And They Shall Know No Fear: Female Space Marines in Warhammer 40k

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Warhammer 40k is the most popular wargame on the planet, full stop. It is a sprawling franchise that encompasses novels, video games, a theatrically released film, RPG’s, board games and miniature games (that happen to dominate its industry). The grimdark future world created by the Games Workshop design team decades ago still captures the imagination of gamers across the world and drives sales of a massive product line and supporting hobby supplies. This doesn’t surprise me; the world of 40k (and 30k) is pretty fucking cool. Even as I’ve aged out of their core demographic, Games Workshops dark vision of space has a lot that can draw me back in. Powerful imagery, insane power struggles and every aspect of military cultures turned up to 11. Massive hive cities where 100’s of millions of inhabitants live on top of each other in Dickensian despair, in their midst hide alien conspiracies and brutal gang warfare. Powerful manifestations of chaotic gods pour forth from a rip in space and time so massive its swallowed whole planetary systems.A devout order of space fascists, sitting in a fortified monastery on a surviving chunk of their destroyed planet, secretly hunting traitors from their own order. This world is batshit crazy and insane in some of the best possible ways. It’s a Tolkien fantasy world ripped to pieces, thrown into deep space andstitched back together with a punk rock ethos, space opera drama and a heaping helping of gothic trappings. Warhammer 40k is without question the showpiece game of the hobby (for better or for worse). It is the most popular, best selling, widely known and most visible game of the entire wargaming world. Sadly, it’s a game that is still lacking in female representation, and that’s some shameful shit. It’s a world that quite frankly deserves female Space Marines.

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In one of my desperate bouts of wargaming loneliness, those barren stretches of the hobby where you just aren’t getting a game, I tried to convince my wife to play some Warhammer. She bluntly declined my offer, but didn’t want to miss the chance to teach me a lesson, so she asked, “do you have an army for me to play that is entirely women?” A quick mental inventory told me I didn’t. “What about one that is led by women?” she followed up. I said no. My armies were predominately male, with only a small number even having female figures. “Well, maybe that is why I’m not so excited to play.” Now she was just attempting to prove a point. If had instantly produced an army of warrior women, Adeptas Sororitas or something similar, I doubt rolling dice and imaginary battle on our dinning room table would have suddenly excited her. She had, at this point, become incredibly skilled at swerving participation in the nerdier of my hobbies. More female miniature representation in the game wasn’t actually going to convince my wife to play now, she isn’t interested, but what about others? What about people first coming to the game at any stage of their life? Is this game I love, this hobby I adore, as welcoming as it should be to all?

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Wargaming in general is a male dominated hobby. While there are a stalwart crew of women 40k gamers out there, observe just about any tourney, store game or convention, and women make up a serious minority. Miniature gaming isn’t always the friendliest environment for anyone that doesn’t identify as straight and male. This doesn’t mean the players are throwing up tree house style signs saying “No Gurls Allowd.” There are a ton of players who are awesome and welcoming to whoever shows an interest in the hobby, instead, there are more subtle forces at play here. Just one of those forces is the representation and availability of female miniatures in the game. If someone wants to build an army that shares their gender, and they happen to be a woman, the choices are pretty fucking limited. Now I know there are plenty of women who don’t care about playing with female miniatures. Not everyone wants a proxy of themselves, but having the opportunity, especially as it is so clearly given to men, is something we as a gaming culture should be striving towards. This is about inclusiveness, about someone just potentially getting into the hobby and looking at their options. When they do so, when they look at the choices, they’re primarily seeing penises, real talk. Seriously, the lack of female Space Marines is disturbing.

