There has been a lot of argument on Twitter on this topic for a while, so I thought I’d go through what I see as the pros and cons of both sides of the argument.
I say both sides, but this is actually a three sided argument! There is one argument for introducing female space marines as if they’ve always been there, an argument to keep everything exactly as it is, and a third stance saying “why not kept the history as is, but introduce female space marines as a new option like the Primaris Marines were recently introduced?”
Now, if you look at the models purely as game pieces, it’s just ludicrous to have the primary faction in a game designed in 2019, often included as both sides (with Chaos Marines having the same issue) of the main starter sets being gender exclusive. Of course, the game was designed in the 1980s, not 2019, and culturally there was a much bigger divide in hobbies than here is today. 2000AD simply introduced lady judges as if they had always been a part of Judge Dredd, and that was successful in a similar cultural icon. Why couldn’t that work here? They’ve thrown the history out repeatedly for other changes like dropping Squats and rebuilding the entire Necron history. Why not here?
Well, one reason is that the background back then specifically excluded the possibility of female space marines, and that takes us into the opposing position – that 30 years of shared fictional history including hundreds of published stories as well as 30 years of rule books and army codexes have given us a shared universe we all enjoy, so why change it? Why throw out all those books and novels and shared enjoyment when we could simply release more models in other lines and make that there are options for women to play and feel accessible – the new launch of the Sisters of Battle line is often a key part of this counterpoint, as it involves a line of models that are just women.
The intermediate stance is simply that we could look at a compromise position – keep the history as is, but evolve the ongoing storyline. Introduce women into the ranks of marines as the new discoveries that allowed the creation of the next generation of marines also allow the genetic enhancements to work with both sexes. It’s an easy, simple fix, and would allow reasonable people on all sides to come together. If you don’t like them, you could still build male marine chapters, or others could build all women chapters.
Some point to the satirical background of Warhammer 40K, and highlight the fact that Space Marines aren’t supposed to be aspirational or inclusive. They are, in fact, pretty much the extreme example of what is often referred to as toxic masculinity- exemplifying intolerance, and violence as a preferred solution. There’s certainly some truth to this viewpoint, I think, but the parodic and satirical nature of 40K has been somewhat lost under a more traditional sci-fi overlay over the years – I’m not sure it’s as obvious to people joining the hobby now as it was in the Rogue Trader days.
i think it’s easy as people argue abstract positions to ignore the fact that honestly there are a lot of people in the hobby that are bigoted and would keep women out if they could. Latching onto excuses like the shared history allow them to avoid appearing prejudiced, but honestly? Sometimes people are. It’s very important not to tar everyone with that brush, but it’s also important that the industry leader in the wargaming field do what it can to be available to everyone.
The biggest problem, really, is that the lore and in game history about Space Marines is, in this instance, bloody terrible. The entire argument basically goes “We can re-engineer men from the basic genetic code up to be immortal Demi-gods of War, but we can’t do the same for women, because they are girls.”
There are so many strong stories one way or another. Buy fully into the despotic, terrible universe, and cast the Emperor as a utter sexist bastard who wouldn’t sort it out because he felt girls shouldn’t go to war. Go Jurassic Park, and have life find a way in the early tests on women – and a fully viable immortal replacement species for humanity was exactly what the Emperor wanted to avoid as he wants humanity to thrive, not perish. Have the move as part of the Emperor’s prescient design as systematically culling the genes for successful Astartes leads to the psychically immune blanks rising in replacement and saving all humanity. Maybe his second wave of design was a set of female primarchs and their Astartes children, and that fell apart because of the Heresy.
But saying “no, we can’t get it working for girls” is shockingly weak story telling at best. It sounds more impressive if you say “The lore doesn’t allow for them”, but really?
I’ve been playing 40k since it launched. I enjoy the shared history and background, and would prefer major changes to be in the way the story moves forward than throwing all the history out. I could cope with the monastic male warrior tradition if the story is fleshed out with something convincing (and better representation continues elsewhere), or women joining the ranks as new Primaris marines too. But there are three main things I’d really like to see – people on one side of the argument not accusing everyone else of being misogynistic bastards, people on the other side not shouting about SJWs and virtue signalling, and some damn decent story underlying the move forward, whatever route that takes.
EDIT – Just some additional notes. I mentioned a few reasons that would be much stronger to explain the lack of female space marines from a story telling perspective, but they don’t really work if introduced now (unless you introduce a new faction of some kind to explore it as well as a Black Library series). Adding a better excuse 30 years later is definitely a cop out – if there was a solid story reason already in place I’d be more inclined to accept the cries of “but the lore”.
I’d also like to quickly address the other argument – that there already exists an all women army in the game with Sisters of Battle, so its all fair. I have some sympathy with this view point, mostly because I love Sisters of Battle and am very excited for the new release, and I’d love for the sheer scope of the Sisters to be raised to the same profile as Space Marines. However, arguing its all fair because there are some female factions is a bit specious. Why? Because first, the Sisters of Battle aren’t an all woman faction at all. You can field male priests (that outrank the sisters), male crusaders, male arco-flagellants, male penitent engines in the same list. It’d be like having the option in the marine list to field women representatives of the High Council that all marines have to answer to, having dreadnaughts not containing marine heroes but male or female guard heroes, and turning the victrix guard into cool lady knights guarding the top bods. Now, that actually sounds pretty awesome, to be fair, but it isn’t the case.
In addition, while Space Marines are the flagship force, with Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Space Wolves, General Marines, Chaos Marines, Thousand Sons and Death Guard all representing with their own lists, there have been long periods of time with no Sisters of Battle Codex at all, no minis in the shops, only 20 year old + sculpts available online at incredibly high prices (£50 a basic squad as compared to £20.50 for a metal guard squad, for example). Its not exactly two high profile, easily available forces with Sisters and Marines jostling for place in the starter sets.
What of Sisters of Silence, introduced at the same time as Custodes? We still have almost no Sisters of Silence available, and a pretty big old range of Custodes introduced already. Again, its not really a great argument to point to a token box and say, look, it must be OK, there are a few ladies in a different list.
While Space Marines are the primary force sold in the game, with no solid reason not to add women to their ranks given the recent introduction of changes with Primaris Marines, we’ll hear continuing calls to make the entry armies more accessible to everyone, and I think rightly so.