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In the Grim Darkness of Warhammer 40k‘s Far Future, There Are Only Men, and It’s Terrible

Hi. My name is James, and I love Warhammer.

Warhammer, for those of you who aren’t aware, is one of the longest running and most popular miniature games, created and developed by Games Workshop, and split into two settings: the fantasy version, Warhammer: Age of Sigmar (formerly Warhammer Fantasy Battle, something I am still very upset about) and the sci-fi setting, Warhammer 40,000 (AKA Warhammer 40k, or just 40k).

While I used to play Fantasy (and still theoretically do, even if I haven’t touched my collection since the shift to Age of Sigmar), this article will primarily focus on the more popular, and more widespread, Warhammer 40k. What is the focus of the article, you ask?

Well, if you love something, you must be willing to criticize it and acknowledge its flaws, and while there are many flaws with Warhammer, the one we’re here to examine today is gender representation of the grim darkness of the far future. You’d better settle in, because this is a doozy.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: For the purposes of this article, unless otherwise stated, we are assuming that every model’s gender lines up with their sexual characteristics. Obviously, it’s possible that your entire Space Marines Chapter identifies as women, but since we can’t ask the models how they identify, we have to base it on what the model looks like, and how the background is written. We’re mostly concerned with official representation anyway, as entering the hornet’s nest of conversions, headcannons, and proxies would drive the author to madness. [It would seem it already has...]

Let’s cut straight to the heart of the matter with the biggest and most well known aspect of the Warhammer 40k universe: the Space Marines. The Space Marines (extremely quick version: 7-foot-tall genetically enhanced soldiers) are easily the most iconic army in 40k and also by far the most widespread. They have six different armies: Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines, Space Wolves, Grey Knights, Dark Angels, and Blood Angels, and of the many people I’ve played with, only a handful don’t play one of them (myself included). They’re also the vanguard of the company and the setting as a whole, with so much more representation in novels, audio dramas and video games than any other faction, it’s frankly a little nuts. They are, in more ways than one, the face of not just Warhammer 40k but of Games Workshop as a whole.

And they can only be men.

I mean, they can’t only be men theoretically, and that’s where it gets irritating. See, according to the background (usually called fluff by those who play 40k), only men can be turned into Space Marines, because … you know what, the reasons are just too stupid to go into, and this immediately presents the first major hurdle when discussing the sexual politics of Warhammer 40,000: trying to actually discuss it.

See, the lack of any real female representation in the game is a well known issue, but whenever someone tries to bring up that maybe the largest and most pervasive army in the setting should maybe stop being a No Girls Allowed club, everyone will immediately inform them that Space Marines can’t be girls. Trust me, I know. This has happened to me. Repeatedly.

This is what Dan Olson called the Thermian Argument. If you want to go more in-depth, you should watch his three videos on the subject, but the basic idea is that this is a method of arguing around criticism by simply using the in-universe explanation for why something is the way it is to shut down the discussion.

So thus, whenever the subject of perhaps making a handful of the thousands of Space Marines female, the immediate response is that, according to the fluff, Space Marines can scientifically only be male. This is, of course, nonsense; the science of Space Marines is the science of creating a 7-foot-tall, 800-pound immortal super soldier, and any arguments about scientific accuracy go out the window when you remember that this monstrosity is supposed to be able to fly. The pseudo-science behind the lack of female Space Marines has a few lines about male chromosomes, but it’s all made up science for a made up world, so there’s no actual science stopping Games Workshop from changing it. There is no logical reason why Space Marines can’t be female. Period.

So we have a setting where the most powerful, well-known, and iconic faction is entirely male. This is already a poor starting point, since it pushes any and all female presence to the far background, but it’s only when one examines the gender representation of the other groups that we start to realize how bad this issue really is.

