Sunday, 22 June 2014

Then you get the women

Friend Tim of The Responsible One's Wargaming Blog recently retweeted some comments by Twitter user The Dice Bag Lady which I thought raised a familiar but interesting point:

I wonder if any miniatures company has had the "far out" idea yet to sculpt female models that aren't purely sex objects #controversial ;-)

Imagine if you just wanted a regular space marine, but they literally only come in assless chaps. (Ref previous tweet)
Now, this is true for the most part: representation of female characters, particularly in your more war-y type of wargame, is ... well, it isn't great. And specifically what you so seldom get is perfectly ordinary infantry rank-and-file troopers. Now, sometimes the banner of "realism" is flown in this respect. After all, historically militaries have been mainly (though far from exclusively) male.

But then that wouldn't explain things like the old GW female commissar, who has apparently decided to enter battle wearing ... er ... some kind of corset. In general, I think Dice Bag Lady's point is right: there are a lot of models of "fighting pinups," the kind of sexualised women in uniform drag that you get in airplane nose art, recruiting posters and so on. Otherwise, it's mostly all dudes -- there are few ordinary women just going about their business.

That's not to say that there are no such models in 40K -- there are a couple of female Imperial Guard figures, including, I think, one of the Last Chancers, one of the Ghosts and a couple of Catachans. In the case of the Ghosts, of course, that's a regiment described in the fiction as integrated, with female troops, female officers, and so on.

There were also some female warriors in the early Rogue Trader run, including what's pretty clearly a female Space Marine or two.

In many games, when you do tend to get female models, they're often in all-female factions. Consider Necromunda, where House Escher are all-female, but none of the other houses appear to have any female fighters at all, or Mordheim, where the Sisters of Sigmar are all-female, but there are hardly any female models in the other factions (there is quite a nice female Middenheim youngblood, but they're very rare).

A particularly weird example of this was in Warzone, where the character Valerie Duval was originally introduced as a member of the Etoiles Mortants, an elite military unit.

I could be misremembering, but I don't think that it was ever suggested originally that the unit was all-female. But by the time the models were being produced, that was certainly the case:

I wonder if the trend toward multi-part plastic models hasn't actually moved against the representation of female troopers in these types of games, at least of female soldiers in mixed units. After all, when all of your models are unique sculpts, it's easier to have quite a lot of variation. When their parts are supposed to be interchangeable, they need to be all much the same size and shape.

Some manufacturers have got around this problem -- consider Wargames Factory, who have a male and female zombie set and a male and female apocalypse survivor set, allowing interchangeability. But in general, I wonder if the trend toward standardisation hasn't been a problem for the portrayal of female characters (which, of course, assumes that they're somehow less desirable in the first place, which I don't agree with but which attitude I think is reflected by the availability of models out there).

I don't think you can place the blame on just technical problems, of course. The fact of the matter is that you're looking to represent a female character of any kind with a miniature, your odds are immeasurably better if she is a dominatrix, a nun, or some kind of prostitute.

Some people get mad, claiming that people who don't like these minis are trying to censor them or something like that. I don't think that's the case, though. It's just that the balance is really tilted in one direction. Just at a guess, it seems like minis lines are, in descending order of likelihood:
  1. Worlds in which women aren't represented, or barely present. 
  2. Worlds in which women primarily exist to be sexy sexy. 
  3. Worlds in which women are portrayed diversely. 
That may be customer demand; I dunno. I don't think most companies have thought about it. It's like the way non-European cultures are portrayed in Warhammer. It's super-duper racist, but I don't think that was anyone's intention. It's just the result of an unconscious reflex that reveals a broader social problem.

I don't propose to explore this problem here. I will take it for granted that the portrayal of more types of female characters -- heck, of characters in general -- is a good thing.  If you like them, you can buy them and if you don't it's no skin off your ass.  If you want to collect pinup models you should knock yourself out, and if people draw a conclusion based on that, that's life. Representation of women in geek culture is a problem, but, ya know.  One thing at a time.

So what do you do if you do want to have regular old female models? Happily, there are some examples of companies that don't follow the general trend. I think Mark Copplestone is an interesting case in point. The old models he sculpted for Grenadier, and the obviously related line he sells through his own company, show an interesting mixture of cheesecake and regular old female soldiers. Consider that the modern Copplestone line includes not only "Bodyguards in Bikinis":

... but also "Babes with Guns," not all of whom are too ridiculous.

But these are not the only female models in the line. There's the Female Troopers pack, who are mainly just, y'know, female troopers.

And if you buy the Trooper Officers blister, you'll see that one of the officers is a woman.

As are some of the cops.

The same is true of the old Grenadier line, now available through em-4 miniatures and Forlorn Hope. A couple of the troopers are female; one isn't wearing her body armour, but then the same is true for some of the male troopers, and neither of them are particularly overtly sexualised.

One of the really positive results of this conversation has been that people have popped up recommending companies that sell the kind of figures Dice Bag Lady is looking for -- these female Vikings from Bronze Age miniatures are only one example.

In terms of fantasy characters,  Reaper have some good stuff and some not so good, but variety is what we care about,  right? However, they are individual characters, on the whole, which is good for me but less so for the original question.

If you have examples of good, not too boobed-up female models, from any period or setting, why not leave a comment? I and my players will thank you.

One final note: not to quibble, but there's no such thing as "assless chaps." Or rather,  all chaps only cover the front of the legs.  You are supposed to wear trousers under them.


  1. i do wonder if some of it stems from the fact that with older casting techniques, the main way of indicating a character was female was sticking a couple of beach-ball shapes to their torso, and this has sort of carried forward. and of course its all a bit par for the course for fantasy/SF art, even today.

    i do sometimes roll my eyes at some of the modern, ultra-high quality figures what take the advances in technology and just make pervier model though. Seems such a wasted opportunity.

  2. Hasslefree Miniatures does a mix of cheesecake and ordinary soldiers who happen to be female. Their Grymnn (space dwarf) lines have a decent number of them for example.