Friday, July 29, 2011

Gendered Consumers - Transformers Action Figures

Mark is a six-year-old boy from Old Bridge, New Jersey.  Mark’s family would be considered middle class; his parents make a steady income, he lives in a suburb, and his community is favorable.  While at a friend’s house, Mark discovered transformers action figures.  Him and his friend would play with these action figures for hours.  Mark enjoyed playing with these toys and so his father recently purchased him one.  Transformers action figures have been favorable among male children.  Transformers action figures facilitate the understanding of normative gender roles and stereotypes in childhood.

As parents purchase Transformers action figures for their children, they are unaware of the gender stereotypes that are being pushed onto their children.  The action figures themselves are primarily, if not mostly, male.  They usually have dark masculine colors, excluding the soft feminine colors like pink, on the action figures.  One defining feature of the toys is that they have weapons protruding from their appendages and backs.  Weapons are dangerous and are stereotypically associated with the masculine figure.  Children playing with toys with little guns are similar to children playing with toy guns in that both give the child a sense of power behind the weapon.  Also the action figures resemble built men in that they have big upper bodies with large arms and legs. 

David Newman notes, “Decades of research indicate that ‘girls’ toys’ still revolve around themes of domesticity, fashion, and motherhood and ‘boys’ toys’ emphasize action and adventure” (Newman, 112).  Transformers indicate masculinity with their dangerous weapons and built bodies, and they are always getting into battles.  The highlighting parts of the television shows and movies are when they fight.  Because the Transformer characters mostly resemble male soldiers, they press an army figure onto children as a sort of role model, telling young boys to be strong, courageous, assertive, fast, and agile.

In a 1987 Transformers action figure commercial, which is full of explosions and action figures fighting each other, a young boy in an action packed scene transforms into a Transformer while doing a front flip.  First, the boy transforms into an action figure.  Since Transformers generally define male soldiers, the boy transforming into a Transformers action figure resembles the stereotypical masculine identity of becoming a man through courageous acts such winning physical battles and attaining leadership roles.  Second, the boy is doing a front flip with an explosion in the background.  Front flips alone are courageous, but with the added explosion, the courageousness is amplified and action packed.

When talking about movies, Newman says, “Film’s identified as men’s movies will contain little emotional introspection and plenty of gore, fast cars, and explosions” (Newman, 89).  Even though it is a commercial, the Transformers action figures fight and there are plenty of explosions.  The background of the commercial resembles a battleground a soldier can be found on.  The action figures can even transform into fast cars, big trucks, jets and tanks, all of which are stereotypically admired by men. A Transformer named Bumblebee, for instance, has a masculine build with big guns and he can transform into a Chevy Camaro.

At the dawn of Transformers, it was stated that the characters do not have different sexes.  However, all characters resemble men with their big builds and deep voices.  There were no visible female characters in the Transformers universe until a human character in the comic books called the Transformers sexist, so the Transformers constructed a female one.  Female Transformers then started appearing in the animated series, movies, and occasionally the toy market.  The female characters that are displayed have different bodies and sociocultural differences, associated with the human genders.  These characters usually have soft feminine colors including purple, pink and baby blue.

When talking about the commoditized women in hip-hop videos, Perry notes that, “The ideal [woman] is a high-status face combined with a highly sexualized body… a very small waist, large breasts, and slim shapely legs and arms” (Perry, 138).  This ideal female beauty image is present in the female Transformers.  All female Transformers resemble the same image; thin arms, legs, and waist and large breasts.  Female Transformers are very rare, but the females that do exist usually have a relationship with a male Transformer.  Since Transformers is geared towards male children, the female characters resemble the media driven desired image of the ideal woman for the children to one day be attracted to.

Transformers action figures may seem like cool toys for young children, but they define the ideology of what it means to be a man.  These toys press the gender stereotype that men are adventurous and courageous.  The media driven image of a beautiful woman is pushed upon young children in the appearance of female Transformers; large breasts, shapely arms and legs, and a thin waist.  These toys may seem like cool and fun toys for children, but they have a much greater impact on the normative gender roles and stereotypes.

- Dan Ciszek

Works Cited

Arcee Transformer Toy. Photograph. Transformer Toys & Information. Web. 28 July 2011. <>.

Hasbro Target Master Transformers. Advertisement. 1980's Hasbro Transformers Action Figures Commercial. Youtube, 7 Apr. 2011. Web. 28 July 2011. <>.

Newman, David. “Learning Difference: Families, Schools, and Socialization.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, & Sexuality. Higher Education, n.d. 112.

Newman, David. “Portraying Differences: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Language and the Media.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, & Sexuality. Higher Education, n.d. 89.

Perry, Imani. "Who(se) Am I? The Identity and Image of Women in Hip-Hop." Print. Rpt. in Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 138. Print.

Transformers Bumblebee Figure. Photograph. Web. 28 July 2011. <>.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon - MechTech Voyager - Optimus Prime. Photograph. Web. 28 July 2011. <>.


  1. Dan C,

    I really liked this post. I liked how you point out that the female transformers have thin arms, legs, and waist and large breasts. I liked your analysis that since these toys are for male children, the female transformers represent the ideal women the male children should be attracted to. I also thought your overall analysis was well formed. You did a good job incorporating the quotes into the post and making them into their own paragraphs. I thought the quotes you chose were very relevant.
    The pictures also helped me visualize the male and female transformers so I could see the masculinity and femininity portrayed in each!

    However, I thought the thesis could have been more focused and specific. The thesis could explain why or how the transformers facilitate normative gender roles.
    Other than that, I thought you did a really good job.

  2. Please read the updated "Welcome" message on SOCS for the detailed reason for why it's taken me so long to comment on, and also grade these assignments! I rather post it there instead of here :o)

    I hope you'll understand that, in the interest of getting your grade submitted to PAWS by tomorrow, the commenting will have to be skipped and all feedback will be on SOCS in the rubric for this assignment under "Assessments."

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