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“Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
Hello, TechRaptor readers. Instead of going over new model releases or a new tabletop game, we’re going to put down our dice and brushes and pick up our holy bolters to purge some filthy heretic scum. A recent article published on radical feminist rag The Mary Sue went full heresy earlier this week, lambasting the much loved Warhammer 40,000 franchise. Not for glorifying violence or religious zealotry or racism, but for being too sexist. In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only misogyny.
And whatever else crybullies like James McConnaughy want to throw in the hopes something will stick and whatever rainbow-haired shrieking harridan calling herself “feminist” he’s fixated on will finally deign to acknowledge his existence for a brief moment before immediately berating him for having the temerity to be born male.
For those of you not fully in the know, Warhamer 40,000 is a tabletop wargame set in a completely over-the-top galaxy full of violence, hatred, blind zealotry, and pineapple on pizzas. The game is set in the never ending year 40,999, and things are bad. And when I say “bad,” I mean “utterly, terrifingly horrible for everyone everywhere.” Humanity is stuck in another Dark Age where technology is worshipped as divine, a brutal and uncaring religious police state dominates all facets of life, and a panoply of horrors await their chance to drown entire planets in blood.
Humans in the Warhammer 40K universe have a wide and varied selection of ways to die painfully horrible deaths. If you’re not:
- going to be devoured by an unthinking horde of extragalactic horrors
- ritualistically tortured and sacrificed in the name of alien gods bent on turning the galaxy into a literal hellscape
- culled like herd animals by inscrutable alien soldiers trying to avoid a fate they created
- exterminated like infesting vermin
- killed by hulking fungi who live simply to fight
- tricked into joining an insidious communist regime only to be gelded for the “greater good”
- kidnapped in the middle of the night to become horribly tortured and mutilated slaves for someone’s ghastly enjoyment
then you’ll probably be killed due to a low-level bureaucrat making a rounding error half a galaxy away prompting a planet-wide cleansing by orbital fire.
There’s a reason why the Imperium is not-so-jokingly referred to as “Catholic Space Nazis.” It’s not the ideal family vacation spot.
Let’s take a look at each faction and determine whether or not they contribute to the game’s overall sexism. For starters, we can remove all races that don’t have a gender for one reason or another. So goodbye Necrons, Tyranids, Orks, and both flavors of Adeptus Mechanicus (Skitarii and Mechanicus proper). That helps narrow things down a bit.
Now, let’s take a look at the male-only factions: Space Marines (including chapters that have their own codexes) and Chaos Space Marines. Seven-foot tall, genetically and surgically modified angels of death fighting in the name of either the God-Emperor of Mankind, one or all of the Chaos Gods, or only for themselves. There are several in-universe and real-life explanations as to why these factions are a “boys only” club.
During the Age of Strife (a second Dark Age), the Emperor of Mankind finally realized that millennia of trying to guide humanity while staying out of sight simply wasn’t working. He came out from the shadows, built an army, and united Terra in the name of the Imperium of Mankind. Realizing that humanity wouldn’t survive in the galaxy unless it was united once again, he set forth the Great Crusade to take back the lost worlds and bring Mankind under one banner. From this desire, the Space Marine Legions were born. Tens of thousands of genetically modified warrior monks utterly dedicated to the Emperor and their Primarch (a super-super soldier, as it were, somewhere between a normal Space Marine and the Emperor himself). The procedures involved were keyed to male chromosomes, presumably since the Emperor himself provided a DNA blueprint for the Space Marines, so creating female Space Marines would be impossible.
Assuming female Space Marines could be created by the standard process, it would invariably be a disaster for humanity as a whole later on down the road. If there are male Space Marines, and female Space Marines, then there would eventually be baby Space Marines. Creating an entire army of post-human warriors is one thing. Letting said army of post-human warriors reproduce without your assistance humanity will end up being second-class citizens in their own Imperium.
Now, let’s say you could create female Space Marines and you could keep them from procreating, what good would it do? Like it or not, humanity is a sexually dimorphic species. Women are physically smaller, slower, and weaker than men overall. Bringing women up to the same physical level as male Space Marines would take much more in time and resources. The Imperium of the Great Crusade couldn’t afford to spare anything, as they were already so strapped for time corners were being cut to get more Marines on the field. This is widely hinted at as one of the primary factors leading up to the Horus Heresy, a galaxy-spanning civil war that created the Chaos Space Marines and nearly brought humanity to its knees.
This also wouldn’t be feasible during the “current” era of the game, as humanity’s understanding of technology and the process of creating Space Marines has largely disappeared. The Adeptus Mechanicus controls just about all facets of technology and believe the Machine God is responsible for everything from light switches to Titans working properly. Nobody actually understands exactly what they’re doing or why they’re doing it other than to appease the machine spirits living inside everything more complicated than a screwdriver.