To get the fairly obvious out of the way, Space Marines are, as established above, entirely male. Adepta Sororitas, AKA the Sisters of Battle, are entirely female. (Don’t worryl we’ll address the Sisters in a bit. I’m getting to them.) Orks are supposedly genderless, being overgrown fungus (really), but are coded male from top to bottom, and are referred to by male pronouns, so they’re pretty much entirely male, as well. Necrons and Adeptus Mechanicus, being robots and humans who have been irrevocably altered with robotic parts, are functionally genderless. Tyranids are basically bugs, so again, genderless. Daemons are … well, demons, so their gender is basically nil, so we’ve got another genderless faction there.

That leaves with the Eldar (space elves), Dark Eldar (mean space elves), Tau (alien communists), Imperial Guard/Astra Militarum (WORLD WAR 2 IN SPAAAAAACE) and Inquisition (you know the joke) as vanguards of gender equality, easily less than half of the factions in the game. For the most part, even these factions fall far short of being anything other than a boys’ club.

To give credit where it’s due, some of these armies do pretty well. The Tau not only reference many of their warriors as being female with identical armor to the male versions of the same units, but also have an explicitly female character whose armor is completely nonsexualized. Similarly, the Dark Eldar have a high number of female models in their basic units, and while the predominantly female Wych Cult units dress … unfortunately, it’s not like their male counterparts in the Wych Cult units dress any better.

The Inquisition does pretty well, with female Assassins and Inquisitors scattered throughout. Not quite parity, but in this game, we’ll take what we can get (I do try to love this game, remember?) The Eldar do … okay, but not great. They have a handful of female models in their basic units, and an all female (or according to certain sources, all identifying as female, which is as close as we’re going to get to transgender models). They even used to have a fairly major female character, although Iyanna hasn’t had a physical presence in the game since 3rd edition (we’re currently on 7th), so not as good as the other armies, but not so bad comparatively, right?

Well, then we get to the Imperial Guard, which represents one of the biggest dropped balls when it comes to female representation in the grim darkness of the far future. I love the Imperial Guard. They’re probably my favorite faction that I don’t actively play, and I’ve always found them endlessly compelling.

See, while the majority of the armies in the game are genetically engineered super soldiers, fearless robots, mindless aliens, or just plain backed up by some incredibly powerful technology, the Imperial Guard are normal humans, given one of the worst weapons in the game and armor that won’t stop most army’s basic weaponry, and sent out in numbers often reaching up into the billions. I’ve always loved that aspect of them—the normal human set against a war so much bigger than them that they can barely even comprehend it.

Since they’re often deployed in the billions, you might find it reasonable to assume that they pull troops from both genders, and while you’d be right (female troopers are definitely in the background, and there’s even a lesbian couple in one of the Ciaphas Cain novels), there’s not a single female guard model in any of their dozens of units. Okay, there’s one: a sniper in Colonel Schaeffer’s Last Chancers … in an army that will typically field an amount of infantry that borders on the absurd (I’ve seen armies push 100 models in medium sized games).

What bugs me about that is how easy it would be to implement. A handful of additional torsos and heads, maybe some alternate poses, and bam, you’ve got yourself a mixed gender squad. The same technique has worked for many Dark Eldar and Eldar units, as well as (on the Fantasy side of things) Dark Elves and Wood Elves … why is it that Elves seem to have better gender diversity than humans in Warhammer?
Obviously, for some Imperial Guard regiments, a female soldier wouldn’t look much different from a male one, such as in Armageddon Steel Legion (widely known to be the best Imperial Guard regiment), but you can’t tell me a female Catachan model wouldn’t look kickass. For a setting so eager to rip off Aliens, they seem to have forgotten how awesome Vasquez was.

But there’s one more—one I mentioned at the top wen I was dividing the armies up by gender—one army that is entirely female. That’s the Adepta Sororitas, also known as the Sisters of Battle (and briefly known as the Witch Hunters). I’ve been saving the Sisters for last, because to me, the Sisters are special.

