There aren’t many ladies on the show, but there are a few standout women engineers in the championship quarter finals like Andrea Suarez (Witch Doctor) and Wendy Maxham (Stinger the Killer Bee) who have built some pretty fantastic bots.
There are also two women announcers. Though I’m not sure they have as much fun as ring announcer Faruq Tauheed does when he introduces the competitors (which seriously must be the best job on the show), Alison Haislip provides enthusiastic sideline reporting dressed in stylish nerd fashion. She’s cool, and she seems to connect well with the engineers she interviews. And then there’s Molly McGrath.
Though McGrath is the first cast member listed on the Battlebots website and she holds the general title of host (Chris Rose and Kenny Florian are play-by-play and color commentary announcers), her role seems to deviate the most from the super nerdtastic amazingness that is this show about remote-controlled machines battling it out in a combat elimination tournament. I’m not just talking about how she is clothed, though her short, tight dresses and heels seem to be meant for dudes who apparently need a stereotypically-presented female figure to reinforce the masculinity they risk losing by watching a show about robot battles. It’s not Sunday night football. Clothing choices aside, McGrath is presented as the eye candy intermediary between all of the other commentators on the show. Perhaps more significant than the lack of airtime or substance she is able to present as host, however, is the way McGrath stands as she interacts with Rose and Florian in the studio.
Instead of standing strongly on two feet, McGrath often stands on her right foot, crosses her left foot out in front of her right leg, and points her left toe. It must take a lot of work to stand that way – she’s rocking fabulous stilettos as she does it – but I question what the directors and producers of this show are going for with this ultra-meek, deferential, and supposedly sexy posture. As someone who teaches public speaking, I am especially concerned that a professional sports reporter like Molly McGrath is modeling a stage presence predicated on her ability to make herself appear smaller. If you watch closely, you’ll notice that her transitions to actually standing on two feet (a grounded, empowered speaking position that is Public Speaking 101) are clunky and awkward. And if you really think about it, watching McGrath do the cross-legged standing thing just seems weird in a context in which badass women engineers are dominating the Battlebot arena with heavy metal flippers and flame spitting partner bots. I mean really. It’s distracting, and it makes me mildly furious because I’d rather not have to get all feminist critic on a show about battling robots.
I’m not suggesting that Molly McGrath is anything short of capable and empowered. She is an engaging host with the small segments she is given. But I do wish the producers would give her the literal space she deserves to do her job, look hot, and seem strong and grounded as she does it. After all, Molly McGrath is not a robot herself, nor should she be made to act like one.