Stepping back into the real world, there is one main reason why Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines, and even the Imperial Guard are male-only: Making models is expensive. Not just designing the models themselves, but designing them in such a way they can be cast in pieces and reassembled again later on. Not to mention the prohibitive costs involved in creating new moulds for female torsos and heads. Add in packaging costs, shipping costs, and taking up valuable space either on a store shelf or a warehouse, and the numbers add up quickly. While the demand for female Guard bits would be much greater than female Space Marine bits (as evidenced by the number of third parties making conversion kits to do just that), I just don’t see there being enough demand for female Space Marines to cover the cost of creating them.
This is why there were never any female Space Marines or Guardsmen to begin with. Hell, the only reason why Chaos Space Marines exist in the first place is so Games Workshop could cut down on design and production costs. Using the same basic models for two factions was a huge money saver and worked out in the long run.
Now that we have the big guys out of the way, let’s get a bit more in-depth as far as lore goes. There are plenty of examples of kick-ass women in the Imperial Guard. Anyone who played Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine remembers the no-nonsense Lieutenant Mira, who kept her cool and focused on her mission of killing as many Orks as possible. If you’ve read any of the Ciaphas Cain novels, you’ll recall Colonel Kasteen, the commander of the Valhallan 597th. After smoothing out the rough spots between her and her X.O Major Broklaw in the first novel, she proves to be a highly capable Guard commander and even avoids using the default “throw enough waves of troops at the enemy and they’ll eventually start slipping in all the blood and viscera” tactics commonly seen throughout the Imperium. The Horus Heresy novels have flag-captain Lotara Sarrin earning the respect and admiration of World Eaters Primarch Angron himself. And if you can earn the respect of a constantly-enraged death machine and his horde of post-human berserkers, that’s definitely saying something.
So the humans are dealt with. Let’s move on to some filthy xenos scum. Those that actually have genders, at least.
First up are the Eldar. To avoid confusion, we’re talking about the Craftworld variety. We’ll get to the Harlequins and Dark Eldar shortly.
Warhammer 40,000 as a whole is basically gothic space fantasy. Space Marines are knights (both loyal and traitor), the Imperial Guard represents normal human armies, and the Eldar are elves. In space.
Don’t give me that look. You accepted the whole “Space Marines made from the Emperor’s DNA” bit earlier; space elves aren’t much more of a stretch.
The Craftworld Eldar are the shattered remnants of a once-great empire that was brought down by their own hedonism and bloodlust. And when I say “hedonism and bloodlust,” I mean “had enough space cocaine and blood orgies to rip a hole in reality and bring forth a god of Chaos.” (Bear with me, I really had to work hard to describe the Fall of the Eldar in a way that would slip past the editor). A small number of Eldar grew disgusted with the downfall of morality in their civilization and took off in giant starship-cities that mostly made it out of the blast zone before their empire was sucked into the tenth level of Hell.
As you can imagine, there aren’t many Craftworld Eldar left. Estimates in the lore put the total death rate and anywhere from 90% to 95% of all Eldar were killed by the birth of Slaanesh, the Chaos god of excess. Those that are left don’t reproduce all that fast, and the galaxy is even more dangerous than ever. Everyone is responsible for keeping the guttering flame of Eldar civilization going at any cost, which means even women fight. The Eldar range has plenty of female models interspersed amongst the men, including several units that are all female. The Howling Banshees, for example, are front-line melee fighters who don’t worry about microaggressions or the patriarchy when cutting their foes into small, wet ribbons. Jain Zar, the Storm of Silence and creator of the Howling Banshees, doesn’t think about the male gaze when ripping her foes apart. There are plenty of female warlocks and farseers (also known as psykers, the 40K equivalent of wizards) interspersed in the line as well. Gender equality is fairly well-represented in the Eldar. It’s not 50-50, which makes sense when you consider the fact that women are kinda needed to make babies which are in short supply where the Craftworlders are concerned.
On the opposite side of the coin are the Dark Eldar, another group of survivors from the birth of Slaanesh. The Dark Eldar are the descendants of a group that hid in the extradimensional realm known as the webway due to the fact that their kinks were so raunchy even the people who screwed a new God into being told them to bring it down a notch. Here’s where things get more interesting.
According to the lore, any time an Eldar dies, their soul goes to Slaanesh to munch on for eternity. The Craftworld Eldar avoid this by wearing special spirit stones that trap their soul inside to be released into a Ghostbusters-like vault to avoid this grisly fate. The Dark Eldar, however, have no such protection. While they were spared the initial brunt of Slaanesh’s birth by virtue of hiding in the webway, that proved to be only a fleeting comfort. Their souls are still being consumed, but much slower than normal. A bit of experimentation found that the void left by long-term soul noming could be filled by torturing others gave birth to the drugged out, sadistic, psychic vampires we know today.
