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.