The Gender Gap in Warhammer 40K: A Girl’s Struggle to Battle with Fabulous Eldar

As a beginning Warhammer 40K hobbyist, I wondered about some of the battles I had sat on the sidelines for, which were ones that encompassed mostly male players. I had never met another female Warhammer 40K player in all of my time of being an active shopper of local games. I had never encountered one painting or battling at the games that the shops hold events for. My closest experience was that of an acquaintance who was a paint-to-hire artist who painted models in exchange for pay. She never plays.

Being a geek of all sorts, I have moved my way into a respected profile in the gaming world, as well as a few other hobbies I’m involved in – including tabletop gaming like Pathfinder. But Warhammer 40K was way different. I have not engaged in a battle yet, but my experience being around some players had been negative.

When I sat on the sidelines of a game, several guys playing hit on me and said that I wouldn’t understand how the game was played. Several people I tried to ask questions told me it wasn’t a game for girls to play. What? What do you mean I don’t understand? Do my body parts dictate my intelligence, or whether or not I’d understand a dice roll?

Part of my mission joining this hobby was to get more people involved. But the other part was to gain respect, regardless of my gender. While some guys, including many of my close friends, have been enthusiastic about battling their ravenous Tyranids or pious Grey Knights against my fabulous Eldar, others have been reluctant to believe that I could play my figures well, or understand the rules of the game.

Let me start with this: Warhammer 40K takes a lot of studying and research to play. If you paint your own figures, you’ll need to learn to do that, and improve over time to make your figures reputable in the battle field. On top of the studying, you’ll need to practice playing your specific figures against others and using strategy to effectively do so. Finally, there is a whole lore behind Warhammer 40K to be discovered. If you want to play, you have to immerse yourself into the world of Warhammer 40K and battling.

Paint Selection Adventure at Battleground Games and Hobbies
Paint Selection Adventure at Battleground Games and Hobbies

I am all about embracing this new endeavor, knowing that I love hobbies and spending time on things I care about. But I have been hesitant about the community. I will be the first person to say that one person does not represent a whole group, but a simple Google search can come up with thousands of threads on sexism in the Warhammer 40K world. Not counting my personal experience, I have heard about several women wanting to play but not being treated with respect when they try to battle or sign up at their local stores.There are several women out there fighting for equality in the Warhammer 40K fandom that it’s gotten to a point where I have to question where the players are in their other hobbies. Are they the ones yelling “tits or get out” over headset on videogames? Are they scrutinizing female players in Dungeons and Dragons campaigns?

While there are some players I am concerned about, there are also plenty out there that are fantastic. My local gaming store staff and managers have engaged in conversation with me about their goal to drive equality during their matches.  Meanwhile, other players have asked me about when I will be battling my army. I have also had many people say that my colors of purple and yellow will look awesome on my Eldar and that my beginning paint jobs are pretty cool. In other words, many players don’t treat me any different than any other player.

In the world of the game itself, I also question if there’s a gender gap. There is only one female army, which is made up of entirely female militants: Adepta Sororitas, or The Sisters of Battle. While these are totally badass, why can’t there be one female figure for each army? You can’t make them female if you want or buy them as equally as you can buy male figures?

By FirstKeeper http://firstkeeper.deviantart.com/
By FirstKeeper
http://firstkeeper.deviantart.com/

I am tempted to leave out the male figures of my army. Most have helmets, but some will just have a chiseled man’s head to attach to the armored body. You wouldn’t know if the ones under the helmet might actually be female! This could be a cool opportunity to make up something about female Eldar without defined gender or sexuality.

I want equality in this hobby. I want to be treated for my level of skill, not for my body parts. I want respect from fellow hobbyists. I want more women to feel comfortable embracing this hobby that they’ve been pushed away from. I can only hope that many shop keepers and staff feel the same way and encourage their players to be more welcoming. I also hope that some players figure it out.

I challenge you, players of the fantastical hobby of Warhammer 40K, to battle for the equality of both male and female players. I challenge you to think about the possibility of bigger female armies. I challenge you to invite your friends into your hobby, so they can learn about the Warhammer 40K lore. I challenge you to teach, to accept, and to embrace people of all genders in this hobby. I challenge you to talk with your friends who don’t respond well to others playing this game.

