So a lot of people, whom I haven’t yet had a chance to respond to personally, have commented that the designs were too masculine, or read as male to them. I certainly see how they could absolutely be read as male, but I wanted to address the fact that we seem to have double-standard when it comes to male and female traits, ie/ a ‘male” character can exhibit stereotypically female traits (full lips, thighs, small waist, smaller frame etc) and still be considered male or appropriately masculine, but a woman cannot not exhibit any significant number of “male” traits…and more importantly MUST (absolutely must) exhibit nearly all the traits associated with femaleness. If not then…she just reads as male?
I traced, literally traced the designs (maybe shaved off some robot kibble…even a human Ultra Magnus wouldn’t have four foot high shoulder pylons). I was extra careful to keep the general shape and build and facial structure the same. Windblade’s slimmed-down hips, Elita’s more muscular upper body (she’s a solider after all), Chromia’s rounder face and more traditional hips to waist ratio. Could I have made these exact same lines into men? Yes. With tertiary gender characteristics.
Not many people would argue that the human versions look female. Do they look like most women in media? No. But I know women with these builds and features….just because we don’t see them on TV doesn’t mean they don’t exist, and it doesn’t mean they don’t want representation.
So why do the humans look like women but the robots don’t (to some).
Tertiary gender characteristics.
And also, cultural bias. Our society is trained to identify women by certain traits….traits that are systematically stored in our cognitive responses to women. We see a very narrow representation of women in all media.It is to the point that most people assume male until proven otherwise. If is not DISTINCTLY and IRREFUTABLY female….it must be male. Because men have variety and women are all the same.
These designs aren’t trying to object to women in Transformers, or even women who look like women. It’s just addressing that there are hundreds of characters considered male, and four females (right now). Some people have pointed out, as I expected, that there are male characters with “boobs” or defined lips, or shapely hips. And that’s true…and fine! But note that a) they tend to only have one or two traits from the “THIS IS A WOMAN” checklist at a time, not be a full-fledged compilation, and b) they are individuals, not rules. For every male transformer with a built up chest, there are twenty without it, for every one with full lips, there are dozens without, for every Tailgate there is an Ultra Magnus, a Fort Max, a Megatron.
Female characters can have these traits….but there should be some without. THAT is an even playing field. 100% of female transformers in the IDW series at this moment have boobs AND lips AND narrow waists AND curvy hips and thighs. 100%.
Representation is not just about quantity, but quality. A total of four female characters, who only just vary from each other is not accurate representation. It ignores all the women who can’t see themselves in this type of build at all. It ignores women with small breasts, or no breasts, or thin lips, and muscular builds and stick straight builds and everything in between. It ignores that women are not merely a checklist of feminine traits but personalities and individuals, just like men. (And that the world isn’t JUST men and women in a strict gender binary, at that)
Question; do you have trouble thinking of your female cat as female? She looks, acts, smells and otherwise is identical to a male cat. Does it matter? She’s not a human…human gender norms don’t apply.
The point is that we, as a society normalise a very narrow idea of what qualifies as a woman. Everything that doesn’t fit in that narrow definition is male by default. A lot of people struggle with the idea of gender neutrality…it is hard to think that way we are so, so hardwired against it, and with a media and society fighting very hard to retain that status quo.
I want more fembots in my Transformers…I want more female-looking Transformers who go by ‘he’ and male-looking transformers who go by “she” and everything in between. It’s a perfect sci-fi concept…there is utter freedom to apply gender to any character in any way desired. Why can’t there be characters who look like Optimus who just like to go by she? It’s been stated in the comic that pronoun for them is merely a choice. I want to see that explored! Female looking fembots are great! So are ones who look less female. The more of BOTH in BOTH directions we have, the more believable the gender neutrality of the TFs becomes. When you take a character like Tailgate, or Whirl, who don’t even have faces, or bodies really resembling humans, and call them male and everyone’s okay, you should be able to do the same with women. That’s what I mean when I say there should be variety.
And at the end of the day, if you can’t look at a fictional robot, and conceive of it being anything other than male, you might have some soul-searching to do in order to understand why that thinking is so pervasive.
I think this is a dialog that needs to happen.
I think that everyone was very very quick to jump on the female Transformers band wagon, without being very critical. We were given fems….but they conform to every stereotype that women in fiction ever have conformed to. It’s….technically progress, but it’s not without fault and it warrants more than just blind praise. If these designs do nothing other than get people talking, debating thinking, criticising both others’ stances, and also their own…well, then that’s great! Dialog is important!
I also want to thank everyone who’s taken the time to look at and talk about these designs, whether positive or negative or neutral. I think it’s meaningful either way. It’s my earnest hope that this post clarifies my position a little bit (although there’s a lot more I don’t want to cram in here right now….this is long enough!)