Genderswapping in Voltron: Legendary Defender

One thing before I start, please: I wrote this six months ago, right after my other Voltron blog. My opinions expressed here haven’t changed, but they may be out of date now that the second series of Voltron: Legendary Defender has premiered. I haven’t been able to watch it yet. Soon, my pretties, soon. But for now, some old words making a point that I think still stands.

In the new Voltron series, Neflix’s Voltron: Legendary Defender, the previously male Pidge has been made a girl.

In an age of genderbent characters in remakes, having Pidge be a girl isn’t earth-shattering.

After all, the original Voltron cartoon (and in this article, I’ll refer to the US version, not the original anime, as that is what most readers will be familiar with) had one female character in it. One. Two if you count the old witch Hagar. And there were six regular characters of the male persuasion.

So adding another woman seemed logical in a remake, right?

Right. In fact, just one gender swap seems like a bit of an underachievement when you look at it like that, but whatever. One is a step in the right direction, so we’ll take it.

But the other day, when I was thinking over a different article about this, I realized something both interesting and extremely disappointing about it. See, I have mixed feelings about it being specifically Pidge that got swapped. Because Pidge was the smallest, geekiest member of the original team.

So much so that when I was a kid, everyone made fun of Pidge. Pidge was the guy with the higher voice. The guy who was friends with mice, for crying out loud. The guy who was better at computers than fighting, and who was short and scrawny to boot. So we picked on Pidge and called him names, because he wasn’t a big, bad, tough guy.

So, on one hand, having Pidge be a girl makes sense. Pidge is the easiest character to gender swap.

And that’s why I have mixed feelings about the change.

Because we were wrong when I was young. There’s nothing wrong with a male not being a big, bad, tough guy. I would have liked to see Pidge remain a boy, because there are plenty of skinny, geeky boys out there who can identify with Pidge. And it’s braver for Pidge to be a boy than a girl, because not all male characters need to be hyper-masculine in order to achieve great things and get respect.

Having Pidge be a girl implies that being smaller or smarter are feminine traits, in a way, and so part of me wishes Volton had gender swapped another character. But when I thought more about that, I realized why they couldn’t. Pidge’s size is one reason, of course, because physically women are smaller than men (although Pidge is also younger, so this isn’t as cut and dry as it seems), but it runs deeper than that, and the deeper reasons are what I want to talk about now. In order to do so, we need to look at the other characters a bit.

First up, Lance. Lance can’t be female because Lance is a cocky bastard. See what I did there? I explained his personality using two gendered terms. I try to avoid those in general, but in this case, I used them very much on purpose. Because that’s what Lance is. He’s that arrogant, full of himself jerk that everyone loves to hate on the surface, but inside he’s insecure and just out to prove himself. If he’s male, this is accepted as a character type, and people do love him for it. If he’s female, he changes from a cocky bastard, which is okay, to an arrogant bitch, which is not. Females can’t be full of themselves in media, or they are branded unlikeable. So, Lance can’t be a girl, or she’d just be dismissed by everyone as an entitled princess.

Next, Keith, who is Lance’s foil. Keith is nearly as full of himself as Lance, but there is a difference. He can back it up. He’s can put his money where his mouth is. Also, Keith is the abrasive rebel character. The dropout genius. So, he can’t be a girl because he’s too good at what he does. He’s the best pilot, despite not finishing flight school, and if he had been gender-swapped, he’d be a “Mary Sue.” A character who would be accused of being “too perfect.” That’s okay if you’re male, but not if you’re female. If you have any doubts about this, please see Anakin Skywalker versus Rey and their reception by some fans.

Then there’s Hunk, who can’t be a girl because he’s fat. End of story. A fat woman is not allowed in  most media, and certainly not in a cartoon. A fat male character can be portrayed as the “big guy.” The muscle (even though he’s not). The guy who tackles the bad guys instead of outrunning them. A fat woman? Well, she’s just fat. And never mind a fart joke from a female character. Can’t happen. And since that is Hunk in an unfair nutshell, he is right out for a gender swap.

Finally, in this iteration, there’s Shiro (Sven in the US cartoon). Shiro actually has the fewest reasons why he can’t be female, but he’s still problematic. See, he’s the team leader, which is a tough spot for a female character to fill because people are simply afraid to do that. And more importantly, he was a prisoner of war. A prisoner of war who was experimented upon. Doing that to a man is bad enough, but doing it to a woman makes some uncomfortable, because women are not supposed to be treated that way (A) and (B) the young female who comes through despite enormous odds is, again, too Mary Sue for many. Plus, frankly, in Shiro’s case, a female is somewhat unrealistic. The Mary Sue camp might have a point in this case. Shiro was “the champion” during his captivity because he was the strongest fighter. Not the easiest sell for a female character, so Shiro must stay a guy. Oh, and let’s not forget that Shiro is the serious one. A serious man is “take charge,” but a serious woman is “bossy,” so no girl for Shiro!

So, no other members of the Volton Force are good candidates for gender-swapping because of our own societal BS that places unfair and very different expectations on males and females.

And you can’t switch Princess Allura, as that defeats the point of a more diverse cast of characters, and if she stays the same, it’s likely best to leave Coran as is, too.

So, laying aside the villains, you’re left with only Pidge to swap.

And I approve of the swap. I truly do. For a lot of reasons I’ve written about before. I adore Pidge.

But it’s total crap that only Pidge can be swapped because of our societal baggage.

Just think on that. The other characters can’t be swapped because no one would accept them that way. So the more effeminate male was changed – because it was easier that way. What does that say about us? What does that tell our young men who might not be the biggest and strongest? What does it mean to our young women who might be the absolute best at what they do or who might be, dare I say it, fat?

It says a lot more than it seems.

Yes, Voltron is a cartoon. The old version was one that I watched religiously as a child without realizing how wrong it was that a young woman received a spanking while young men watched and laughed (yeah, it does NOT hold up, guys – just trust me on this). The new one will be fun for kids no matter what, because they’ll miss huge chunks of subtext, just as I did.

But they won’t miss it all, and for the little guy and the big girl, they’ll absorb a lot more than we think.

Just food for thought.

Diversity does matter.

GS Blogger: wabbit

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One comment

  1. Hello wabbit 🙂

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