Coming at this from the noob-ish vantage point, I’ll preface this longer item with a bit of background, which I’ll do to underline why I see it the way I do. In some of the first D&D games I played, I was playing female characters. I’m not dysphoric as far as I’m aware, nor latent-ly looking to transfer. I just like playing female characters. There’s a whole storyline in Rich Burlew’s long-running comic, The Order of the Stick, about how the fighter accidentally got hold of a cursed item that left him gender-swapped. He eventually got it off and reclaimed his masculinity… and all the characters exited the scene. … And then the bard, whom I’ve voiced in a fan production leans back in and yoinks it. I suppose you never know when a thing like that will be useful. But I suppose Elan the Bard will find some hilarious use for it.
That’s pretty much me. I GOT that item in a roleplay once. I didn’t consider it a cursed item, and had the character keep it, since I’d come up with a translation of an older Battletech character I wanted to make work in D&D. That character had been from a matriarchal society due south of galactic center called the Magistracy of Canopus. Rook was a mech technician. She didn’t pilot the huge battlemechs into the theater of operations. But she’d make them work better than most. I was in my late teens then in the late 80’s or early 90’s. It wasn’t that I didn’t think she could pilot them or wage war with them. I just liked geeky mechanic classes more. Hell, her name was cribbed from the much-disdained Harmony Gold adaptation of Genesis Climber Mospaeda as their third season of Robotech. Fans of those animated series will remember the American Alpha Variable Fighter Pilot, Rook Bartley.
Since then, there’s been three or four of my favorite non-male characters, or variations thereof, that seem to wend their way through different RPG’s, campaign settings, videogames and MMO’s I’ve played. After nearly 30 years, Rook’s an old friend. Hell, I’m using that one again in The Outer Worlds right now. My last name is actually, legally WinterRose. I got it changed back in 2012, has its roots in a name mashup of another recurring character. That of the AI, WinterMute from William Gibson‘s ‘Neuromancer‘ and Rose, an ex-mafioso assassin from Shadowrun. There’s Terry Reese, who had her roots in Geena Davis‘ character from the movie ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight‘ hybridized with that of Teri Span from the never picked up Stephen King series, ‘Golden Years‘. Teri is considered by some, certainly me, to have been a prototype for characters like Dana Scully later on in ‘The X-Files‘. The actress (whom I will not name here due to recent current events) even guest starred alongside Gillian Anderson in an episode. King even wrote an X-Files episode later. And of course, it was a Scully ep.
The long-winded geeky point is, I’m a big advocate of female characters in my gaming. Especially in my roleplaying gaming. I will straight up not play a videogame where there’s not an option for the PC’s gender 9 times out of 10. (FEMSHEP ALL THE WAY!) And maybe that’s one reason I’ve not really gotten into Warhammer before now… It wasn’t a conscious decision not to. But given that the game is so reliant on playing units with miniatures created for existing characters in the official lore and backstories… It’s kind of not all that inclusive of women? And when I say kind-of. I mean REALLY noticeably. Even for a noob like me. Maybe I’m missing something. Though in my initial research for this article, I’m not seeing the representation.
Now I suppose that’s not true for the more purely dice and paper games. The actual RPG’s like Rogue Trader where you can come up with whatever characters you wanna and roleplay them to your heart’s content. I actually have come up with a character or two for that one. And one of them was certainly a woman. The other was a tech-priest cos I’ve other abiding interests in that direction. But Euphrates Belasco was someone I wish I’d been able to develop further before that game fell on the sword of scheduling conflicts and wasn’t followed up. I don’t even remember where we were going with that. But I remember her.
Now it has been suggested to me in the past that the dearth of opportunities to play women in Warhammer may have been a politic decision. A kind of lesser of two evils decision in what may have been a lose-lose situation. A choice between making it okay in a game to kill women in battle or dealing with claims of baked-in sexism in the game’s design. And it would seem they went with the latter. I disagree with the decision, honestly. Women are every bit as capable as warriors, and as it turns out, in recent viking archaeological discoveries, always have been. In my own view, I’m not killing WOMEN on the battlefield if I’m faced with one. I’m vanquishing a foe. How her plumbing is arranged is of supreme disinterest to me if she’s firing a plasma rifle at me.
