Political Correctness Gone Mad

There was an interesting conversation on twitter lately, and the whole “Should we have female space marines?” conversation came up again.  My feelings are a little complex on the matter.

Lets face it, the whole thing boils down to a fairly casual choice in the 80’s in the fluff, and I hope the gaming scene has moved on at least a little since then.  People argue that the “science” of space marines wouldn’t work … but the science fiction behind it is quite clearly just that – fiction.  Arguing that its “fact” is just silly.  Another argument is that the background has been consistent for 30 years, so we should keep things as is … except it hasn’t.  The Exorcists were originally ladies in the rogue trader rules.  Zoats and Squats have been written out.  Genestealer cults have been, gone, evolved, come back.  Tau appeared.  Necrons appeared as soulless destroyers of life, then turned into Tomb Kings in space pranksters sending pressies to Inquisitors.  C’tan went from unfettered star gods to enslaved avatars.  Every time a batch of new models appear, the fluff is updated, retconned or altered.  Arguing that this bit of fluff is unalterable just sounds like nonsense.  Even without altering anything that happened historically, it would be fairly easy to have one or both of the 2 missing primarchs be female and their knock on legions full of ladies too.  There are options.

As a chap with two little daughters, I’d quite like to get them interested in playing 40K one day, and to be honest, there just aren’t the same powerful female characters in the game for them to look up to.  While a grim dark universe is hardly the place anyone should be looking to learn lessons from in general, there is a fundamental tone that women are less than men when it comes to the game.  You can read books about amazing female Imperial Guard.  You can’t buy the models.  You can read about amazing female Arbites. You can’t buy the models.  Sisters of Battle are normally raised about now, but an army of people who are weaker, worse equipped, wear corsets (or scanty rags if they are naughty), get special powers only through faith in a chap, and are harder and more expensive to buy than marines don’t really level things up.  I love some of the concepts (and have 2 armies of them!), but it doesn’t really level the playing field.  Eldar are thrown up, but there are very few Eldar women available outside of the troop level.  Lilith, Jain Zar, a Succubus, and the new Triumvirate model. There are more male pheonix lords that that alone, and every spiritseer, farseer, warlock, Eldrad, Yriel, Archon, and autarch just tip the scale further.

In some ways I feel the issue is less having to have female space marines, and more a need to have an equivalent powerful force.   It’d absolutely rock if the Astartes were just half of the Emperor’s plan, with implants to augment them physically, with an army of augmented lady psykers and blanks (sisters of silence?) forming the second part of the concept, both sharing some similarities with black carapace interfaces, for example, but their own set of implants and psychic powers, topping the natural born grey knights.  Both strong armies, both stronger fielded together.  Couldn’t hurt.  Women in the guard?  Its there in the fluff.  Heck, producing resin sprues of ladies heads for conversions so people could do what they liked with guard or marines themselves and still turn up to tournaments with a legal army would be enough to keep a lot of people happy.  It’d be a move in the right direction.

Mind you, there are some practical limitations.  At the end of the day, GW is a business, and has to make sales.  If the sales figures of genuinely comparable female to male lines (and I actually can’t think of many easily comparable minis, so its a bit tricky) just aren’t financially viable to run in plastic, then I can’t expect them to go out of business!  It’d be interesting to look at maybe comparing Sisters of Silence to Custodes sales, except the additional forgeworld support for Custodes does skew things towards them already.  The triumvirates have been pretty strong female leads and seem to be flying off the shelves, and Canoness Viridya kept selling out, but special event models are always more popular.  Given the sales of Wyrd malifaux models (and, anecdotally, a larger player base of women there), it doesn’t seem financially unviable from an external standpoint…. and you know, I’d like to be able to one day get my little girls playing rather than Daddy being a bit embarrassed about the fact I can’t buy them an army with strong ladies like them.

I can understand someone playing a historical recreation of waterloo not really wanting half their army to be ladies, as its historically inaccurate.  If you are playing a fictional game, though, there really isn’t any reason why characters can’t be anything the company making them dictates.

