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Sticking Up for the Girls: In Defense of Female Space Marines
Every so often, I’ll visit an online forum and come across a thread debating whether female Space Marines belong in Warhammer 40,000. As one can tell by a perusal of the Fighting Tiger Codex, I am adamantly on the side of those who say yes; however, others are not. In this rant, I’ll discuss why I believe that female Space Marines belong in the game and why I don’t accept the objections of players who don’t agree (henceforth known as the Distinguished Opposition).

Why Use Female Space Marines?
For me, the idea of female Space Marines was a way out of a bind. I had started my Fighting Tiger army in 1987 and had painted scores of them, many as “White Tigers.” I was inspired by the Second Edition Ultramarine Codex to develop some background material—“fluff”—for my chapter. As I did, I had difficulty explaining why some of my Marines wore white armor pieces. What was it about them that warranted such a different look? 

Flipping through the original Rogue Trader book, I came across the picture below and decided that my “White Tigers” would be women warriors in power armor. 

Sister of Battle
Artwork © copyright 1999 Games Workshop Ltd.

At the time, I didn’t know what an “Adepta Sororita” was. I found out several months later, when the Sisters of Battle Codex was published, but I paid it little attention. My female warriors weren’t “nuns with guns,” they were the Tigers of Kali, Assault Marines with a penchant for taking the hands of defeated enemies as trophies. Oh, sure, I got some strange looks from a few opponents, but back in those days, most people I encountered really didn’t care. Second Edition armies tended to be pretty strange anyway.

Raja Khandar Madu, the RedheadThird Edition arrived, and in revamping my army, I took the opportunity to add more female Marines, including Raja Khandar Madu (at right), who eventually became my favorite character (and, it must be said, the favorite character of many visitors to this site). Using female Marines expanded my thinking and opened up a lot of avenues for creativity and discovery, especially when considered in the light of late 20th Century/early 21st Century perceptions of women. If one supposes for a moment that female Space Marines exist, one might ask:

  • What physical changes would be associated with transforming a woman into a Space Marine? How would these differ from those used for men?

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  • What would a female Space Marine look like? Would female Marines retain (how can I put this delicately?) “feminine” body features? Could female Space Marines be considered “feminine” or “beautiful?” Would female Space Marines be able to reproduce? For that matter, can male Space Marines reproduce?

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  • Would female Marines think or feel emotions any differently from non-Marine women or male Space Marines? How would female Marines interact with women who were not Marines? With which group—“normal” women or male Marines—would female Marines more identify themselves with? 

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  • Would female Marines be segregated from males? If not, how would male and female Marines interact on professional and personal levels?

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  • How would chapters without female Marines view chapters with female Marines? How would other organizations within the Imperium view female Marines? How would enemies? 
I don’t know about you, but I find these questions to be very compelling. For me, the concept of female Space Marines offers more depth to a game that I already find nearly endlessly fascinating. 

The Distinguished Opposition
Not everyone agrees with me, however. In fact, I’d wager that most 40K players oppose the idea of female Space Marines. I’ve even had people send me hate mail—hate e-mail, actually—over this issue, and I expect more will appear after this editorial goes online. Usually, their objections boil down to one or more of the following, to which I will respond in turn:

  • “Games Workshop says that all Marines must be male.”
  • “Female Space Marines aren’t fluffy.”
  • “Female Space Marines aren’t realistic.”
  • “If you want women in power armor, play Sisters of Battle.”
Objection #1: “Games Workshop says that all Marines must be male”
To the best of my knowledge, the line “all Marines must be male” first appeared in an article in a very early White Dwarf and was reprinted in the Warhammer 40,000 Compendium, circa 1989. Parts of that article were reprinted again in White Dwarf #249.

In countering this argument, let me point out that that line first appeared at a time when Space Marines were allowed the use of jetbikes, Harlequins could use Land Raiders, Genestealers had no connection to Tyranids, and a race called the Squats stumped about on the battlefields. 

Obviously, the game has changed significantly over the years, and Games Workshop has revised its material as it sees fit. GW could decide tomorrow to put out a line of female Space Marines and the phrase “all Marines must be male,” would go straight down the Memory Hole.

For now, however, the phrase stands. But honestly, I don’t care. You know why? Because the designers of the game have made it abundantly clear many, many times before, in White Dwarf and other venues, that I, you, Cousin Sid, whoever, has carte blanche to do what they want with the game. Warhammer 40K is an inherently creative product that allows, even encourages, participants to exercise their creativity to almost limitless extents. Players have ample opportunities to create new armies, new characters, new narratives, new worlds, new scenarios, etc., within the context of the rules or even—with their opponent’s consent—beyond the context of the rules. And the last time I checked, there was no “rule” about female Space Marines. Nope, can’t find it anywhere in the “Big Black Book…..”

Objection #2: “Female Space Marines aren’t fluffy”
Warhammer 40K is different from many other games in that it has a large fictional background, also known as “fluff.” When a 40K player says that an idea, a character, story, or whatever is or is not “fluffy,” they mean that (in their opinion) the material fits or does not fit their understanding of the pre-existing background. The Distinguished Opposition will point out that in every official story or codex published by Games Workshop, all of the Marines are male. “Don’t you think,”  they will say, “that if there were female Marines, they would have appeared in print by now?”