Mine is likely not the arguably popular view, however. There is this perception of Warhammer players being something of a boys club. I’m told that they’re not on the level of the ‘He-Man Woman Haters Club‘ from the early 20th century Little Rascals films. But given the incel and the toxic-masculine presence in fandoms nowadays, I cannot imagine that there’s not a bastion here. In the threads I found for background here, there were the most exclusionary comments. There was sentiment tantamount to the idea of women being included as powerful characters and squads being something that would the lore. And that if you didn’t agree with it, maybe Warhammer wasn’t for you. Even the positive commentary seemed a bit privileged, where people commented as to how ‘they wouldn’t mind‘ if certain factions got to field women in certain roles. Gosh… how inclusive… As though the new lore post end-times in Warhammer fantasy couldn’t be altered to be more inclusive if GW wanted to. Or perhaps with the great psychic awakening happening in the 40K Imperium of Man. It’s not like canonically the Chaos folks are gonna have a problem with it.
There is also another specious reason given for the idea of not opening up gender-inclusivity in game, in that the folks at GW may not want to just push a sudden influx of women in the lore and be perceived as hopping into that inclusivity as a fad. Something like the glut of comments you see in any toxic thread about modern superhero movies or Star Wars movies. Comments along the lines of “Why do we have to have this character be a woman?” “Why do we have to have so many women as superheroes now?” (Watch this blow up again with the next Thor movie in the coming year or so.) As though the superhero genre weren’t glutted with male characters for nearly a century. As though in Star Wars, women hadn’t been relegated to damsels in distress, romantic interests, or brood mares in the on-screen canon. This is a whole rant, and I’ll stop there before my mouth is flecked with foam. But as long as we’re talking other media a moment as relevant examples, will there be no women in the upcoming Eisenhorn TV series? (Well… beyond the occasional Battle Sister anyway. Given their devotion Emperor Pyrrhus, can they actually be said to pass the Bechdel Test?)
It’s been my own philosophy in life that incrementalism is merely procrastination in safe-for-work terms.. And while swatting a mosquito with an orbital nuke may be overkill, the problem said insect is more than effectively solved. And the same may be said of many other problems in the world that incrementalism merely prolongs instead of resolving. I won’t drop into an activism rant here either. But honestly, what’s the harm in going all-in? Who does it hurt? What part of the lore does it hurt? What part of the lore would not be enhanced and made more enticing to a game whose perception is that of being overwhelmingly male? For my own part, anyone whose fee-fee’s are hurt by sudden gender equality didn’t really rate all that high on my consideration list anyway.
This is not to say that there aren’t all-female groups out there. The most famous of which is getting its first plastic release in 20 years in the form of the Adepta Sororitas, or Sisters of Battle. But there are others. The Sisters of Silence were an all-female group of rogue-psyker hunters as part of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica as the Departmento Investigates. I’m given to understand there’s a whole contingent of Dark Eldar Witches as well. My own perception is that women ought to be ubiquitous enough that you don’t have to search for examples to point at and say. “See? We have women too!”
Of course another reason still, and honestly not an entirely bad one is how so much of the game is tied to iconographic miniatures. And unless your characters or units are specifically anthropomorhic human/demihumans, straight up genderless or hermaphroditic like Necrons or more bestial units… (And that’s not even getting into the more demonic or chaos-based factions.) …then there’s going to be R-rated bits of anatomy flopping about in the most visually disturbing configurations. And as much as I disagree with the double-standard of half the human race’s anatomy being R-rated, I can understand it not something you’d want to have little Jenny or Billy painting in their formative years if your kids are getting into wargaming. I get it. Okay?
But even that, to some degree, can be worked around with practical armor and clothing in your sculpts. (See the difference between the full chaos marine armor above, and the ‘bikini’ armor later in the post.) It’s already been shown that GW can do a whole overtly female designed army without sexualizing them and still have their armor be fearsome, awesome and practical. And when it comes to overtly humanoid miniatures, who’s it going to hurt to include a woman’s head to stick into the collar space of a Space Marine model? How much extra plastic do you need to make a woman-inclusive option or two on a sprue of bits you’re putting together? Hell, in Warhammer Fantasy, I should think that after the end times, the non-chaotic factions would take who they can get. It would seem to me to be the perfect opportunity to start integrating one’s forces.
40k would seem to have a more difficult issue, in that no end-times equivalent, universe-shaking event has made change to such hidebound (armorbound?) policy necessary. This is not to say that such a necessity couldn’t be introduced. But it has to be said… 40k’s lore is is very, very patriarchal. More to the point, it would seem to have been so on the order of THOUSANDS of years. How does that suddenly change? The sudden and seemingly inevitable advance of the Necron? The final and proper death of the Emperor of Mankind, and the sudden war to fill the vacuum left in his wake? And the requisite advance of chaos in his absence?
I didn’t say it’d be easy. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be. But I don’t see this so much as a problem. I see it more as an opportunity to tell a compelling story of interstellar conflict born of sudden need and desperation. And in the face of such odds, why wouldn’t you confront the sudden danger and strife as a whole race instead of just half?