For years now a simple question has floated about the WH40k fandom: why are there no female space marines? The canonical answer is that the God Emperor created superhuman beings in His imagine, and ergo, he made dudes. Realistically we know that WH40k was founded at a time that wasn’t as “enlightened.” Fantasy and science-fiction have long been primarily targeted at young men, and ergo, the Big Strong Men™ were men. Which, if we’re being honest, is for the best. Given the time period they were created we probably would have been subject to the same cringe art that pops up on Reddit and DakkaDakka of waifus in ceramite bikinis. Miss me.
But the argument has picked up speed lately, and more and more people ask “Why no female space marines?” I’ve even heard fan theories that perhaps Primarchs 2 and 11 were female. I say again: miss me. This argument has never held any sway with me for a variety of reasons. Most of which boil down to misunderstanding and classic sexism, but not the way you’re thinking.
What is an Adeptus Astartes?
First, what is a space marine, really? In recent years it has been posited in the stories that the Primarchs were little more than tools for the Emperor. In fact, in Chris Wraight’s Valdor novella, Malcador is a little unnerved when Jimmy Space begins referring to them as “sons.” It’s a heavy implication that these were never supposed to be looked upon as human. The modern space marine is little more than a fundamentally broken human. They literally cannot fear which on one hand is badass, but it also means they are not courageous beings. Courage is not not feeling fear; courage is being afraid and pushing through it. The Space Marines literally cannot. When they drop into a battlefield they are just doing what they’re designed to do. Because of this, many fans complain they find the space marines boring. Yes, their flavors are interesting (space vampires, bikers, werewolves, sneaky sneaky, etc.) but as humans they are arguably wholly uninteresting. By design.
Additionally, while the Space Marines may have shades of personality, they are inherently warriors, and little else. Even the Astra Millitarum have interests, lives, and desires outside of battle. They may not get to act upon them as much as we do, but that’s life in WH40k. There is a strong argument to be made that the average guardsman (used in the gender neutral) lives a fuller and more complete life than that of your average Ultramarine. Why clamor for females to be uninteresting and bland? Why demand that women get their chance at being child soldiers? Why in Guilliman’s name do we have to check the box of female space marines to consider the universe “equal?”
The Strength of a Woman
I reject the notion entirely that a woman needs to be physically strong to be a “strong” character. The WH40k universe is filled with strong females who not only embody the attributes of heroes, they are unbelievably powerful. The Sisters of Silence are pariahs; people who are born soulless and therefore untrusted, unwanted, and unloved by most people. Do these women hide in a corner moping about their feelings? NOPE. They don armor and broadswords and throw themselves at psykers, demons, and anyone else unlucky enough to cross paths with them. They can feel fear, but they push past it to be what the Imperium needs them to be.
The Adepta Sororitas don’t even have the benefit of being nulls to aid them in their fights. They are baseline human females who have donned armor, training, and completely and utterly devoted themselves to both the Emperor and mankind. There is a brief moment in Danie Ware’s The Triumph of Saint Katherine when a guardsman sees the main character, Avra, stride into battle. She is not only a revered and welcomed presence, she is quite literally a religious experience for this man. Her tenacity, her fearlessness and her faith make her so much more than a regular trooper.
Speaking of the Astra Militarum, not only is it comprised of many women, we’ve seen women at the highest positions. They hold positions of authority, and they are unquestioned. Commissar Severina Raine brooks no argument. Hell, in Warhammer+’s Angels of Death one of the fiercest, toughest characters is the shipmistress, Livia. While the big, burly spess mahreens are off dealing with their feelings, Livia is thwarting a hostile takeover of her priceless ship and weighing how many of her crew she can sacrifice. All while never losing her cool.
And I can’t even count the number of female Inquisitors we’ve seen over the years. Some are physically badass, others are mentally badass, and still others are both. And oh by the way, when it comes to true power and strength, the Adeptus Astartes ain’t the ones wielding either. The Inquisition is the most feared institution in the galaxy and some of these women wield more life and power in their hand than entire planetary governors. The female strength on display in WH40k is criminally good.
Female Space Marines Confirm Gender Legitimacy
The underlying sentiment behind female space marines is what bothers me the most. We, as a culture, only see legitimacy in male characters, and traditionally male traits. Why else then are we foaming at the mouth to have female space marines, and not equally as passionate about male Adepta Sororitas? I don’t see Reddit posts and Twitter threads devoted to how disgustingly sexist it is that men are not allowed to sing songs and fight with reverent passion for the Ecclisiarchy*. Nor do I see legions of fans demanding Sisters of Silence be renamed People of Silence, and have male representation there. “But Jen,” you may say, “men can be pariahs.” Yes, absolutely, and we’ve seen several. But they aren’t elevated to the importance of the Sisters of Silence. Why is no one demanding this? It’s because we only see legitimacy in male characters. WH40k is not unique in this, either. Why do you think we had fem-Thor in Marvel, when we already had Valkyrie? Because male characters have value, while female characters do not.
For WH40k, is it because Livia, Avra, Raine, and Aleya cannot grab a human cultist by the head and squish it like a grape? For all of our bluster about “toxic masculinity,” boy oh boy do we love brawn and physical violence. How many movies or shows featuring female characters treat us to trite and tawdry displays of women punching or hurting a man to “prove” their worth? Why are traditional showings of male prowess the only thing we care about?
Stop Trying to Make Female Space Marines Happen
Everyone is, of course, entitled to their opinion, and I respect it. But I find this argument and desire to be so sexist, it rustles my jimmies. There are any untold number of women in the WH40k universe who are respected, strong, powerful, and vital to the Imperium’s survival. And yet, the only thing people want is female space marines. They want to take dynamic, human characters will courage, tenacity, and complex motivations, and strip them of all so they can be muscled and male. The crux of the entire argument is “none of the characters are half as legitimate as a throw-away Adeptus Astartes character.”
As a fandom, we need to do better by our female characters.
*Don’t @me that this is because the Ecclesiarchy is forbidden from having an army. Bruh.