner :)
» Posted 4.26.2015 22:01:10 by Ryan [Website]
As a longtime fan, I have really enjoyed my daughter's interest in transformers through these new female characters. Sure, there have been Arcee toys for a few years now, but it seems like they are finally getting these characters right. Not just as the token female (Arcee) or the femme fatale (black arachnia) but as more diverse characters that just happen to be female.

Do you enjoy new G1 characters like Drift, or is he not G1 enough for you either?
» Posted 4.27.2015 8:42:40 by Lou [Website]
Lou:
Actually, I'm not a big fan of Drift. I agreed when this TFWiki article essentially compared him to Poochy from Itchy & Scratchy: a collection of "kewl" characteristics so over-the-top as to be laughable. (All-white ex-Decepticon with swords and samurai stoicism who is also a drift-car and has a secret past, etc.) The character got a little better in MTMTE when he essentially became a parody of himself.

But I think female Transformers is the real focus here.
» Posted 4.27.2015 10:24:44 by Botch the Crab - WEBMASTER
I sort of agree with your Drift thoughts, but he is not the point.

I was really wondering whether are you are against/disinterested in ANY new "G1" toy/characters or are you specifically just not interested in the new Fembots?
» Posted 4.27.2015 11:04:35 by Lou [Website]
First off, I think "fembots" is a terrible term, whether you support female Transformers or not. It just makes them sound like sex toys.

But to your point, let's just say that there are plenty of existing G1 TFs who still need to be explored -- which is what the current comics are doing -- without having to invent new ones yet.
» Posted 4.27.2015 11:38:37 by Botch the Crab - WEBMASTER
Bots like Rung or Pharma get lots of page time. Are they more or less legit than Windblade or Drift? Or what about pseudo-G1 bots like Tigertrack or Acidstorm?

I pretty much agree with you though: Use existing G1 bots where possible is preferred, but there was really no existing bot to use instead of Pharma. I guess some under-used pretender could be Drift, but that is debatable, and Rung and Windblade are pretty unique too.
» Posted 4.27.2015 12:27:19 by Lou [Website]
As a G1 Fan, how do you not at the very least get a Chromia toy seeing how she's technically as G1 as Powerglide, Tracks, Hoist etc, having appeared in season 2? I'd give you an Arcee, if you consider G1 seasons 1 and 2 as many hard core hard cores do.
» Posted 4.27.2015 16:21:03 by Shawn
Perhaps there is another elephant in the room that bears mentioning: female transformers will play right into the over-sexualized depictions of women that generally plague comics.
While the USA Today article talks about female robots as being a draw for girls (as if girls didn't like transformers when they were predominantly masculine in appearance?), we all know that these characters also pander to creepy Internet dudes with weird robot fetishes.

Conjecture: I don't think women are as likely to get turned on by Prowl's body as men are to get turned on by Windblade's (but feel free to call me out on that).

Or, to put it another way: Is it for their daughters that fans vote for female characters, or is it to complement the Bishoujo Harley Quinn on their desk? I don't know.
» Posted 4.28.2015 18:58:47 by Tresob
I've heard about Windblade, and despite her Mary Sue-isms, I feel that she's one amazing Transformer. :-)
» Posted 7.21.2015 0:15:48 by Philip Gipson



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