Sisters are one of the 5 full armies I currently play (alongside Eldar, Dark Eldar, Dark Angels and Mechanicus), and they’re one of my longest running, second only to Eldar. They’re also one of my absolute favorites, with a gorgeous model line and a fascinating background. The INCREDIBLY condensed version: They’re the extremely religious military of the human faction’s Church, but the Church is forbidden from having “Men under arms,” so their entire military has to be women. Oh, and when I say religious, I mean religious; their ability to perform miracles is literally a gameplay mechanic.

They’re also one of my favorite to play, with a unique and highly aggressive playstyle that I’ve always enjoyed. And, not to toot my own horn, but they have one of the best win/draw/loss ratio of any army in my collection, with 14 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss since 7th edition started. That’s not to say they’re a top-tier army by any means, but they’re definitely solidly middle tier, and my affection for them is far from isolated; just a few days ago, one of my friends in my local group expressed an interest in them.

The problem is, they are prohibitively expensive and incredibly difficult to collect. The model line hasn’t been updated since 2004, which means that instead of buying a single box of 5-10 plastic models for a unit, you have to buy between 2 and 9 blister packs of 1-3 metal models. No other army is still metal, which incidentally makes carrying them around a workout.

This makes them expensive to collect. I’m not going to bring up figures, partially because the cost is available and partially because I’m a tiny bit ashamed of how much money I’ve sunk into this hobby. So instead, an example: A few months ago, I played a 1250-point game with my Sisters of Battle (for those of you who don’t play, each model is worth a certain number of “points” to put into play, and an average game uses 1500-2000 points) and decided to do a quick calculation on how much that army would cost in dollars if I was buying it new. I don’t want to say the figure (again, ashamed), but that 1250-point army would have easily payed for 2000 points’ worth of my then recently started Dark Angels army.
The sisters also haven’t had a physical codex since 2011, which leaves the army in the position of having only 16 choices across the entire army (if that sounds like a lot, I should mention that most armies have 30 or more). It also means that if you want to play, you have to get the digital codex, which means either owning a tablet or lugging around your laptop. Due to the lack of different units, their armies tend to wind up looking … very similar.

That, friends, is why the lack of female models in the Imperial Guard is only one of the bigger missed opportunities for female representation. They have an incredible, unique, fun to play army, with a great background and brilliant visual design, sitting in their universe, that they are doing nothing with.

Sisters are currently trapped in a self-perpetuating loop. They’re prohibitively difficult and expensive to play, so fewer people buy them, so Games Workshop never gives them new models or a proper codex, so they remain prohibitively difficult and expensive to play, so fewer … you see the issue. I’m sure Sisters would sell fine if they got a proper update, but because they currently sell so poorly, they’re unlikely to ever get updated.

I can forgive a lot of Games Workshop’s problems with female inclusion. I can forgive that they assume their fanbase is mostly men, and thus they don’t need to include female models. I can forgive the cheesecake presentation of a lot of a lot of the women that are there. I can even forgive the stupid boob-plate the Sisters of Battle wear, if only because it’s not more ridiculous than a lot of what the other armies wear. Fun fact: A Blood Angels unit wears armor with six packs and nipples on them. Check it out. What I cannot forgive, much less understand, is why GW allows one of their best and most unique armies to languish without any support.

We’ve established that the state of gender representation in Warhammer 40k is a major problem at best, and a complete disaster at worst. So what’s the solution? Well, here’s one I seized upon while writing this article: I don’t know.

There are a lot of issues with female representation in most geek-related media, and while Warhammer is one of the most bizarrely lopsided, it’s not the only one, nor is it the most extreme, and people have been trying to find solutions to these problems for years. In Warhammer, for example, I’ve seen people try to pressure Games Workshop to expand their female representation via sales (last year, a large-ish group of Sisters players coordinated to buy a specific Sisters of Battle model in order to show GW that there is a market for them), petitions (I’ve seen several petitions to GW, for everything from giving Sisters an update, to just including female models in the Imperial Guard), or just plain talking them up (this very article). The problem is that we don’t know if any of it is having any effect.