It all comes down to this: don’t be a jerk. Don’t be a jerk to other players, regardless of their gender. This is a hobby, you should be glad that other people play – who else are you going to battle with?

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About Jenn Kilgallon

I am a millennial professional seeking out good, healthy habits while still committing to my geek life. I am a proud life optimizer, and a spiritual person of many practices. I want to share that with you! "Always maintain the attitude of a student. If you think you've done learning, bitterness sets in, but if you have more to achieve every day, in any arena, that makes each morning's awakening full of potential and cheery portent."-Nick Offerman Geek. Writer. Artist. Genius. Tea Drinker.

29 thoughts on “The Gender Gap in Warhammer 40K: A Girl’s Struggle to Battle with Fabulous Eldar

  1. If the game has the moral responsbility to represent females, does it have the responsbility to represent Jews? Why does it have to?

    A lot of male-dominated fandoms are hostile to females because men are afraid of women. I hang with nerds myself, but it’s a whole community based on fear of the Other. The Warhammer 40K situation doesn’t surprise me. Nerds would’ve been bullies if they had the numbers.

    1. There are no Jews represented because there are no other non-fictional religions represented. However, there are quite a lot of people, and last time I checked around half of people were women.

      No fandom is hostile to women. Individuals within the fandom are hostile.

      1. That’s true. I should rephrase my point: No medium has a responsibility to represent you. If you play video games/read books/watch movies to see ‘people like you’, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. Art is a medium of exploring the different.

        I do agree that in general, the representation of women in such things is so low it clearly says something. That’s why you get the ‘token female character’, like Black Widow whose role is to be a woman. I can take ‘no women here’ in a film like The Thing. I’d say the problem is more when women are included, yet are so undeveloped their role is to be women.

    2. its not fear read the fucking lore, Warhammer 40k is basiclly Human race enter a new dark age, Orks are Neither gender they just refer to their entire race as the lads or boys they dont have sex or mate, They reproduce because of war thats how the create more spores if they are fighting or playing in some sort of compeition, Tau the entire miltiary is spilt up that they are both and neither gender like tau have male and females but you cant tell what the models are Dark elder, And Elder have male and female models, Daemons, Slannesh entire army is pretty much female, sister of battle are baiscly nuns while the space marine armies are Priest of the god Emperor now why should we change lore going back to 1975 because women couldnt find an all female army?

      1. It’s not necessary to have all female armies. As for the Lore, that’s the problem! Why can’t a good GM accept the possibility that in some little pocket of space there may be a Woman capable of creating or dominating an army. My problem isn’t wanting an all female army, but get off your high horse and admit the possibility of a strong female character.

        I play Warhammer and only object to having to play male only characters

      2. Lore going back to 1975? I played all through the 90’s and during this time there were female space marines and ork models available – this whole “men only” think was an addition in the early 2000’s to make the hobby more of a boy’s club..

      3. @ Aimee Joesbury “there were female space marines and ork models” is not strictly true. There was one or two distinctly female Space Marine models back in Rogue Trader days I believe. Female Orks are from fantasy not 40k. (Remember the article is about 40K) In fantesy before they just binned it. As far as I know before then fantasy never changed the lore they just started to only make male models.

        I think they could do race specific sprues where it’s appropriate such as Guard, Eldar and assorted chaos traitor guard/mutants/cultists. Probably a few others that skip my mind. Allowing people that want said models where it’s appropriate in fluff to convert models. That’s what I would do.

        However GW probably won’t do it because they don’t see it as a money maker, if they did they would have done it by now. GW has long since moved from a company interested in making the best hobby possible to milking everybody for every last penny.

      4. @ Aimee Joesbury “there were female space marines and ork models” is not strictly true. There was one or two distinctly female Space Marine models back in Rogue Trader days I believe. Female Orks are from fantasy not 40k. (Remember the article is about 40K) In fantasy before they just binned it. As far as I know before then fantasy never changed the lore they just started to only make male models.

