Few things get Warhammer 40K players going like the topic of female Space Marines. A GW oldtimer talked about what really went down in Nottingham.
Anytime hobbyists bring up Female Space Marines, a tidal wave of arguments ensues. “it goes against the lore”, “it’s not canon”, “if you don’t like it, play a different game”, or the classic “just play Sisters”. The arguments are endless.
Everyone knows the story of Space Marines. They are the Emperor’s super soldiers, genetically modified, and aside from violence, immortal. They are armed with the best armor and weapons the Imperium can provide and of course, They Know No Fear. Finally, they are always male.
Clearly, a dude.
But the truth is more complex.
First of all, there WERE female Space Marines, way, way back in the earliest incarnation of Warhammer 40,000. Take a look at the page of Adventurers from the White Dwarf 99, in March of 1988.
Over on the upper left corner and leftmost second row from the bottom are “Female Warrior Jayne” and “Female Warrior Gabs” Are they female Space Marines? They certainly have the same design of Power Armor as the Space Marines of the era, if a little more form fitting. All the other Adventurers all have very different looks than the Space Marines.
Enter Alan Merrett
Alan Merrett is an oldtimer GW alumni. He was there from almost the very beginning and spent many years as the Head of GW’s Intellectual Property. He left the company several years ago, but chimed in on Facebook many moons ago, as to what was really going on with the issue in the 1980s:
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Let’s Dig In a Little
This is both illuminating and unsurprising in equal measures. First of all, Merrett’s main point is that female Space Marines were a market-driven decision. In the late 1980s Games Workshop was a scrappy company on the move with a new shiny Warhammer 40,000 game just recently released. They were pretty much throwing anything and everything at the wall and seeing what would stick.
What really killed female Marines
Nottingham happily produced and pushed Female models into the market, but got pushback from the retailers that they were unpopular and requested that they be removed from restock lists. It wasn’t that GW didn’t want female Space Marines. It was the male-centric customerbase in the 1980s who didn’t. As the game evolved and things like the RTB01 boxed set exploded in popularity, GW simply couldn’t justify making a parallel line of female Marines that were slow sellers. Thus, they consolidated the line into the look we have to this day and moved forward. The early female Marine models became a forgotten apocryphal footnote to the game.
All the male-only fluff and lore was tacked on after the fact. The two models in question were designed as female Space Marines by the designer, although they use some common iconography that was shared between both Marines and Sororitas down the road.
The implications of this are obvious. This was never about lore – it was driven by sales and retailers / customers. The 1980s were a long time ago, and the hobby was even more niche and male-dominated than it is today. One of Warhammer’s strength’s is the vastness of its scope and how the galaxy has room for just about anything. If GW wanted to, it would be child’s play to retcon female Space Marines into the game. Note the coed nature of Age of Sigmar’s Stormcast Eternals.
Certainly thirty years on, the customer base is different and the appetite for female Marines is there. Just go to any social media platform and search for “female space marines” – you will find many, many, many great conversions and pieces of artwork. GW keeps on slowly but surely adding female miniatures and charcters into the game, yet somehow in 2022 Female Space Marines is still the 3rd rail of 40K – a popular, if divisive topic to this day.
As an example, GW could simply reveal that Bellisarius Cawl has made a progenoid breakthrough and at long last female Primaris are walking out of his gene-labs ready for anything the Grimdark throws in their path! One or both of the missing Primarchs could be revealed as female – you never know.
It’s important to think about this entire concept in the context of 2022. GW is pulling out the nostalgia stops, and pulling ancient stuff from the late 1980s back into the game after decades of absence. From the Pisceans returning in Necromunda, to the Zoats, and just this month Leagues of Votann. Never say never…
~There’s a million and one ways GW could do it. The real question is should they?
Dad, Gamer, Publisher, Pilot, Texas. All games all the time since junior-high. I started BoLS Interactive in 2006. I’m a lifelong tabletop & RPG gaming enthusiast, and internet publisher working to entertain and inform my readers every day. I’ve been playing RPGs and Tabletop Games since the 1970s. I’m been playing and covering Warhammer and Warhammer 40K for over 35 years.