Here’s Our Problem With Women in the Transformers Franchise
On the eve of yet another Transformers film — Transformers: The Last Knight — hitting the cinemas nationwide, I'd like to remind everyone that where Transformers and its female characters intersect, these films are basically garbage. That's right. The Transformers films treat their women like gross male fantasies come to life, and I'm high-key over it. Director Michael Bay is probably the one to point a finger at here because as director, he can make the executive decision on how he'd like to film and depict his main female characters in this franchise, Mikaela Banes and Carly Spencer.
Bay treats these women, frequently, like props for the audience to drool over and for their respective shared love interest, Sam Witwicky (a very average-looking guy, might I add) to enjoy and save from trouble. They definitely deserve better from their blockbuster scripts, and yet they languish in a world dominated by dudes.
Here are some of the worst offenses perpetrated against Carly and Mikaela:
They're scantily or provocatively clad for no reason
Nowhere is this more apparent that Mikaela's wardrobe in the first Transformers film. Some of her first scenes feature her in the flimsiest crop top and Daisy Dukes. What's even more laughable is that, while she is wearing this outfit and the car (aka faithful Transformer Bumblebee) "breaks down" on the side on the road, Mikaela proceeds to do actual fucking car repairs on a super-hot engine with her bare skin exposed. That's just a major injury waiting to happen, and for what? So we can ogle her exposed body? I'll pass.
The movie camera is weirdly focused on their bodies
The idea of the movie camera being representative of the male gaze is a popular film theory, and nowhere is there a better modern example of this than they way Bay uses the camera to introduce Carly and Mikaela. Consider how Carly is first introduced to audiences in Revenge of the Fallen. It takes a good 30 to 40 seconds before we see her face. Before that, the camera focuses on her feet, pans up to her legs, then keeps her butt front and center in the shot. Why do we need to look at her body and not her face for so long? It makes no sense and it only devalues Carly as a female character.
The women have interests that align with their love interest's, not their own
One of my primary annoyances with the Transformers films is that Mikaela and Carly are largely defined by Sam, their shared love interest. We know that Carly is a career-driven woman and we know Mikaela is a math-loving mechanic who is capable of helping run a business. Each of these women indicates they're much smarter and driven than Sam; so why does Sam get such a big spotlight? Carly and Mikaela are never really fleshed out, instead typically around when Sam is around so he can not only keep the spotlight but look better as a dutiful boyfriend. Meh.
They're damsels in distress
I mean, whenever possible, Sam has to save his girls. It's tiresome.
They represent a patriarchal standard of beauty
No shade to Megan Fox (Mikaela) or Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Carly), but they are every man's wet dream. Thin, white, long-haired, demure, full-bosomed: This is the "women of Transformers" mold. Ugh. It's not Fox or Huntington-Whiteley's fault that they got cast (more props to them) for their looks, and Lord knows they make every attempt to do their best with the material they're given. However, it's hard to ignore that only one "type" of woman is perceived as desirable in the Transformers universe.
You get a feel for their self-agency, but they never get a chance to shine
Mikaela is actually a surprisingly handy and capable mechanic. She's smart, independent and doesn't really deal with nonsense. You can see it come through frequently in her run in Transformers, but it's like the films don't know how to handle her when she isn't existing in direct relation to Sam. Ditto for Sam's other love interest, Carly. Carly is rad as hell, but is overshadowed by the fact that she works for tech mogul Dylan Gould. She's always relegated to and defined by the men in her life — secretary or girlfriend, never just a working woman. Sigh. Let's hope that in The Last Knight, Vivian Wembley (played by newcomer Laura Haddock) actually looks as independent, intelligent and badass as the trailer portrays her to be.
If there are any more Transformers movies (and dear God, I hope there aren't), let's hope Bay gets his shit together and treats his female characters better.