Games Workshop is a big company, and it changes slowly when it changes at all. For all I know, they’ve already heard the complaints about the lack of female representation in Warhammer, and we just haven’t seen the effects yet, because the wheels are taking forever to move. I know they listen to their fans, as they eventually did with the 7th edition Fantasy debacle (again, an article for another day). The only thing to do is to keep up the pressure and make sure they know that people want to see more female representation in Warhammer.

… and you could play Sisters.

The Brush and Palette / Substitute paints
« on: February 05, 2016, 05:16:57 PM »
Perhaps you should consider it an opportunity to look for cheaper (non-GW) alternatives.

This could be an excellent opportunity to start a post on effective substitutes.

Here is a start: https://www.hiveworldterra.co.uk/Article/view_CoatDArmsConversionChart.html

The Electors' Forum / FAQ questions for future Update Version?
« on: July 31, 2015, 10:15:45 PM »
We have seen various threads on potential changes to the rules of the 8th edition. Personally, I am not convinced that is the way to go. Given that GW has stopped supporting the 8th edition already in Apr 2013, I feel the first step should be to plug the holes in the AB published afterwards and any holes left in the BRB/earlier ABs.

What rule (both BRB and ABs) do you think needs clarification?

The Electors' Forum / I hate Challenges in 8th Ed
« on: July 10, 2015, 09:07:20 PM »
1 not having to accept challenges from lesser models;Lord can disregard hero and champion,hero can disregard  champion.with no repecussions.

Fluff-wise, it should be the other way around.

The Town Square / Website analysis of warhammer-empire
« on: June 04, 2014, 02:05:25 PM »
I happened to stumble on this http://www.seocert.net/analyzer.warhammer-empire.com. It seems this website is worth 27,222 $.

The Count's Tavern / Errata & FAQ found
« on: April 17, 2014, 08:41:40 PM »
I posted this already elsewhere, but I think it is useful enough to flag it:

It seems, the FAQ were playing Hide and Seek: http://www.blacklibrary.com/faqs-and-errata.html

The Count's Tavern / What constitutes a rules-lawyer?
« on: March 12, 2014, 05:03:34 PM »
Disclaimer: please RAI (read as intended). This is not a thread to re-open any debate, nor is anything written here to be taken personal by anyone.

In a recent thread, it has been argued that “Hard line raw is the definition of rules lawyering, really.”

If at all true, the question remains what is hard line RAW, and what are valid arguments in a rules discussion? Here is my view; I am interested in other views. And do not worry: as it is all personal opinion, there cannot be a correct view. 

As I wrote elsewhere, I wonder, if any of us actually play Warhammer, rather than a peculiar mixture of current rules (frequently not updated), leftovers of previous editions, rules that never existed, and house rules, that people often assume to be official. That does not need to be a problem in a game. Indeed, half of the time, I simply forget to apply rules anyway (usually to my own detriment), but that does not ruin the fun.

That said, I would have thought that in a discussion about what the rules actually are, arguments must be first and foremost based on what is written in the BRB and ABs.
However, more often than not, arguments given in a rules debate are (in no particular order):

- It is not an issue
- We have always played it like that
- It should/should not be
- Otherwise it is useless/overpowered (usually the first argument relates to own troops and the second to enemy troops)
- Fluff  (although that may play a role to give a certain preference in the case of two equally valid interpretations)

Personally, I can find no value whatsoever in these kinds of arguments, unless it is firmly backed by an actual rule written in the BRB or ABs. An opinion based on these arguments  carries little weight in my eyes, even if held by a majority. 

It is further not uncommon of people to argue on the basis of what they genuinely think the written rules are, but, as testified by many a thread , that is not necessarily the case.
That happens to me as much as to anyone else, and that is why I generally “do a Fidelis” (as someone once said) and quote the rules. Most people, I think, will agree that I also usually make the effort and quote all the relevant rules in their proper context, i.e. I do not go cherrypicking.