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Now there is a very good reason I’m concentrating on Space Marines. There are, in the entirety of the 40k model range, some representation of female figures. Both flavors of space elves have a handful; some of the other races also pitch in with some female sculpts, and there are non-obviously gendered races as well that “could” be male, female, or some other specific flavor. There are even Adeptus Sororitas who represent an entire female force. But being honest, Space Marines are 40k. Taking a quick look at the current web catalog, Adeptus Astartes (Space Marines) have 167 products listed (the Adeptus Sororitas only have 27). This isn’t even including other chapters with their own listings such as Blood Angels, Dark Angels and Space Wolves or the traitor legions in Chaos Space Marines. All together we’re looking at well over 300 unique products that are Space Marines, and pretty much none of them female. There are more Space Marine figures in 40k (counting loyalist and chaos) than any other range by far. The 30k universe is essentially just battles between these armored space fascists. GW’s latest big release was just a box of Space Marines ready to beat the hell out of each other, they didn’t even bother having a different side, just all Space Marines all the time. Every 40k starter box set in its history has involved Space Marines. Sure there are other armies with rich back stories, but the best selling, most played and most officially supported armies, by a massive fucking amount, are these power armored hulks. And when the most popular army, from the most popular wargame, by the biggest wargaming company includes no female miniatures, this is a problem.

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(Pair of my women Space Marines)

 

Maybe it is our DIY and punk roots, but here at Corehammer, if a huge and faceless corporation doesn’t provide something, we advocate just doing it your fucking self. Sure Games Workshop could, and probably should, be doing more, but I don’t have control over that, and my bout of ranting on the internet probably isn’t going to change their mind. So since I think female Space Marines should exist, I’m just going to make some. This is actually shockingly easy as far as conversions go. I hesitate to actually call it a conversion since it is really just building marines for the most part. You see the great thing about female Space Marines is that, while in armor, they’d look exactly like the giant Games Workshop range of male Astartes. Seriously, helmeted figures don’t need an ounce of conversion. Those models without helmets, because for some reason, these space knights fucking love the “helmet off” look, just need a quick head swap with a suitably heroic female head and they’re all set. Replacement heads can either stolen from other miniatures, or purchased quite easily from online shops such as Bad Squiddo Games (my source).

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It is important to understand, when men and women are genetically modified into giants and placed in bulky power armor, there would be almost no perceptible differences, especially at the miniatures scale. Looking at women in armor, whether bulky modern versions, or more accurate for Space Marines, medieval armor, you’ll see almost no change in the silhouette. Since Space Marines are essentially space knights wielding space swords and axes, it makes sense that they’re in essence, clad in space armor. Therefore, the best places to look critically at how women would look in “space armor” reside in the all-encompassing plate armor of the later medieval period. While helmeted, it’d be pretty hard to tell if it were a man or woman encased in all that steel. This means that ridiculously modeled boob armor can (and should) be avoided, as it just doesn’t make a lot of sense. So it really is that simple, re-purpose the entire existing range into women, swap out the heads for anyone bareheaded and you have a female marine army. Sorted.

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But could female marines exist within the game world of 40k? To answer this question, it is imperative to understand how the “world” of 40k tends to shape the armies players build. There are three distinct sections of the 40k universe something can fit into.

  • Canon: This has been written about or explained by Games Workshop. Players sticking strictly within the boundaries of what has been defined by GW in novels, rulebooks, expansions etc… Canon is relatively easy to define, as much like a historical event, one could simply explain the source that confirms their army’s choices (colors, formation, backstory etc…).
  • Possible: These are things that could be in the 40k universe, but don’t strictly follow the written material. This range goes from “probable” to “unlikely” and can be imagined as closer or further from “canon.” Probable could be an Ultramarine successor chapter that closely follows the Codex Astartes but is not mentioned in the books. “Unlikely” would be something that could exist but is much more of a leap from the “canon.”
  • Everything Else: This is where the dreaded “Counts As” armies would live. These armies, while sometimes incredibly creative, would not possibly exisit in the 40k universe. This is where pipe cleaners shaped to spell “Blood Letters,” Despicable Me Minion armies and Smurf Marines etc… would fit in.

