As my children have become more and more interested in Transformers I started looking at information online in an effort to keep up with the questions and merchandise for them. I was somewhat shocked to find Hasbro itself advertising Transformers as “Toys for Boys” on its website. (Interestingly, since the media attention surrounding a boy who committed suicide because be was bullied for liking “My Little Pony” Hasbro seems to have removed the boy/girl taglines.)
Growing up back in the 1980’s I loved Transformers. Optimus Prime is possibly one of the most iconic and memorable characters from my childhood (along with Hong Kong Phooey (The irony of where I live is NOT lost on me with that one), Fang Face and Scooby Doo). I remember racing back from school each day to ensure I didn’t miss a single episode of the original Transformers cartoon, nowadays referred to as G1 or Generation One.
I asked a few of my girlfriends who grew up in various parts of the planet, also kids of the 80’s, whether they remembered Transformers cartoons from ‘back in the day’. Any whadaya know – they ALL did. They all commented on Optimus Prime, how cool he was, and how they loved watching Transformers growing up. So why is a timeless and popular franchise that seems to appeal to a unisex market branded as a “Boys Toy” even in this day and age?
Back to the present; Bethany loves Transformers. She sits and watches Transformers Prime with just as much intrigue as her Transformer obsessed little brother. There is a female autobot character in the current version of the show (Arcee) who my daughter identifies with and loves. However when she wrote her list for Santa late last year it ws Predaking (a male Predacon) she asked for. And her favourite Autobot? Optimus Prime of course!
In fact Bethany was so curious about Optimus Prime she researched his history online – not only within the mythology of the Transformers universe but right down to who voiced him and how his ‘image’ has changed over the years. Thanks to watching interviews with original Transformers voice-actors Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime) and Frank Welker (Megatron + thousands of other voices) she is now going around the apartment making animal sounds all the time as she practices “using her voice”. She’s started asking questions about animation – why and how it has changed – ie 2D line drawing to 3D rendered models. She’s started having constructive discussion as to why certain characters make the decisions they make in various episodes from both Transformers Prime and the original Generation 1 Transformers cartoons.
She has taken the questions and answers she learned from her curiosity of Transformers and researched similar questions about movies like “Frozen”. Not only can she sing all the songs but she can tell you details about voice actors and her understanding of why characters did what they did.
Bethany isn’t a “tom-boy” … far from it in fact with a love for shoes (especially high heels) and the latest dress fashion. Yet she loves Transformers and will happily play with the toys with and without her little brother present.
Is it wrong for girls like my daughter to like Transformers?
Is it bad for them to have male character role models?
Despite being a fictional character, Optimus Prime is a war hero, a leader … a father figure. He stands for honour, respect, loyalty, and upholding what is right. He is self-sacrificing and always puts the welfare of other first. Male or female, don’t we want our children to learn from and aspire to the morals and ethics his character and characters like him stand for?
Our children learn through play and imagination. I watch both my children devise their imaginary world of story lines with good versus evil (often with Optimus championing the cause) and I can’t understand how a girl playing with a Transformer can be a bad thing.
As my children build a LEGO citadel of doom from which Megatron and his forces terrorise LEGO people and Hot Wheels Cars I smile. LEGO dinosaurs, Transformers and various other toys rally behind Optimus Prime and his Autobots to bring down the tyranny of the Decepticons. On a different day, Monster High dolls work with their Transformer vehicle allies to bring peace to wooden block Chaos as yet more toys wreak havoc. Imagination and inventiveness are something to be nurtured regardless of the toys played with.
As a mum (my passion for Transformers aside) I don’t have a problem with my daughter liking Transformers. In fact, I think it is healthy for girls (and boys) to have exposure to animated TV shows where they learn about actions and consequences. They learn about teamwork, loyalty, honour and deceit. They learn about leadership – good decisions, bad decisions. Yes – I watched the show with my children and they love that I watch with them.
A girl doesn’t necessarily need pink characters or blonde doll-like characters to teach or inspire her, nor does she need a cast abundant in female characters. While Arcee (the female autobot) is a nice reflection of how a female can do just as well as males in a male dominated society (autobot females are incredibly rare in the mythology), even if there were no female characters in the show I know Bethany would still be watching. She watches early Generation 1 Transformers with an entirely male cast with just as much enthusiasm as the later seasons of the original show where the original PINK version of Arcee appears. If asked, she prefers the 2-wheeled blue Arcee of modern-day Transformers Prime.
My kids aren’t limited by the colour of a toy or the market of its target audience. They are limited only by their imaginations. Are yours?