Then there is, of course, the whole issue of RAW versus RAI.

My default position is this: if there is a way to satisfy all the rules as written, there is no need to refer to RAI. Why?
Because RAI often seem to stand for Rules as Imagined: we play it this way, so it must be intended this way. Yes, all rules need interpretation, but there is a limit. When things clearly do not mean anymore what they mean (“Highest Leadership” is not “highest Leadership” or “maximum range”  is not “maximum range”) that limit is stretched too far. None of us is a mind-reader, and we usually have no way of knowing what the intent of the writer is. As such, what is the benefit of changing the discussion about RAW into a discussion about RAI?  At least, the RAW give you something tangible to discuss.

Nevertheless, I do agree, that RAI have a role to play in (at least) two cases:
1. When the RAI are stated in the rules (which makes them in fact RAW).
Example: the 1” rule, which states “This rule is purely for clarity.”
And yet, many are perfectly willing to ignore the clearly specified intent, and use this rule for other purposes, while invoking an unstated (and thus unknown) intent against RAW in other cases.

2. When the RAW make the rule unplayable. 
Example: the Banner of the lost Hold in the current Dwarfs AB. RAW, it apparently cannot be taken by anyone, but no one will doubt that it must be possible for an item to be used.

I think, I can also claim, that I usually try to present the written rules à charge et à décharge. For example, on the last page of a recent thread, a possible problem as a result of RAW was pointed out, while failing to notice that I myself had pointed out that same problem on the very first page of the thread and several times afterwards.

Which brings me to my last point. Certainly, GW writing skills leave room for improvement (to say it mildly), but, apparently, so do our own reading skills, and rules discussions would be fewer and far shorter, if both the rules and posts in a rules debate would be read with greater attention.
If the principles I have outlined above are hard line RAW and therefore rules-lawyering, I guess, I am guilty as charged.

The Town Square / Dark times
« on: January 30, 2014, 11:47:10 PM »
are upon us - at least concerning the lay-out of this website. Most of it is pitch-black.

The Town Square / Avatars not displayed
« on: November 29, 2013, 01:59:54 PM »
I cannot see the avatars of some forum members, just an x-box. However, they themselves see their avatar correctly displayed. Does anyone have the same problem? Does anyone know the cause and remedy?

The Electors' Forum / Empire Officials in earlier times (a forlorn hope)
« on: October 18, 2013, 04:26:51 PM »
Can anyone help me with the names of the EC, Grand Theogonist and Arch-Lectors under the reign of Dieter IV, Wilhelm III and Frederik the Brave (Emperor ?), Mattheus II and Luitpold for my project The history of the Empire as depicted in the art of the time

As a spin-off from another thread, I will try to illustrate the history of the Empire under the Holswig-Schliestein Dynasty with contemporary pictures and paintings. Comments, corrections and suggestions are more than welcome.

Chronology of dates and events relevant to this History.1

1152-2304: Age of  Wars 

The Tree of War

Sigmar looks in horror how the Empire devours itself during the Age of Wars. In the treetop, the elected Emperor (in gold) tries to ward off the Ottilian Counter-Emperor (in black). To the left, the Grand Theogonist (in red) is fighting the Ar-Ulric (in blue). Elsewhere, the various social classes are warring amongst themselves. Illumination from the treatise Arbor Bellorum by Honorius Beckstein (ca. 2450), Imperial Library, Altdorf.2
  • 1360: Ottilia I proclaims herself Empress;  Ottilian Counter-Empire 1360-2304
  • 1547: Heinrich of Middenland proclaims himself Emperor.
  • 1547-2304: Age of the Three Emperors

2304- : the Empire re-united
2304-2369: Reign of Magnus von Bildhofen (the Pious), who reunites the Empire.
2369-2401: Reign of Leopold Krieglitz
2401-2429: Reign of Dieter IV Krieglitz, grandson of Leopold