The way I look at it, Games Workshop has thus far chosen not to include female Marines in the armies they have created: the Ultramarines, Space Wolves, Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Black Templars, etc. And that’s fine: Games Workshop created those armies, so they may write whatever fluff they want for them. 

But please afford me the same privilege. I created the Fighting Tigers of Veda, so I may write whatever fluff I want for them. And indeed, I took great pains to make them fluffy. My Tigers of Kali:

  • Were introduced into the Chapter after devastating losses;
  • Were originally intended only as a temporary, “stop-gap” solution;
  • Fill a specialized niche within the Chapter (assault roles, as I mentioned); and
  • Comprise only about 30% of the Chapter.
Furthermore, my chapter is based on a non-Western culture (Hindu) and is geographically isolated from the rest of the Imperium (located east of the Maelstrom, west of the Galactic Core). Thus, my chapter, while loyal to the Emperor, has very little contact with the rest of the Imperium and does not agree with much of its ideology. 

This situation lets my chapter “get away with” practices that probably would not be tolerated elsewhere. As in: “What they don't know can't hurt us, and even if they do know, it’s a long trip out here to do something about it.” 

“But it’s a technological dark age,” the fluffmeisters might protest. “The Imperium recycles technology that they really don’t understand. They couldn’t be able to figure out how to do that.”

Well, who is to say that the current Imperial scientists had to figure it out? The recovery of a Standard Template Construct (STC) or other lost data is a recurring theme found in 40K stories. Imagine, if you will, that a Space Marine chapter found an ancient file that gave them the insight to make adjustments to the process they use to make Marines, eliminating undesirable geneseed corruption and, as an added benefit, solving any problems inherent with women becoming Marines. Isn’t it possible that someone, somewhere in the vast expanse of the Imperium, at sometime, had the need and the wherewithal to turn women into Space Marines? 

“But Marines are bound by tradition. They wouldn’t go against their ancient way to include females.” Perhaps, perhaps not. Some chapters are more pragmatic than others, less zealous, more receptive to new ideas that would allow them to better serve the Emperor. Marine Chapter Masters aren’t all alike—anyone who follows the fluff knows that. Again, does anyone want to tell me that of all the thousands of Chapter Masters who have served during the 10,000 years of the Imperium, not one has ever been willing to try?

My point is that I’ve never encountered any kind of 40K scenario—Orks allying with Marines, Tyranids fighting Tyranids, you name it—that couldn’t be explained through a bit of creative fluff-writing. And as I alluded to in my response to Objection #1, I’m not content to sit around and let Games Workshop do all my thinking for me. There isn’t a monopoly on ideas, you know. 

Objection #3: “Female Space Marines aren’t realistic”
A crucial element to fiction is something called “suspension of disbelief.” That is, the willingness of readers to momentarily believe in people that never existed (called “characters”) and events that never happened (called “plot”). 40K’s background fiction requires players to suspend disbelief in the existence of a large number of items, including:

  • An alternate universe (the Warp) that is the home of hostile ectoplasmic entities (daemons) that, when they appear in our universe, conveniently manifest themselves as beings from Judeo-Christian belief. While astronomers theorize that other universes may exist, there is no evidence to indicate that such universes are out there, nor that they are home to Bloodthirsters, Nurglings, Daemonettes, or anything similar. 

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  • Bipedal, humanoid extraterrestrial beings who conveniently resemble creatures of myth (Eldar), legend (Tau—they’re dead ringers for the “Grays” of UFO lore), film (Necrons are certainly based on the Terminator movies), and literature (Orks). Many astronomers believe that it is possible that extraterrestrial life exists (cf. the Drake Equation), but none has found, as yet, any evidence to support that belief. Most scientists who believe in the possibility of extraterrestrial life also believe that such beings would scarcely resemble Earth creatures. In fact, aliens might appear so different that we might have difficulty recognizing them as living creatures. 

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  • Psychic powers, many of which can be quite powerful in combat (Smite, Quickening, etc.) and that allow communication over interstellar distances (Astropaths). Despite what you may have read in The National Enquirer, there is no evidence that psychic powers actually exist. 
Need I go on? All 40K players easily suspend disbelief concerning the three items I discussed above, yet many of the Distinguished Opposition try to argue that it is biologically “impossible” for women to become Space Marines. 

There’s an axiom of fiction writing that says it’s okay to “Ask the reader to believe the impossible but not the improbable.” Thus, it’s okay to ask readers to believe in Eldar, for instance, but not female Space Marines, because while the former is virtually impossible, it’s somehow easier to believe than the latter. When you buy into this axiom, you’re perpetuating the absurd notion that science will discover aliens that look like Elrond or Arwen from Lord of the Rings before it will manage to make women bigger, faster, stronger, and tougher than they are today.

Objection #4: “If you want women in power armor, play Sisters of Battle”
Of all the objections, this is the one I disagree with the least. Don’t think I haven’t given the idea serious thought (especially after the Sisters of Battle Codex first appeared during the Second Edition era). 