Most Warhammer 40k armies fit into the “Possible” category, adhering to the universe but taking a small amount of liberties to bring something unique or interesting to the table. I firmly believe female Space Marines would sit just within the possible category, right out near the edge, but definitely within the bubble and not a “Counts As.” Although Games Workshop has not to my knowledge written of the existence of women Astartes (and has repeatedly represented it as an all male order), a little creativity fits them into the world on either the loyalist or traitor side. Space Marines are recruited from human worlds, taking young members of the native population that display the warrior traits required to serve the Emperor in his elite core of space fascists. It seems quite possible that a number of worlds had women develop as the warrior caste (or fuck it, both men and women could be warriors, crazy thought) and would therefore provide the recruiting stock for a legion. The geneseed would have to be modified, an art long thought lost in the 40k universe, but possibly desperate times, chaos mutations, luck or an accident created some form of female compatible geneseed. Maybe there was a female primarch whose geneseed has been kept secret? We don’t know anything about a couple of them as they’re missing/stricken from the record. The 40k universe is ridiculously massive, and intentionally has large sections left unexplained after almost 30 years of constant detailing. These gaps in the canon can and should be used by people to tailor the world to their ideals, to the details that make them happy. Who knows what lurks in some corner space. The idea is not to find something that makes women Space Marines canon, as that is not the point, it is merely to find possible narrative hooks or explanations that allow you to express your creativity and preferences within what should be an extremely creative and welcoming game.

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So what should you do when you encounter women space marines across the table from you? I would suggest simply saying, “That’s cool, what is their backstory?” What you shouldn’t do is attack their creative choices, question their validity to be there or try and argue them into submission. We should be having fun remember. Basically, you should be doing the same thing you do when you encounter any opponent, don’t be a dick. If for some reason the idea of someone making a female Space Marine chapter, or a chapter that includes female marines, is so upsetting to you and your vision of the 40k universe that it would ruin your enjoyment, you really need to have a long hard look at yourself. It might not actually be true, but one of the ideas I hold dear within gaming (and punk/hardcore as well) is that we’re a band of outsiders, people who live a little bit off center from the rest. There are a lot of kindred spirits out there, I want it easy to find each other, and only having Space Marines with XY chromosomes just doesn’t make it as easy as it should be. If you’ve added some women Astartes to your force and someone is acting like a bag of dicks about it, I’m sorry, I hope you can find some better people to game with and know that we support you.


Also…

Here is a solid set of images featuring a lot of women in armor that AREN’T chainmail bikinis. Here

 

This entry was posted in Gaming, Painting & Modelling, Warhammer 40k and tagged , , , , , , by Brinton Williams. Bookmark the permalink.

About Brinton Williams

Currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Brinton spends far more time painting & waffling on about miniatures on the internet than actually gaming. Plays (or more likely played) just about anything including Warhammer Fantasy, 40k, RPG’s, weird indie games and historical miniatures. Doesn’t mosh as hard as he used to but can occasionally be found scowling at bands from the old people section of a show. Is deathly afraid of horses, played in multiple laser tag national championships and has appeared on San Diego local news doing the weather. One item from the last sentence is a lie.

24 thoughts on “And They Shall Know No Fear: Female Space Marines in Warhammer 40k

    • Genetically engineered war giants aside, I am always baffled there’s not more legit GW female Imperial Guard options. Fair number of female IG characters in the various 40k/30K fictions, and I’ve always been under the impression that the IG fighting forces were not arsed about which gender goes into the grinder so it seems like a missed window to not have the sprues be a bit more representative..

      • I think its pretty much across the board i mean even in the (piss poor, its only just better than l ron hubbards witterings ffs) HH book series women are bit part players at best. The last good female faction i can remember GW making was house escher for necromunda, i mean there backstory of fighting against male oppression and stuff always apealed to my sense liberty, even if it was a grimdark version of liberty, pisses i of to be honest, although perhaps i should be laying off the leftover crack before the caffeine kicks in, gay rudeboys unite fuck yeah!

  1. Really think GW missed a good opportunity with the release of the Imperial Knights. It would have been so easy to put in a few references to female pilots and an odd bit of artwork just to show some idea of diversity.

    The maddest argument I see for not having female IG/Space Marines is that, in this society, women have only just become front line troops, and only in limited armies across the globe. So people can accept fungus orks, a demented sex god who populates planets with buildings that fuck each other, elves who are dressed like David Bowie in the ashes to ashes video but not women holding and firing a gun!

    Madness.