        I think they could do race specific sprues where it’s appropriate such as Guard, Eldar and assorted chaos traitor guard/mutants/cultists. Probably a few others that skip my mind. Allowing people that want said models where it’s appropriate in fluff to convert models. That’s what I would do.

        However GW probably won’t do it because they don’t see it as a money maker, if they did they would have done it by now. GW has long since moved from a company interested in making the best hobby possible to milking everybody for every last penny.

  2. Are you implying it’s okay for certain men to be afraid of women? Because I have a news flash for you; it’s not. It’s unhealthy and, frankly, sexist and discriminatory to uphold this concept that antisocial men get to choose who can and can’t engage in particular hobbies. As a 40K player myself I wish that more women would play, but individuals like you go out of your way to be hostile and drive them away.

    Maybe you should stop taking an “us vs them” stance and actually stick up for your fellow geeks, whatever their gender. You aren’t making 40K better by shoving aside any girl who shows interest; you’re making it worse.

    And I’ll remind you that there *is already an entire army composed if women,* and the Astra Militarum has many canon female-only and coed battalions.

    I found your comment to be ignorant and insulting. Not just to women but to me as well.

  3. Reblogged this on Critical Shit and commented:
    This is an extremely important article, for two reasons. One; it highlights a very real problem facing women in gaming (and in particular tabletop strategy games like Warhammer 40K). Two, it contains very real evidence of this problem at play.

    Women deserve every right to be treated equally to men. I understand that there are people out there, “geeks,” men and boys who have social problems or are afraid of women. That’s sad, and I wish the best for those guys to find a way to *get over it.* Because it’s not healthy or okay to throw yourself into a life where you avoid half of the population. It’s not alright to hide away from half of society and bully any female who comes along and shows interest in (gasp) your hobby. You don’t own your hobby and you don’t get to decide who else gets to enjoy it. And you certainly should not be approaching anyone and telling them “Oh, you wouldn’t ever understand this.”

    I think Games Workshop would be pushing for more variety in their models; include some female Imperial Guardsman, guys. Include a few women as named characters for armies. Colonel Kasteen is a woman from the Ciaphas Cain novels, and she’s a damn strong leader. Why can’t we have the option to have a woman as a general in our armies? And why haven’t you remade the Sisters of Battle as an updated army for 7th Edition with plastic models?

    More women getting involved can only help 40K. And I want to see this happen.

  4. I don’t get it. Most armies that have a gender bias have a reason to be. Some, you can’t tell the difference, such as the Necrons, Tyrannids and Tau (who, btw, has an awesome female commander Commander Shadowsun). Eldar armies are equal parts both sexes. Space Marines are based on Primarchs who are based on the Emporer; their genetic upgrade package might not be viable for females. The list goes on. You have an entire codex based on an all-human-female army if thats what you want to play. So they haven’t updated it to 7th, big deal. They haven’t updated Tau, Space Marines or Chaos Space Marines to 7th either.

    “Why can’t we have the option to have a woman as a general?” ignores all the social implications of a female leader. While are just as likely to be good leaders, males simply act differently enough that it makes certain situations awkward, something that militaries don’t want to deal with. If you really wanted to field one? Convert. Thats what everyone who has something they really want to field and no miniature available does. GW won’t make something they can’t sell by the truckloads.

    While I would never underestimate a girl player (I know well enough females can be just as good wargamers), you can’t fault guys for other things like hitting on you. Doing that is just as sexist as guys who fault girls for flaunting or flirting. Just as there are men who has issues interacting with women, the opposite is also true. If you meet guys whose behavior you disagree with, look to the others. Its what guys do too.

  5. I just found this searching “warhammer 40k female characters”, and I entirely agree there should be more. If money wasn’t an issue with getting started, the hardcore bro-ness of the game would be. And I work in a game store with some very welcoming players- as I write this, a couple who walked in about an hour ago are still hanging out watching a game, and everyone’s having a good time. For me it’s entirely an issue with the design decisions. For fuck’s sake, it’s the 41st century- you can come up with any reason at all for there to be female soldiers all over the place.

