As 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.