  2. This topic has been popping up all over the place, but not usually so focused on the marines bit. People get all worked up about it, and I’m really not sure why. I posted an article about gender in 40K a long time ago saying a lot of the same stuff, but my blog is tiny. The Mary Sue, on the other hand, just posted one a couple weeks ago and geeks all over about lost their minds. Granted there were some issues with that post, but they started by talking about how hard it is to have this conversation and I think they’re right. On your blog, I think you’ll be preaching to the choir a bit, so I doubt you’ll get too many people upset here. At any rate, it’s a conversation we really need to have, and I’m hoping the increased awareness helps.

    • You’re right, I’m probably preaching to the choir on here to some degree, but since I don’t write for any other sites there isn’t much choice. Fundamentally for me its a conversation that needs to happen, if only because I want more people to play with.

  3. Back in the early days of WHFB and WH40K, the Slannesh army had women, transgender, and hermaphroditic models. Shit, I even remember on of the chaos attributes being, “Hermaphrodite.” GW pretty much wiped that out though, and it’s a shame because so much of the game’s diversity and flavor has been lost.

    • Warhammer has definitely lost some of that madness of their early studio days where they just threw cool shit into the books and went with it. They do some really cool stuff now, highly polished and all that, but I miss the rougher days. Hoping they can recapture some of it.

      • I hope so as well. To be honest, with the newest edition of WHFB, GW completely lost me, and that bums me out. I loved that everything was just so bizarre, extremely edgy as far as art and subject matter, and that it had complex game mechanics that presented challenges compiling an army and in deploying and utilizing them tactically on the battlefield. I know the Golden Age of Games Workshop that we grew up with is gone, and I’m romanticizing it to some degree, but it was a huge part of my gaming hobby.

  4. There was an old WD article – i think I read it in the Compendium from RT – that mentioned some mumbo jumbo about geneseed only being compatible with males. Only official source I know of. But so much of that old stuff has been retconned by now it really shouldn’t matter!

    • Yeah, GW has mentioned it is male geneseed that only goes into male hosts in old WD articles and some other stuff. Of course, since this is all pseudo science, and its part of a large and ever changing universe of fiction, someone could always come along and modify the geneseed, or find geneseed that was thought lost etc…

  5. I love it when ‘punks’ go full identity politics and cry over something they didn’t produce. The fundamental divide between GW and the SJW crybabies who demand female space marines and transgender Orks or non-binary disabled other-Kin Tau is creativity. GW and fans of its settings are creatives, and SJWs only know how to defile and destroy things built by their betters.
    Tl:Dr Fembots are a destructive cancer, kinda like the orkoid menace.

    • I really don’t understand how you came to these conclusions but okay. “GW and fans of its setting are creatives, and SJWs only know how to defile and destroy” is just a fucking odd statement when you think about it.
      Being fan of the biggest wargame on the planet makes you a creative? How?
      Wanting to expand this wargames breadth to include other people and worldviews is defiling and destruction? Get a grip.

  6. Good article. I actually think a lot of the “Space Marines cannot be women” thing is because a lot of 40k players start young, 10-12, say, and having girls involved in their armies would be “gay” (somehow) and would spoil things. Girls giggle and are annoying. Space Marines are manly and big and have skulls on them. Kewl. Know your market and all that.

    People who get worked up about SJWs and so on just end up looking sad. They’re little model people: you bought them, so you can make them how you like. And if you want to model them how you want, more power to you. THAT’s creative. Too many whiny GW fanboys throwing wobblies on the net. Pretty much everything is made better with more Furiosa. Fact.

  7. The current lore reason is Human women cannot survive the process becoming a Space marine, it just can’t happen. That’s just how the 40k universe works.

  8. I don’t understand, this mans wife asked if there were any female armies and he said no (sisters of battle exist…) then she asked if there were any female led armies and then he said no again (despite the fucking elder existing) I know the argument is about space marines but if this man basicly lies just so his point sounds better then I can’t trust anything else he says.

    • Section of the article you’re referencing

      “she asked, “do you have an army for me to play that is entirely women?” A quick mental inventory told me I didn’t. “What about one that is led by women?” she followed up. I said no. My armies were predominately male, with only a small number even having female figures. “Well, maybe that is why I’m not so excited to play.” Now she was just attempting to prove a point. If had instantly produced an army of warrior women, Adeptas Sororitas or something similar, I doubt rolling dice and imaginary battle on our dinning room table would have suddenly excited her.”