    I know there are the Sisters of Battle, but I can’t tell if they’re enough to make up a whole army. Maybe add in some giant stuff and say it’s being piloted by women? I don’t know. But I wish there was enough that if you wanted female characters- definitively female characters, in this world of ours that tends to perceive relatively gender-neutral entities as male- you could fill out an army and still have options left over.

    If I were to start playing, maybe I would take whatever army I wanted and paint them all hot pink. I don’t like automatically associating pink with women, but it would get the point across. And given how many people love my hot-pink Krogan sentinel in Mass Effect 3 multiplayer, I can only imagine what reaction I would get with a bunch of pink Space Marines.

    1. Sisters are a full army.

      Source: I have 4.6k points of sisters alone. Numbering some 1000 models, including tanks, aircraft, troops, walkers and heroes.

  6. I’ve had this problem as well, I started playing warhammer back in the 90’s when I was in my teens and I can say that at first I never had a problem with the guys they were all nice and helpful and friendly and wanted me as part of the hobby and I made good friends. Cut to the present and its a really different story, I have been chatted up by a least one manager (Which I didn’t want I was there to buy skaven for my army and paint not to date) and now I’m seeing sexism really openly the new manager in my home town gives me this dirty look when ever I come in like I’m not meant to be there and have no right to be I’ve had rude comments from boys and older men and get funny looks when I say half my army is female and they say oh but in the rule book there all male don’t change the rules or you’ll be kicked off game. That’s how petty and sexist some of the male players are now are and I no longer go to the store to play. I’ve been thinking of joining the gaming clubs but now I just have the same fear that it’ll be just the same and I won’t be welcomed so my large Skaven army has just been sitting in a box collecting dust for the last six months and it makes me real sad.

  7. Excellently written article. Recently I entertained the conversation about female space marines. I concluded that we aren’t in fact sure space marines have gender at all. They start human, and typically male, but after being infected with gene seed they turn into super humans, but there’s no reason why they are still male, furthermore they can’t reproduce – or at least this was my conclusion after reading all the lore. So… This left me with a bad taste in my mouth. How do I feminized my 40k army? Currently I’m creating a watch fortress of deathwatch space marines, under the inquisitions Ordo Xenos. I determined that the space marines might not have gender, but I could create some really bad ass female inquisitors, tech-priests, imperial commissars and imperial guard storm troopers. In fact with a little searching on third party 28mm miniature sites, I was able to find female heads, green stuff to make female bodies, and/or unisex armor, and even entire female models. I agree it’s not ideal, nor is it mainstream or fixing the problem, but with enough really bad ass, awesomely painted conversions, people might see these female models, (NOT in skimpy stupid fantasy or sci-if sexists armor) and want some female characters of their own.

  8. Actually there of course is the sisters of battle but most army’s are gender neutral or genderless such as orks or tau

    And on top of that there are conversion kits out there to convert models to female

    And its explained in the lore why there aren’t females in the space marine army

    And if you don’t like this wargame stop bitching about it and play a different one

    1. They’ve changed the lore. The old lore had female space marines. There was even a model made: http://www.solegends.com/citrt2/rt601adv/index.htm (Adventurers, Second row from the bottom, first model on the left. “Female Warrior Gabs”)

      And that model is old, very old. From the time when Squats were an option (Squats are Dwarves in 40k, but have also been removed the cannon). Salamander SM used to be the african american faction, but that too, is no longer cannon. Just a bunch of white males in the imperium, save for the sisters of battle, which are basically space nuns.

      That said, you are free to use anything you want for your 40k army. It is well within the rules to create a custom chapter that is all females, or genderless, or whatever.

      Though in terms of female armies, Tyranids are often referenced as females, or female led. Not human female, mind you, but in a queen ant/bee sense. A long while ago, I did play against a very impressive female player with a tyranid army, but that was 3rd edition, not anything close to current 40k. And she was old then, I doubt she still plays.

      Orks, despite a very masculine appearance, are officially genderless. They are birthed from mushrooms in the fluff. The older warhammer fantasy orcs had female models, but I believe those too were removed from the cannon.