In Dark Eldar society as a whole, gender matters not at all. All that matters is that you’re smarter and quicker than everyone else. Those that are, rise high. Those that aren’t meet a grim fate. The only place that gender truly matters is in the gladiatorial pits of the Wyches, a vital outlet in Dark Eldar society that provides gruesome entertainment to keep the population satiated and in line. They believe that men simply aren’t quick and agile enough to be true masters of the arena, so only women rise to the top. Men are basically there only for battlefield support and breeding stock. How’s that for gender equality?
The lore is filled with female Dark Eldar working their way through society. Lady Aruelia Malys is the second most powerful person in Commoragh (the name of the Dark Eldar realm) through guile, deceit, and utter ruthlessness. Her cleverness knows no bounds, as she was able to outwit Cegorach, the Laughing God, in a game of riddles. If you can run mental circles around a god, you’re not someone to mess with.
Lelith Hesperax is another example of a strong female character. Lelith is a predator, pure and simple. She only cares about proving herself as the apex predator in the galaxy. She doesn’t use any of the combat drugs normally utilized by other Wyches. Lelith dresses in revealing outfits to show off the fact that she has precisely zero scars from her years in the arenas and battlefields. The only weapons she uses are a pair of knives and her hair doubling as a hooked net. The life expectancy of anyone who goes toe-to-toe with her in the arena is measured in mere minutes, if not seconds. Lelith is not someone to mess with.
The final third of the Eldar are the Harlequins, the … space elf … ninja … clown … psyker … historians of the 40K universe (I told you the setting was over-the-top). They are servants of the Laughing God and protectors of the Black Library, an ancient repository containing all of the Eldar’s knowledge of Chaos. They function primarily as ambassadors for both the Craftworld and Commorite Eldar, providing an important line of communication between the two. That’s not to say a Harlequin troupe won’t start a fight with either side; they have their own agenda and their own rules. While the Harlequins don’t have a specific female character to claim as their own, the model range does come with plenty of both male and female models in an almost 50-50 split. There is no distinction between the two genders in gameplay or lore, making them quite possibly the most equal faction in the game.
And at the end of the “Filthy Xenos” list, we come to the Tau. A young race of technologically adept humanoids slowly building their empire on the eastern fringes of the galaxy, ruled by the enigmatic Ethereals, the Tau espouse a collectivist ideology focused on helping the “Greater Good.” According to the lore, both men and women are part of the warrior castes. However, as they are aliens and almost all wearing armor, there’s no way to tell exactly which are men and which are women. The army has only one specifically female character in Commander Puretide. She is an excellent commander and highly regarded in Tau society. Her model is both decidedly female and not sexualized to the same degree, which will make crybully feminists and their male allies … less unhappy. I don’t really think radical feminists can actually experience joy in anything that doesn’t involve male suffering.
There is one faction I haven’t covered yet, and for good reason. I wanted to save the best for last. Yes, Warhammer fans, it’s time to talk about the Sisters of Battle.
The Sisters of Battle are the military arm of the church. After yet another civil war almost brought the Imperium to its knees, caused by the church this time, the High Lords of Terra declared that the church could no longer have any men under arms. The church decided to take this literally and give all the guns and power armor to women instead. Smart, huh?
The Sisters of Battle are a group of fanatically zealous nuns with guns. Keep in mind the fact that these ladies are considered zealots even among the everyday zealots of the Imperium as a whole. These are women who will not only refuse support on the battlefield when they’re outnumbered, but will shoot anyone who tries to call for backup. These women guard shrines, escort and guard prisoners, and purge heretics, of course. With fire. Lots of fire.
The model line, sadly, is in desperate need of an update. It’s currently the only model line that is almost entirely metal; everything else is a primarily plastic with a smattering of resin here and there. The models are also horribly dated, looking like they came straight out of the 1980s. Warhammer fans have been clamoring for an update to the line for years, but have been met with nothing but silence from Games Workshop. The currently accepted explanation is due to modeling and casting issues with the new designs. According to several sources, the problem comes from difficulties in creating sufficient gates (spots to pour the liquid plastic into the moulds themselves) with the new model designs to allow enough plastic to enter and fill the moulds. This can be a very expensive process, as each mould can easily run into the six figure range, so even a minor setback can be costly.
Let’s take a step out of the grim darkness of the far future and come back to reality. Why even have female models to begin with? Why have female models that appear to be so heavily sexualized? What’s to be gained from this?