My final thought is that every time I hear “political correctness gone mad”, my first thought these days isn’t “Oh god, whats someone else gone over the top with now?”  My first thought is generally “so what group don’t you give a crap about then?”.  Sometimes people do go over the top – it’d be pushing things a wee bit far to demand the entire 40K universe is rewritten to exclude men entirely, and the recent PETA request to demand that tiny plastic models don’t wear plastic fur, my word!  I don’t see requests like that very often though – I generally see enthusiastic gamers upset that they aren’t represented well.

4 Replies to “Political Correctness Gone Mad”

  1. It’s hard to put an argument across well on twitter with the limited character count.
    All of the points you raise are clear and accurate, none of which I disagree with. One point I struggle to express is the effect the male only army has on its own character.
    Essentially, the male only army shows it to superstitious, archaic, stuck in a rut of non advancement. Marines themselves aren’t sexist in the story, working with and admiring female characters. But in much the same way and reason that they reluctantly experiment with new technology, the they fear and must eradicate all Xenos reflects the imperium of man and the 10k year tragedy that has befallen the race. That is what (I believe) the writers are trying to convey. If it was purely a sexist move then there would be no other females in the game at all. Could they make female marines? Of course they could. Could they make more female models for armies that have them. Yep. Should they rewrite fluff to make female space marine? Now- they could, and it might change the ‘feel’ of the army as mentioned above, but people would get over it. but I liken it to the PETA campaign because, in this fictional setting that has been created, the protagonists are barbaric, crude, warlike, yes mysoginistic even. It’s part of the character. Telling a fictional story is about exposing an alternative reality. If we have to make it conform to all our real world standards and be realistic then it’s not alternative any more.
    It’s like writing fiction about life in an all girl school but then demanding the author put male students in for representation- it’s a different story then because it’s not an all girl school, it’s a mixed gender school.
    40k also shows how xenophobic the imperium is ‘suffer not the alien to live’, psykers and mutants are discriminated against. They hate and fear anything that is different. If we followed this through to the final outcome, all factions would make friends and live happily ever after – and the 40k setting would cease to be.

    1. Hmmm, your argument feels a bit limited. For one thing, it approaches the concept purely as a fictional setting. It isn’t. Its the backdrop to a game that men and women should feel equally welcome to play, and a lot of the fluff was written decades ago in a different cultural environment. Without even needing retconning of the fluff, adding a lost legion with a female primarch and female marines, or having sisters of silence as the powerful psychic half of the emperors overall plan for both physically and psychically enhanced humanity would improve matters a heck of a lot in terms of equality without impacting the grim dark vibe at all.

      Your last point is a bit of a straw man – if we actually had Eldar and Tau queuing up in Games Workshop to play 40K, and getting a bit offended by the lack of decent representations of their factions, then yeah, the same argument for better representation of them might apply .. but they are fictional. Women aren’t, and discriminating against them in the fluff can easily spill over to discriminating against them in the game and as players. At the end of the day, I don’t think its a good thing that I frankly wouldn’t want my girls to get into gaming playing GW games at the moment.

      There’s a reason why issues of discrimination are usually discussed in fiction through proxies. The mutant X-men are a powerful way of exploring issues of discrimination against those that are different … without impacting real life groups. Tau, Eldar, Necrons, Orks … they all offer avenues to explore xenophobia and discrimination. Actual misogyny at best just causes knock problems as the fluff interacts with real life in the games.

      My point of view is pretty simple when it comes to this sort of thing (ok, well, pretty simple in general!). If I replace the argument about the real life groups involved (men and women in this case) with two other real life groups (like skin colours, or ethnic groups), would there be enormous outrage and probable lawsuits? Yeah, in this case there probably would. If there wouldn’t, then its probably OK.

      Representation in any one story isn’t usually that big an issue – there’s room in the world to explore lots of concepts. In your example, though, its like fiction about life in an all girl school as the backdrop to a hockey board game, and then wondering why chaps who want to play the most popular hockey board game on the market would like to be able to play some games without all female players and women only tournaments. It might be a slightly different story at a mixed school, but you might get some new players of the board game, and it’d still be hockey.