      Really, the only truly sexist army in 40k from an army creation stance is the Sisters of Battle, as running male versions is more against the fluff than having female space marines…

  9. The reason (most) blokes who play Warhammer are so hostile towards girls is because they’ve been rejected by them. Why do you think they play it in the first place

    1. Thats bogus. Some people are just full of shit. There are always people complaining about something. Look at age of sigmar… How much whining.
      I’d play with females like with guys. However not alone and late, my wife wouldnt approve 🙂
      And regarding lack of female characters…
      It is what it is. Leave it that way. I don’t want 40k to put in females like batwoman or spiderwoman or supergirl or she-ra and this stuff. They all suck.
      In 40k lore there are lots of strong women. Captains of fleets, religious leader, powerful psyker or astropaths.
      Eldar banshees are women. And they are badass. Ther are female hq’s too. So dont wish for change when there already is what you want.

      Now unleash your xeno scum and defend the webway, war is imminent

  10. When I look at the Warhammer 40K universe then I feel it IS sexist… By design. Yes, most of the armies are male (with some already mentioned exceptions). And it feels like this is partly because the in-game lore wants the world to be like that. It’s a male-dominant world (what with the Immortal Emperor being treated like a god) and I would imagine girls in such a universe are being brought up differently – “serve the man, or they will beat / kill / mutilate / etc you”. It’s a grim outlook, but I always assumed that’s part of the idea behind W40K – that it IS grim and in a lot of ways backwards.

    In a way I feel those players who fight for in-game sex-equality are sort of missing the point. Again, however, this is ALL IN-GAME! If anyone’s being sexist outside the game lore then they are just being an ass.

  11. Wow, 3rd wave feminism at it again. I don’t think there’s any guy who wouldn’t want to play toy soldiers with a person of the opposite gender.. I’m more concerned about telling women I meet I still enjoy painting miniatures post 30.. lol. You are not a minority or special for wanting more female models.. I boycotted GW for over a decade because they wouldn’t update Adepta Sororitas with plastic kits or better sculpts.. (2006-2016) & I am only returning now because they’re starting to delete models from their line on their website…
    I say this to all 3rd wave feminists Take step forward and be the change you want.
    Ask for a match, instead blaming some guys; who may just not want to leave their comfort zone while unwinding after college, work or w/e..

    But… If you’r doing this “for a cause” Please buy witchhunter female inquisitor oop character and do it ingame, instead of witchhunting guys who don’t deserve it IRL.

  12. In 40k there is;
    1 all male
    1 all female
    1 matriarchy
    And the rest are all genderless or a mix of male and female models
    So technically there are more female ran factions then male, but I digress.
    It makes sense that GW as a for profit company Games Workshop would more or less pander to the demographics that give them the most money i.e. young males. But that point aside I can attest that every gaming group I have ever been a part of has been more than willing to accept females into the group – in fact I tried to get my wife to join the DnD group is in for months while we were dating – and if whatever shop or group you are attempting to be a part of is treating you unfairly then don’t give them your time or business. And if it’s really bad report the shop to GW trust me they don’t want that kind of press.
    Ultimately it you’re unhappy with the way females are portrayed in a specific game then don’t give that entire company your business there are other options, if you’re still unsatisfied then create something you perceive to be better.
    And as a side note the lore gives plenty of reasons why 99.9% of space marines are men. And outright demanding that it be changed will get you no where.

  13. Well, the easiest way to make more models female, especially in Eldar/Dark Eldar/Harlequins, is to sculpt your own female torsos (to keep it legal), make a silicone mold and make copies from resin. http://www.hfminis.co.uk/ has female elf heads for use as a base for your own sculpts as well.

  14. Economically, given GW is one of the largest if not largest TT gaming company, it is pretty foolish to alienate a potential as women. Women in TT games is growing and yet still GW does nothing attract more of them, who go to other TT games that have more varied characters.

    And BTW the early poster who tried to paid the false argument of if they had to present females, they had to present the Jewish faith…. the argument fails on several ways. One given no faith is actually represented in the game, so first a faith would have to be represent to the exclusion or vast majority of others before that argument fit. And actually there are references to judaism in the lore.

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