The biggest reasons for having a mixed gender force have nothing to do with actual gameplay and more to do with your overall enjoyment of the game. Immersion is a major part of the whole wargaming experience. The grim darkness of the far future is grim and dark, after all. When the galaxy is less than two minutes to midnight on the doomsday clock, everyone is needed on the front lines, man and woman alike. Seeing an Eldar army, for example, with no women would be a bit jarring. Unless you’re running an all-Wraith army, of course. In which case, keep your D-scythes away from me.
Model variety is another important factor, though for a different reason. Having a mixed gender force helps break up the monotony of painting dozens of miniatures that all look exactly the same, which helps you get your force fully painted in a shorter amount of time. Players with single (or no) gender armies have to find other ways to cope with the monotony of painting yet another squad that looks almost exactly like all the others.
So now that we’ve established why mixed gender armies exist, let’s tackle the “sexualization” portion. There are a few reasons why female models in 40K look overly sexual, and it has nothing to do with the male gaze or misogyny at all. For starters, the models are small. The average infantry miniature is about 28mm tall, which really isn’t all that much to work with. You want to be able to at least tell at a glance which models are male and which are female when they’re on the table or on display. Given the scale of the game as a whole, the best way to accomplish this is to exaggerate certain features. Warhammer 40K uses the “heroic 28mm” scale, meaning some proportions are exaggerated to make the models look more imposing or … well, heroic. In the case of the male minis, this typically means big arms, barrel chests, and gigantic pauldrons that would seriously block peripheral vision in real life. For female models, this means small waists, longer hair, and a bigger bust.
Another factor to consider is the lore and background of the universe, which primarily affects the look of both the Sisters of Battle and the Dark Eldar. The Sisters look more “sexualized” in order to emphasize the fact that they are women. The Imperium as a whole aren’t known for their towering intellect, and their current style (which badly needs updating) makes it quite clear that they are, in fact, women, and the Ecclesiarchy is, in fact, holding firm to the Decree Passive.
The Dark Eldar women, on the other hand, are sexualized because they like it. They are the descendants of the pre-Fall who were too freaky and sex-fueled for the people who literally screwed a god into existence. Their society is based on sensation, excess, and spectacle. Wyches don’t just have to kill; they have to kill with style. Anyone can stab an opponent with a knife; not everyone can decapitate a dozen man with a twirl of her braid and the monofilament blade hiding in it. Dark Eldar women find mixing their sexuality and their deadliness incredibly intoxicating, as do the men, which can be a potent tool in advancing through the ranks of Commorite society.
The biggest issue I have with this argument, though, is the assumption that any sexualization is inherently bad in any sort of entertainment medium. I can understand how going overboard on certain aspects can be a bit disconcerting (take a look at some of the more … imaginative Slaaneshi conversions for evidence), but at the end of the day, it’s just a game. It’s not real. Nobody thinks Space Marines actually exist, or a WAAGH! Of Orks is going to descent on our heads. The Chaos Gods don’t actually exist, and nobody is actually getting hurt playing a game with plastic dudesmen on a table. Unless you accidently step on a Dark Eldar model barefoot, of course.
After going through the article on the Mary Sue, the single most important question on my mind was: Why, exactly, are the sexualized elements actually bad? What harm does it cause? Does he think a young boy who sees a picture of a scantily-clad Wych or a heavily stylized Sister of Battle immediately thinks women shouldn’t be treated as people? Does the lack of 50/50 gender representation throughout the entire 40K range lead to an increase in sexual assaults caused by wargamers? Obviously not, since taking that position would relegate him to the lunatic fringe of old to languish with the likes of Jack Thompson and the PMRC. Had the author been a woman, however, this could be parlayed into a wildly overfunded Kickstarter, a half-forgotten YouTube channel, and a steady stream of Patreon donations. James failed to state precisely why any of this is actually detrimental to Warhammer 40K, its fans, or the hobby as a whole; the reader is meant to assume that a lack of equal gender representation in the Space Marines and some sexualized elements are problematic by dogmatic fiat simply due to his credentials as a male feminist. As it stands now, the entire piece simply boils down to “I don’t like it, therefore misogyny. Ignore everything your customer base says and make the changes I want because feminism.”
James is trying to pass himself off as so very progressive and thoughtful, but his entire piece sounds like an insecure teenager trying to pass himself off as mature to his peers by spouting some poorly thought out and poorly explained ideas he stumbled upon while trying to secretly find NSFW subreddits on the family computer. Relax, take a deep breath, and learn to enjoy the 1980s-inspired, completely over-the-top, utter ridiculousness of the Warhammer 40K universe. It’s just a game, after all.