  2. If women don’t feel welcome to play the game, it’s because of overly aggressive and socially inept neckbeards in real life, not a fictional race.
    Most sisters players are men, so I don’t think the gender composition of a faction has any limiting factor on who can pay/use it. In fact I would imagine that a female player would feel that fielding SOB a bit cliche.
    My outlook is also very simple when it comes to this- if gw are genuinely doing something wrong I.e. being sexist and/discriminatory in any way, then a very large group of people will have a strong legal case to force them to change, and also press charges, seek compensation and any other number of things.
    Ask why this has not happened?
    It’s because in the real world, gw allow every and any gender to play, any race, any religion to read the books.
    If a car manufacturer decided to produce only yellow cars and those cars are the best performing/ value for money cars on the market, I can’t demand they make red cars because that’s what I like. I can politely request sure, but I’m in no position to make demands.
    A business can produce any goods they like with as many (or as few) options as they like (regardless of wether it makes good business sense). The only time they’re doing anything wrong is if they refuse to sell them to a specific gender, race, etc.
    A real organisation with a grasp of the law will understand this- hence why PETA only made a request, not a demand.

    Despite everything I’ve said above my only real point from the beginning has been that I would like any changes to be handled with respect to existing lore, or to least make some kind of fluffy sense (two missing primarchs for example).
    Twitter exploded because of social justice warriors making demands, implying that you are sexist by even considering having an opposing view, and generally being bullies.

    It’s great that people have different views, the world would be quite boring otherwise!

  3. I do agree in general! And honestly, even just a few more female models producing enough kit bashing parts to be able to build and field a GW tournament legal force would be a great step forward. Its a bit frustrating to spend hundreds of pounds on kits and bits from third parties and not be able to rock up to warhammer world with them!

    Sexism seems generally harder to prove than racism – if GW said “Oh, by the way, people of x colour can’t be marines in our games because thats what we wrote 30 years ago, we won’t make the parts for them, and if you buy third party parts to make marines like that yourself, you can’t play at our tournaments.” then honestly I wouldn’t be surprised to see a legal challenge. You’d certainly see a lot more negative press coverage. To some degree, I think GW have been lucky to based in the UK, where legal challenges on that sort of front are a lot less common, and in a niche industry, reducing the apparent impact of any problems.

    One of the tricky things is that they have a heck of a lot of business statistics that are fundamentally based on stuff they’ve already done. If they released female marines tomorrow, would they sell well? Honestly, I don’t know and probably neither do they. Lets face it, their primary audience is currently mostly male. Sisters of Battle were their entry into a line of women, and as an all metal line with some pretty cliched concepts as you say, were never particularly aimed well at expanding into more lady gamers, and didn’t sell brilliantly, which has to make them reluctant to go again. Overly aggressive fans and neckbeards do lurk in stores, making it less appealing to me at times, let alone someone just curious about the hobby. A few female models isn’t going to turn things around overnight. Other companies are doing fine with more balanced lines, but thats how those lines were introduced – they aren’t having to fight preconceptions and shift an existing (and lucrative) consumer base.

    One interesting thought (anecdotal from experience, rather than genuine stats) – Most of the ladies I know who play 40k have an Eldar (or DE) army, even if not their only force, and that’s pretty much the only race with mixed sex forces.

    I don’t think they need to change things too massively from the fluff. Some armies are due for a revamp, and simply introducing a bit more of a gender mix on sprues (Cadians are 10 years + old models, and they blew cadia up, after all) would help a lot. If they are bringing back primarchs, then yeah, one of the lost 2 could easily be a woman – heck, I still think that’d be a brilliant underlying background behind Sisters of Silence. And with a new edition and big shake ups expected, 8th edition would be a good time for a few changes.

    Like you say, I think the worst thing you can do is shout your viewpoints at some one else, though, and not listen – its always OK to disagree. Of course people can have different viewpoints, and the best way to get someone to fix their view point is to insult them about it! I’m generally pretty laid back, but I love 40k, and played since Rogue Trader – I want the core of the game and the fiction to feel similar too, but I’m a bit sad that I wouldn’t feel comfortable introducing my little girls to it at the moment, and I’d be happier to see them playing Imperial Assault.

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