Female Transformers were planned right from the start. Autobot Medic Ratchet was originally going to be female, thus the name being a reference to Nurse Ratchet. This was shot down by the idea that they didn’t want any females in a boys toy line ( sadly an all too common mentality for many years in many toy lines, many franchises never even making a toy of the lead female character in a series). This was explained with the excuse that Transformers were robots, so robots didn’t really have genders so why have one be female?
The G1 cartoon did create some female robots, the first being ninja robot Nightbird. However this wasn’t a Transformer, merely a human made robot (though recent versions have made her a full on Cybertronian). This all changed thanks to writer Ron Freedman who pushed for them to have a female Autobot in the movie. He managed to get his way and Arcee was made and included in the film. The film was in production at the same time as season 2 so a bunch of female Autobots were created for the episode “The Search For Alpha Trion” with characters like Chromia and the female equivalent to Optimus Prime Elita-one.
Sadly none of these characters got toys made for them though prototypes for Arcee were made. The first female Transformers toy was released in Japan. Minerva was a character in the Japanese exclusive series God Masterforce and was actually a half French half Japanese girl who turned into a Headmaster and holds the honour of first female toy. The first female Transformer and Decepticon toy in the West is a rather inauspicious one, Night Racer, who was a recolour and exclusion to a 1995 convention.
This was just the G1 cartoon related stuff, the comics were… this is awkward… Arcees origin in the comics was not very progressive. She was made by Optimus Prime, to shut up a bunch of feminists complaining that all the Transformers were male… yeah….not good.
By the time of the Beast Wars and Beast Machines eras (or Beast Era as it’s known to fans) the idea of female Transformers was getting more common with Blackarachnia (who was a recolour/redeco of Tarantulus) being the first female character in the West to get a major release. As she proved to be a mainstay of the series later on she got an upgraded Transmetal 2 that was made specifically for her rather than just a repaint.
Small numbers of female Transformers were showing up in series but their numbers were tiny. Arcee eventually got a toy in the Transformers Energon series giving her a motor bike alt mode rather than a car. It is also worth mentioning that in Transformers Cyberverse, the character of Override was changed in the West to be female to increase the amount of female representation in the show. A new version of Blackarachnia showed up in Animated (plus a female Starscream clone called Slipstream) and a blue version of Arcee was one of the lead characters in Prime.
The very concept of female Transformers was always a bit of an issue since… well… robots. Some attempts were made to explain the idea, such as from the aligned continuity with Solus Prime being their ancestor, with all female Transformers being descendants of one of the 13 thus being a reference to them being few in number.
With IDW comics the original idea was for there to be no female Transformers as, once again, robots. This did lead to something rather good. If there were no female Transformers then for them same sex relationships were the norm. And so the first continuity of IDW comics had a lot of same sex Transformers that in the lore were completely natural. Arcee of this continuity was introduced as the first female Transformer, experimented upon by the mad scientist Jhiaxus who turned Arcee into a female in hopes to introduce gender into the species. This origin wasn’t liked at all, resulting in Spotlight Arcee being rather infamous.
After the war between the Autobots and Decepticons was over in the IDW comics, contact with other Cybertronian colonies was re-established most notably Caminus where there were a lot of them. Most notably Windblade an Autobot designed by fans to be a female Autobot Jet and one who saw a lot of use in the second half of IDWs stories, to the point a lot of people started to complain she was getting over used. This wasn’t a back lash against a female character specifically as they complained when a similar thing happened with the Autobot Drift. It’s also worth noting that Arcees explanation for her sex change was later altered and retconned to have been done willingly after the notable backlash. It was changed to her having had it done to make her feel right, the writers having talked to transgender people for how to explain it.
Nowadays female Transformers are a lot more common, sure they are still outnumbered by the male counterparts but a decent number are now showing up regularly in cartoons. Windblade is often being used as the go to female Autobot now over Arcee. Toys of those original female Autobots from “The Search For Alpha Trion” have been made with a combiner for Elita, one in the Power of the Primes line, and Chromia, being one of the first releases for War for Cybertron Siege (mind you she’s not that good as to keep the figure means she has quite a bit of kibble). During the Combiner Wars toy line we even got our first female Combiner team in the form of Victorian the second fan created character by poll, showing the fandom was not only fine with female Transformers, but wanted to see more. A nice touch is in Japan they did a recolour and redeco of Victorian to make the first ever Decepticon female Combiner team Megatronia.
With the most recent core series Cyberverse having finished earlier this year we have gone from a series with no female characters to one now of all shapes and sizes. At no point are they being shown replacing or talking down to the already existing ones and that’s probably why it’s being welcomed so well. It’s adding to the story, bringing in new characters rather than throwing away the old and being told to like the new (something Transformers had to learn before with the movie). I know people who consider some of the female characters their favorites in the franchise (Prime Arcee being one). And I think the best part about it is, there’s no real fanfare about it, people are letting it happen naturally rather than being done to stroke their own ego.
It’s had its ups and its downs as you have read but so has a lot of Transformers material and as the lockdown continues I’ll look forward to talking about them too.