  • 2410-2424: Waaagh of the Goblin Warboss Grom the Paunch. Grom’s huge army first attacks Dwarf territory. In response of a Dwarven request for support, Dieter IV moves the capital from Nuln to Altdorf to remove the court from the threat, but does nothing to remove the threat itself. From 2020 onwards, the Waaagh lays waste to the Empire. In 2424, his fleet, build to attack Marienburg from the sea, destroys the Imperial Navy, but a storm ravages the Orcs, driving them to the open sea and ultimately Ulthuan.
  • 2429: Dieter IV grants independence to Marienburg. As a result, he is deposed by the Elector Counts, who elect in his stead

2429- Reign of Wilhelm III.
  • 2429: After the inconclusive First Campaign against Marienburg, Wilhelm III defeats his rival Frederik of Talabheim in the “War of Succession”. The Golden Bull of Talabheim introduces reforms and secures his position as Emperor. 

2502: Karl Franz elected Emperor.

1. A more detailed Chronology of the Empire from official and unofficial sources can be found in: http://www.madalfred.com/articles/EMPIRE%20HISTORY.rtf
2. Honoré Bovet, Arbre des Batailles, Illumination by Loyset Liédet, (1461-1467), ms. 9079, fol. 10v, Koninklijke Bibliotheek Brussel.

Prelude: Emperor Dieter IV and the end of the Stirland Dynasty

After the death of Emperor Magnus (2369), the crown did not pass to his brother, Gunther von Bildhofen, but to Elector Count Leopold von Krieglitz of the Stirland House of Unfähiger. In 2411, his grandson Dieter succeeded him, but proved to be a vain, corrupt, ineffective, and incompetent ruler, earning him the nicknames der Fette (the Fat) and der Faule (the Lazy/Idle).

1.Emperor Dieter IV with full regalia

His focus was the reconstruction of Nuln, the Imperial capital at the time, as a grandiose and beautiful metropolis. Nearly half of the city was demolished to create space for the Palace of Gold. He also neglected the defence of the Empire, diverting funds from the Imperial military towards his extravagant building plans.

2. The Psalter of Dieter IV.

This is the first page of a Psalter was produced by Johannes Mallard and presented to the Emperor when still residing in Nuln. Dieter, reading the Psalter in the lavish surroundings of the Palace of Gold, is looking to the reader – who was of course himself! The Reman text reads: Beatus vir qui non abiit in consilio impiorum, et in via peccatorum non stetit, et in cathedra pestilentiæ non sedit (Blessed is the man who does not guide his steps by ill counsel, or turn aside where sinners walk, or, where scornful souls gather, sit down to rest). Dieter himself has added in the margin: Nota quis sit beatus (Look who is blessed) - an extraordinary display of smugness and vanity!

1. Henry VIII on an illuminated plea roll of the Court of the King's Bench from 1544. Public Record Office, London.
2. Henry VIII’s Psalter, London c. 1540, by Jean Mallard or Mallart. The British Library, London

The Electors' Forum / Ludwig Schwartzhelm
« on: March 15, 2010, 07:22:54 PM »
Given that Ludwig Schwartzhelm functions as a BSB, can he be the army's general?

The Electors' Forum / Skaven Details
« on: December 23, 2009, 08:54:27 PM »
Until next Monday, I have a copy of the Skaven Army Book (German version). If anyone has a question regarding Skaven, I will be happy to (try and) answer.

The Electors' Forum / Special Characters
« on: November 01, 2006, 09:37:10 AM »
In previous threads, we had some info on Luthor Huss and Balthasar Gelt, but not the whole picture. Does anyone (the admirable Cripple perhaps) some more details on these and other special characters?

The Electors' Forum / Tactica
« on: May 04, 2006, 04:24:48 PM »
Where do I currently find the Engineer Tactica, the Griffon Tactica, the Tactica Universalis and the Advanced Pegasus Tactica? I did a search but the links given in previous messages do not seem to work.
Sigmar gratias,
Fidelis von Sigmaringen

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