In the wake of the Fan-Built Bot poll that told Hasbro loud and clear that we want more female Transformers, the Generations toyline is getting a huge shot of robo-estrogen as new character Windblade is joined by her bestie Chromia and, to the surprise of many, a slavishly G1-accurate Arcee.
When the new Arcee toy was revealed at BotCon 2014, a lot of people were surprised that Hasbro was making that version of the character. Some said they would have preferred the newer, more relevant IDW design. The original Arcee has spent decades attached to problematic art and a dismissive view of her as a token character. But for us older women in the fandom who grew up with G1, she’s the toy we’ve wanted since we were kids.
For all the complaints about tokenism, 80s action cartoons were pretty progressive. I’ve written elsewhere about how G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero often seemed ill at ease with the implied politics of its military premise. Likewise, though Hasbro officially nixed female Transformers toys the moment Bob Budiansky tried to make Ratchet a nurse, the show writers still felt a need to have at least a little female representation. At first they kept it to guest spots, but once they got Arcee a regular female Autobot cast member they usually handled her very, very well.
Pointing out, in-universe, that Arcee is a girl is an entirely modern concept. No one in Transformers: The Movie said a word about it. No one in season 3 pointed it out. It was clear to the viewer and that was enough. In the show there were female Autobots all the way back to the first rebellion against the Quintessons. They were apparently rarer than males, but not enough for the characters to have the obsession with commenting on it that they’ve developed since. Apart from flirting with Hot Rod in TF:TM and an implied closeness to Springer in season 3, she was never written as anyone’s girlfriend. (And hey, even I’m a little straight for Hot Rod.) She was a competent Autobot warrior who also had the ever-so-slightly feminine qualities of being kind and empathetic and a little maternal – and those are hardly “feminine qualities” to be offended over. She was pink, but as a little girl I actually liked that. I felt like she was my character. She wasn’t eye candy for the boys. She was there for me to relate to, and I did.
When I saw the first pictures of the new Generations toy, it took me back to those roots. It took me back to the little girl I was, playing on my trampoline and listening to Michael Jackson and wondering what it would take to build an Arcee costume. Wishing I could have an Arcee toy. (Though let’s be honest, it was probably better to wait.) Fuck all the problematic garbage that men in the years since have burdened her with. In honor of Susan Blu, I’d love to see her embraced as a lesbian icon. She wasn’t meant to be for them. She was meant to be for us. Let’s reclaim her.