Earlier this week, Tumblr user sidereal posed a question to Mairghread Scott, the writer of The Transformers: Windblade, about why she felt it was so necessary to introduce female Transformers into a mythos that, up until recently, was dominated by male-presenting humanoid robots.
“Why do you feel the need to make femmes exist in large numbers on every colony,” sidereal asked. “[Transformers] exist as a primarily male race and we've only just been able to start exploring the social issues of that fact in the last few years; we can have meaningful female representation without destroying this dynamic.”
Good storytelling is what will make a franchise appeal to women: I don't need a character to share my sex to identify with them. I say this as a woman, a feminist, and a rabid [Transformers] fan.
It's unclear how often Scott responds directly to the people who take issue with Windblade's gender, but she decided to answer the question publicly on her blog. She explained that on the one hand, she put female characters in her book because it’s the job she was hired to do. Most importantly, though, she said that she was writing characters like those depicted in Windblade because fans were clamoring for them.
“For every message like yours I get three more saying some 'less enlightened' little girl out there is finally loving this brand as much as I do,” she wrote. “You may not be comfortable with more female representation for whatever reason you like, but I’m not writing this book for you. I’m writing it for them.”
Unsurprisingly, comments like Sidereal's have been common ever since the character was first introduced. Though Windblade was first debuted at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con, detractors of the character have maintained a small, but vocal presence as the character went from being an action figure to starring in a miniseries and now, in 2015, being incorporated into the mainstream Transformers comics.
Immediately following Windblade's reveal, commenters flooded Transformers message boards to voice their complaints. Usually, they boiled down to the idea of "femmes" ruining the "alienness" of the Transformers.
"Human females and males have a core biological reason for existing," forum member Yggdrasil wrote in an impassioned conversation. "There NEEDS to be an explanation of what makes a male transformer male and what makes a female transformer female other vise (sic.) it's just superficial bullshit like 'oh they look female with big hips and lips and boobs therefor they are female.'""
Other detractors have cited previous instances in which it's been explained that Transformers are genderless alien species and that there was no need to introduce an explicitly "female" character.
"They don't have beards or body hair, they don't have phalluses, and even their proportions typically defy human standards for any gender," SMOG, another forum member, reasoned. "Although we have habitually treated them as 'male,' when we step back from it, it's pretty easy to see them as neutral in many (or MOST) of their characteristics."
Looking back at how Windblade came to be, it’s difficult to argue that Scott isn’t doing important work with her character. It’s not just that Transformers fans wanted more female characters, the franchise needed them.
In 2013, Hasbro turned to the Transformers fandom and asked for their help with creating an all-new Transformer. Fans were given the ability to cast votes online that would shape nearly every aspect of the new robots character—everything ranging from its color scheme to its signature weapon. Thousands of votes were submitted for months, and from that mass, Windblade was born.
Unlike Optimus Prime and most of the other Cybertronian Transformers that you’re probably familiar with, Windblade hails from Caminus, a planet where sex-selection is a much more common practice among the living robots. That detail and others about Windblade were introduced into the larger Transformers mythos when the character was given her own solo comic book series The Transformers: Windblade.
Written by Scott, the mini-series follows Windblade, her bodyguard Chromia, and her gifted engineer Nautica as they travel to Cybertron in an attempt to save the planet from destruction. The three female Transformers headlined the mini-series’ initial four-issue run and expanded the Transformers universe far beyond where it had been before. In particular, it gave voice to female Transformers in ways that most other Transformers properties had spectacularly failed to do.
In truth, Windblade, Chromia, and Nautica were far from being the first female Autobots to be introduced into the Transformers saga. The very first female Autobots were introduced in the original Transformers animated series back in the '80s.
Far from being main characters, part of their plot line involves the idea that female Transformers were considered to have gone extinct. When Elita One, Chromia, Firestar, and Moonracer are finally introduced, they’re quickly turned into romantic interests for male Autobots before being written out of the series altogether.
Arcee, the first female Transformer to consistently appear in the franchise, appeared some time later. She was pink, she transformed into a sexy space convertible, and when in robo-form, she sported a very impractical set of heels.
Though Arcee had a solid run as Hasbro’s leading female Transformer for some time, in 2008 IDW gave her a horrifying origin story in which her gender is explained as being the result of being experimented upon by a sociopathic scientist Transformer.
In the 30 years since Hasbro’s transforming robots have been fighting to save the universe, female Transformers have consistently been underwritten or flat out abused.
In Michael Bay's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, for example, Arcee makes a brief, but lackluster cameo. She shows up as a trio of motorcycles ridden by sexy, holographic women, but after a quick action sequence early in the film, she's gratuitously destroyed for no particular reason.
“You know what? I didn’t like Arcee,” Bay told MTV of his decision to axe the film's sole female Autobot. “So I kill her later, all right? This isn’t sad. This is just get it out and get it over with."
Given the franchise's gross mistreatment of its female characters, then, a story like Windblade's is one that's worthwhile.
It'd be easy to write off fans collectively deciding so create Windblade as a fluke, but it'd also be a mistake.
Earlier this year, Hasbro launched its second Fan Built Bot contest to create yet another character that would be released as an action figure and woven into a comic book storyline. It was decided that Victorion, the newest Transformer, would be the combined form of six different, all-new female Autobots.