Robotech®, Patriarchy, and Kids' Culture:
A Conflict Theory Perspective
In their essay "From Sexist to (sort-of) Feminist: Representation of Gender in the Harry Potter Series," writers Elizabeth Heilman and Trevor Donaldson apply scholarly gender critique to J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels. Heilman and Donaldson examine a number of evidential tracks to come to the conclusion that the novels regularly reinforce patriarchal values, noting a minor feminist shift in later novels. Two of these tracks are (1) "gender by the numbers" and (2) group-characterized females and males. In ROBOTECH's case, the general fan impression holds that the program has balanced gender representation and, perhaps, that it is even female-centric; in addition, like Potter, the series features gendered "group characterizations." These parallels beg the following questions: Is ROBOTECH, in fact, gender neutral or female-centric? How are the gendered groups characterized?
As Heilman and Donaldson bring out: "In order to reveal dominant conventions, feminist theories of children's literature have pursued multiple levels of analysis, beginning with female representations in literature. How much narrative space is devoted to males?" (141). Based on that level of analysis, is ROBOTECH gender neutral, perhaps even female-centric? A count of the main characters throughout the whole of the series as highlighted by Robotech.com sheds light on that question. Of the main characters, 23 are male and 18 are female; based on that headcount, ROBOTECH is male dominant. But what about the individual parts of the series? Again, a count of the main characters is enlightening: "Macross Saga" features 10 male and 8 female characters; "The Masters" 8 male and 4 female; and "New Generation" 5 male and 6 female. Although it is notable that one of the three parts of the ROBOTECH saga -- "New Generation" -- is female dominant, the fact is that the other two are male dominant. Looking at the protagonists for the series' three parts reinforces that: the hero of "Macross Saga" is Rick Hunter, a male; the hero of "The Masters" is Dana Sterling, a female; the hero of "New Generation" is Scott Benard, a male. Counter to patriarchy's "male centered" component as proposed by Allen Johnson (10), "The Masters" Dana Sterling is commendable in subverting expectations within the context of a 1980s "boy" cartoon, but the reality is that as a whole ROBOTECH is male centered.
On the subject of group-characterization, Heilman and Donaldson say: "Certain traits [...] are presented in groups. [...] This repeated grouping reinforces a tendency for readers to interpret females as types, rather than as individuals" (150, 51). How are gendered groups characterized in ROBOTECH? Two gendered groups from "Macross Saga" offer some insight. The Bridge Bunnies are three "giggly, emotional, gossipy, and anti-intellectual" (Heilman 150) support crew members. The fact that their occupations are supportive in nature, that their designation ("Bridge Bunnies") is derogatory, and that their personalities are stereotypical all smack of patriarchy. So, too, the portrayal of the Zentraedi Spies, three "tough, dumb [...] non-dominant" (alien) adult males; they function as a group representation of patriarchy's "working class masculinity" (Heilman 156). ("The Masters" and its formalized gender groupings, the Triumvirates, would make for a fascinating case study in the future.) These groups stand in contrast to the non-traditional nature of the majority of the main characters -- both male and female -- whose characterizations regularly challenge patriarchy's norms.
Due to ROBOTECH's conflicted nature regarding patriarchal values, by its inherent nature a stronger case could be made that the series is more gender neutral and feminist than the Harry Potter novels. That said, though, it is nonetheless apparent that sexist idealogy still runs throughout the whole of ROBOTECH. So, is it patriarchal or is it feminist? Perhaps it is both and perhaps it is neither.
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Heilman, Elizabeth E. and Trevor Donaldson. "From Sexist to (sort-of) Feminist: Representations of Gender in the Harry Potter Series." Unknown. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 139-61. Print.
Johnson, Allen G. The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Rev. ed. Temple UP, 2005. Print.
Robotech.com. Harmony Gold USA, Inc., 2007. Web. 2010. http://robotech.com/.
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ROBOTECH ® and all associated concepts, names, designs, and images are trademark and copyright Harmony Gold USA, Inc. 1985-2011. Application of such for the ROBOT MARX project by Evan Harrison Cass is based on the U.S. Copyright principle of Fair Use for not-for-profit "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research." No infringement of Harmony Gold USA, Inc.'s or associated companies' and individuals' rights is intended.