In Warhammer 40K, Space Marines are the end all be all of the galaxy, at least from a marketing perspective. They have Ultramarines, Blood Angels, Space Wolves, Black Templars, Grey Knights, Dark Angels, Chaos Space Marines… And that’s just the ones on the tabletop who’ve had a codex released in the last decade. That is seven out of 16 armies. 44% of the tabletop armies are Space Marines of some shape or color. This number gets even more staggering when looking at the novels, nearly 3/4 of which are about Space Marines, and of all of the Warhammer 40K videogames, only two do not have the player take control of Space Marines as the protagonists.
Space Marines are 40k.
And that’s what my problem is.
First off, let’s take a look at a Space Marine.
Behold him in all of his awesomeness. But, let’s stop and think about what makes him look awesome, shall we? Behold the thick armor that gives the impression of heavy musculature. Observe the wide shoulders and broad chest, the huge hands and feet… The giant phallus held at crotch level ready to spew his streaming man death upon his enemies.
Space Marines are men. And not just men, but the chosen sons of the patriarchal god of the setting. These characters represent power and control no matter their faction. They have the agency to enforce their will upon the universe through violence in a fashion that none of the other human armies can. While the Imperial guard is capable, they still cower, trembling, before the Tyranid swarm, or they die screaming at the hands of the Necrons, but not the Space Marines. The Sisters of Battle are the elite soldiers of the Ecclisiarchy, better equipped than any other army of mankind than Space Marines themselves, and are constantly killed off in huge numbers in order to show off the power of the enemy they’re fighting.
They Shall Know No Fear.
Space Marines are traditional masculine values cranked up to eleven. They are unbelievably tall, unfalteringly brave, invincible in combat and when they speak everyone listens. In most places in the Imperium they’re worshiped as gods or angels, and only the bravest of warriors get to join their ranks. When the Space Marines see a problem they fix it by merely by being Space Marines, and the only thing in the galaxy that really threatens them, at least in the fluff, are other Marines, Daemons, or huge swarms of monsters. It is impossible for anyone other than another Space Marine to tell a Space Marine what to do with any real authority because the Space Marines derive their authority not through law, but through “birthright”, being the Sons of the Emperor himself.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing!
Space Marines are a power fantasy, pure and simple, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone wishes they could be someone with more control than they have now, capable of doing things that they can’t. Whether it’s super heroes, video games, or a good book, power fantasies are staples of the fiction experience from the beginnings of time.
The problem with Space Marines lies in the conceit of the “Boy’s Club”. These warriors espouse traditional masculine ideals like no other, to the point that they completely eschew the traditionally culturally female traits almost exclusively. The Space Marines do not cook, or clean, or care for children, that is the job of the serfs, the lower class of being. Space Marines honor their god and their traditions, and Space Marines go out into the world and kill while the serfs stay at home, trapped into the feminine roles assigned to them for simply not being good enough. Serfs are not even allowed to maintain the chapter’s equipment. That is the job of the Tech-Marine, the Man As Mechanic.
Space Marines are smarter, faster, stronger, tougher, braver, more respected and more cherished by god.
Women can’t be Space Marines.
Bring it up on a forum and someone will yell. Mention it in anything official and it’ll be redacted. Space Marines are the Sons of the Emperor, and there shall be no daughters. The geneseed of the Emperor will not take root in the body of a woman. While there might be some pseudoscience hand waving of this involving genetic codes, the fact remains that this was a conscious decision made by someone at some point to restrict the ranks of Space Marines entirely to the male, purposely excluding the female. The closest thing to the Space Marine, including gender exclusivity, are the Sisters of Battle.
Sisters of Battle are not Space Marines. They are, alternately, depicted as sacrificial martyrs or lunatics driven by emotion and frenzy rather than reason. Sisters of Battle are the feminine ideal as imagined by the male. Their power armor is form fitting, their stature is smaller and their stories are more personal. They submit themselves wholly to god, virginal, but fetishized, and they exist to serve the Ecclisiarchy, which is always portrayed as ruled exclusively by men. Sisters of Battle forsake their agency and give themselves unto the will of men.
Sisters of Battle are not equal. Beyond the fluff, they are simply not marketed like Space Marines. Games Workshop sells the Space Marine to the audience while Sisters of Battle are held back in the dark corners of their products. Sisters of battle have less literature, less models and less mention in the press.
My problem is this.
Space Marines are not my power fantasy, and the constant marketing of them as the ideal warrior of humanity alienates me. I have no urge to be nine feet tall with five foot wide shoulders. I have no desire to walk as a god among the masses, crushing those smaller than me with my bare hands. I don’t want to be a square jawed, thick muscled, gun toting agent of destruction to my enemies. I am not blood and steel. I am not a Space Marine. I am not a man.