In building an alternate army, of course, there are lots of considerations to be made. Money is one factor; all Sister of Battle figures are metal, making them more expensive to collect. Time spent painting is another, but that would be true of any army selected (when will Games Workshop realize that there’s probably a big market for pre-painted figures?). 

In the end, there are two reason why I haven’t built a Sisters of Battle army:

Long-term viability. Though Sisters of Battle first appeared many years ago, they’ve never been one of the most popular armies out there. Army lists for them were included in the 3rd Edition main rulebook (a.k.a. the “Big Black Book”) and a revised list was published in the 2002 Chapter Approved compilation, but rumors have persisted that the Sisters were on the chopping block, set to follow Squats into oblivion.

Games Workshop will bring back Sisters of Battle with Codex: Witch Hunters, but there are no guarantees they’ll survive. Building an army requires a substantial investment, and I want to get the most out of it, not junk the army in a few years when the rules change again.

Sisters aren’t the same. Yes, I want women in power armor, but I want Tigers of Kali, not “nuns with guns.” I suppose that instead of having female Marines, I could create an Adeptas Sororitas Order called the “Sisters of the White Tiger,” but they wouldn’t be the same. Tigers of Kali are fierce hand-to-hand combatants; Sisters of Battle are close-range fire specialists. And given the inferiority of Sisters to Space Marines (compare their statlines), trying to play Sisters as Tigers of Kali wouldn’t work.

“Well, why would these ‘Sisters of the White Tiger’ have to be like your ‘Tigers of Kali,’ anyway?” the Distinguished Opposition might ask. That’s like asking, “Why do you want to play Dark Angels? Can’t you just play Ultramarines?” One of the great features about 40K is the amount of choice one has in selecting an army. Female Marines offer more choice. 

Something Else to Consider
Imagine that you’re a woman who has recently discovered 40K—maybe you’re at the mall and you wander into a GW store. Like any man who likes 40K, you obviously have some intelligence and imagination and appreciate gaming and sci-fi/fantasy. 

There at the GW store, you quickly notice that there are racks and racks of miniatures and boxes devoted to Space Marines and Chaos Space Marines—indeed, the store has more Marines than it does IG, Tau, Eldar, whatever. 

So perhaps you start checking out the Marine stuff. You ask the staff about the game. Maybe you flip through a codex or two. Perhaps you start taking an interest in Marines. At some point, it dawns on you that all the Marine figures you see are male. You ask a helpful GW staffer about it. 

“Oh,” he tells you, “all Marines are men. There are no female Marines. If you want to play females, you have to play Sisters of Battle—which we’ll have new rules and figures for in a few months. Come back then. Or I can show you some Eldar Howling Banshees. Dark Eldar have some female figures, too. But there are no female Orks, or female Tau figures. Maybe you could use some of these Escher gangers for Imperial Guard, but you'll have to buy a LOT of them....”

Now, if you were a woman, how would that make you feel? Would you be inclined to buy into this game? 

In D&D, there are no restrictions on female characters, despite the historical fact that male warriors vastly outnumbered female warriors. Most video games offer female characters. 

But 40K goes out of its way to exclude female characters. “No female Marines” leaves out GW’s top-selling product (Space Marines) and a currently very popular product (Chaos Marines). The Eldar are the only army (outside the SOB) with any significant female representation. 

And you wonder why more women don’t play 40K.

Final Thoughts
You may have read all the way to this point and you might still not believe that female Space Marines are a valid addition to the game. And that’s okay. I wrote this editorial in the hopes of changing some people’s minds, but with an awareness that not every member of the Distinguished Opposition would be persuaded. All I would ask from anyone who still opposes female Space Marines is a bit of courtesy.

When I consider all the money and time I have spent on my Space Marine army, I find myself out of patience with other gamers who tell me that I “can’t” have female Space Marines. Of course I can. I paid for them. Who is anyone else to tell me otherwise? Would they tell me what color I should paint my house or what tires I should put on my car? No? Then what makes people think they have the right to tell me what I should do with my army?

I have never insisted that female Marines exist in any army but my own, but I’ve had people tell me that I “can’t” have female Marines—as if I’ve broken some kind of rule. I’ve never told anyone, “Your army doesn’t have female Marines, so it’s invalid and I won’t play against it—or you.” But I’ve had people tell me that because I have female Marines, they’d never play me, which to me is the worst insult you can give a gamer.

I’ve had people question my sexual orientation (straight, thank you) and one guy even called me a “pervert” because I play female Marines. All through the safety of e-mail, of course. Whatever.  If you don’t like female Space Marines, don’t include them in your army. But please don’t begrudge those of us who do. 
 

Related Pages
Regarding Female Marines: A rebuttal

First posted October 2003. Revised February 2004.

Top

Fighting Tigers:
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers

Other Pages:
Main <> What's New <> Site Index <> The Tiger Roars <> Themed Army Ideas
Events and Battle Reports <> Campaigns <> Terrain <> FAQ <> Beyond the Jungle