      Read that again, realize I’m speaking about what I own, and if you still think the article is lying I can’t help you.

  9. I have a few women in my Space Wolf army where I did exactly what you said: I put female heads on existing space marines and called it a day. Mostly I don’t think anyone looks closely enough at the heads to notice in games, since people seldom comment.

    I do have to say from personal experience of wearing armor years ago there were times when I’d be fighting people and they wouldn’t realize I was a woman until afterwards when I took my helmet off, lol.

  10. Jesus guys, cmon. Lelith Hesperax, top gladiator in all of the dark eldar. Saint Celestine, living saint and most powerful morale booster/greater daemon level combat practitioner for the empire. Inquisitor Greyfax, so talented at sniffing out chaos she, by merit alone, leads the imperial inquisition. Yvrainne, Eldar regent of the newborn god, powerful enough to revive Roboute Guilliman.

    Fluffwise, women were unable to survive the implanting of the 19 organs required to become a space marine. Instead they have their own incredible feats. First of all, piloting power armor without the “black carapace” organ that interfaces it with the nervous system is an incredible achievement, requiring years of training, practice and fanatical devotion, which is an achievement relegated to sororitas only as far as I know, everyone else has failed. They also have a few living saints, incredibly powerful, nearly immortal (reborn as needed) heroes who inspire those around them by presence to unheard levels of achievement.

    There’s also the fact that the top imperial inquisitor, some of the highest level rogue traders (not sure they really rank, tbh), the entire ecclesiarchy’s armed forces, and many other important positions are filled by women, especially meritocritous positions. Women fill nearly every rank in the imperial guard and other Ordo’s. There is also the fact that since this is 40k, and GRIMDARK is the name of the game, women may be used as breeding stock, by slavers or by religious fervor. In a realm where the people of Krieg dont name their children, just call them by military ID and expect them to die before 20 years old, to Comorragh where they have to take and torture slaves using their anguish as sacrifice, a distraction to keep a demon god from eating their souls, sexism is a bit of a moot point.

    And such is the poison of this day in age. It is not enough for women to excel in their own ways to achieve incredible ends(or be tortured in their own way to malevolent ends). Only if women can do EVERYTHING men can do, and be allowed to have their own segregated areas where they excel still kept in their dominance, will equality be reached. The fact that what I described is in no way a form of equality is lost on most that deem equality more important than competence is humorous, in the saddest of ways of course.

    • Maybe it’s not about feminism specifically, and more that I think an army of massive genetically-enhanced battle meathead ladies is cool. Idk mate, that’s why I have lady marines. They’re awesome, and I don’t care if they’re not feminine. *shrugs*

      Also, I’m pretty sure men could technically hold all those roles you mentioned in the ecclesiarchy and Inquisition too. If women happen to be in this roles, maybe the best candidate at the time was a woman. And maybe when she retires, the next person will be a man. The only important place with a segregated role for women in the imperium is the Sororitas, and I’m sorry, but they’re mostly lame, watered-down wannabe space marines with stupid boob armour. If someone wanted to make a male Sororitas, I wouldn’t care… But I would find it kinda silly. Like, the Sisters of Battle really have no reason to exist when GW could have just allowed female space marines and avoided a lot of bullshit.

      Plus, the thing about women not surviving space marine surgery is pretty dumb. Men and women regularly donate organs to each other, 40k’s genetics were invented in the 80’s when we didn’t know as much as we do today. And, it’s all fiction anyway, there’s no reason why GW can’t turn around today and say, for example, “By the way, the new techniques for making Primaris space marines work on women too.” It’s all sci-fi, it’s not serious or real.

      TL;DR – Don’t like lady space marines? Don’t play them then. But maybe try to care less when other people like things you don’t like, especially when those things won’t impact your game at all. All that anger can’t be good for your blood pressure.

    • Author would like female Space Marines. You don’t. Easy solution that makes everyone happy: author gets female Space Marines, and you don’t play with said Marines.

      What’s the problem?

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