Sunday 3 January 2016

Women In Warhammer

No matter how hard an artist works, sometimes it is impossible for them to not reflect the age they are working in. Much like those Hollywood films they play on Sunday afternoons where no matter the period in history, every lady has a nineteen-fifties or sixties haircut. I think the same can be said for David Gallagher's Dragonslayer (see above) on the cover of White Dwarf 88, for though encased in a very serviceable suit of armour and wielding an equally serviceable sword, she has a distinct whiff of the nineteen-eighties when it comes to the hairdo and makeup. 

I love this piece of art and I find it as striking an image today as I did when I first saw it. I like the way that Gallagher presents this lady as being both very capable (not only does she look it, but she's slotted a dragon too) but also more realistically clothed. Her armour, after all, is plausible and take away the black tights, looks identical to the armour a man in her situation would wear. As an historical aside, Norman Knights wore hose under their armour and kept them secured with suspenders apparently, so perhaps we can let the tights stay. 

One thing I often find a little frustrating about women in wargames (the sculpted figures, not the players or painters) are the daft and implausible models that you see on offer, e.g. the big breasted glamour-girl type who forgot to put her clothes on in the morning when she has a dragon to slay in the afternoon. 

I am sure you can think of many examples of the models I mean, from both wargames and roleplaying games, on both paper and pixel. I am sure that there are plenty of people out there you enjoy figures like this, but I am not one of them really. I much prefer the female figures in my games to look like they are actually capable of fighting, if they are a fighter, or casting a spell if they are a wizard. 

This figure originally appeared as Mace Lady. Painted by Cubs.
My kind of woman in Warhammer is Julia McEwman. Realistically armoured and equipped as seen in this beautifully painted example by a chap known as Cubs. In many ways she is similar to David Gallagher's Dragonslayer. She wears plausible armour and carries a plausible weapon. Her gender is highly relevant to the McDeath scenario but not for the reason that many would think. McDeath after all cannot be harmed by any man, so Julia is one of the few options they attacking player has of felling the villain of the piece. Having collected McDeath figures for a long time and having gone as far as creating the first scenario in which she appears, Winwood Harbour, in great detail, I cannot say that anyone I ran through the game with thought any less of Julia because of her gender, she was just another powerful commander to be fielded and fought with. 

I think her equipment helped create that feeling towards her. She can be taken seriously. 

Now Warhammer, and Warhammer 40,000, has been given some flack online about being sexist. Perhaps you have seen one of the threads that occur here and there. There is an interesting article here that bemoans Slaves to Darkness as being a sexist tome for not portraying women in equal proportions to men, as well as poaching various quotes from the interviews I have done with Bryan Ansell and Tony Ackland. There are others online if you search for them, though they haven't nicked quotes from my work and not provided a link to their source. 

Gender and Representation in Warhammer's Realm of Chaos is typical of it's trope, an attempt to brand Warhammer sexist because it lacks an equal number of female characters and roles. This kind of argument is heavily flawed, as for starters Warhammer's background is based on Renaissance Europe and a period in time when women were treated very differently than they are today, hence they appear much more infrequently than their male counterparts 

The same 'logic' of a sexist agenda can be applied to almost any other toy too, just look at this catalogue page for Barbie toys that I used to buy one of my daughter's Christmas presents - she had the bubble making mermaid if you are interested - and you will see over the first two pages of products that out of forty odd dolls, only three of them are male and two of those dolls are represented wearing very little, baring their muscular plastic chests! The same trend can be seen in the other toys she is interested in, with a wealth of predominately female characters and a few male. 

I don't believe for one minute that Warhammer, Barbie or Disney Princess are in anyway sexist but it is fair to say that Citadel Miniatures, and other manufacturers, have released some truly awful examples of female models, but there have also been some really good examples though sadly, these are much fewer in number. 

I thought it might be interesting to have a look at some Citadel's lows (and believe me, they go pretty low at times) and some of the highs in the way they have represented women in the game. I am going to stick to period with this list, and pretty much focus on stuff released in the 1980s. 

From Collecting Citadel Miniatures wiki
By far the worst offender in Citadel's long history has to be the series of models released as part of the Fantasy Specials range in the early '80s, of which this example, FS10-1 or Naked Girl Roasting on Spit over Brazier, has to be the most extreme. Not only is the model very crudely sculpted, it is generally an very unpleasant concept for a toy soldier and I can see little merit in producing models like this apart to revel in their brutality. A drunk dwarf is fun, but this is not. 

From Collecting Citadel Miniatures wiki
There were a whole range of sculpts produced in this series and they all shared a similar theme - women without clothing being tortured on historically accurate devices. Stocks, pillories and the rack all have their examples, as does an iron maiden (the punishment, not the band.)

From Collecting Citadel Miniatures wiki
If having a collection of tortured girlfolk wasn't enough, you could always invest in a topless torturer herself! Though not as bad as the models we have seen so far, this girl looks like an extra from one dreadful 1970s exploitation films. But at least she has a few clothes on. This model has a number of variants but the basic premise is the same on all of them. 

From Collecting Citadel Miniatures wiki
Unlike this example, though at least she is just sitting down. Still, the model seems to imply that she is somehow subjugated or held captive.

From Collecting Citadel Miniatures wiki
Still, there were other female models about at the time which portrayed women in a more aggressive way, like this rather scary looking individual from the Fantasy Adventurers range. There are a number of variants again with this model, and indeed I have one of them. I like the fact that the ladies here and shown to be much larger than normal, reflecting different body sizes and so on. Though very different from the dragonslayer that opened this post, you feel that this lady knows her business and isn't anyone's fool. 

Looking through the rest of the Fantasy Adventurers range, there are a number of other female figures in there that fit more closely with the scantily clad cliche, particularly spellcasters, though there is an amusing model called a Seductive Wench, who though she looks harmless from the front, look behind her and you can see she is holding a dagger very firmly behind her back. But, she isn't a fighter like our dragonslayer but there are three other examples in that range alone that could easily join her. Have a look:

FA 18-2 Female Cleric with mace from Stuff of Legends
FA 19-2 Female Fighter with Sword  from Stuff of Legends
FA 30-2 Female Ranger  from Stuff of Legends
Sure, you could say that some of these models are a little leggy - but their outfits could be found on male miniatures in the same (or contemporary ranges) and on historical equivalents. And again, these examples portray an individual who knows their business - so I quite like them. They all have echoes of Julia (or Mace Lady) and the dragonslayer from White Dwarf 88. 

Amazons - from Orclord's collection.

Later on in the 1980s Citadel released the Amazon range in support of the Shrine of Rigg scenario in Compendium 2. These are excellent models and are now highly sought after. Here, though obviously female, none of the bugbears I have mentioned before are on show. They look competent and wear realistic clothing that seems appropriate for their role in the scenario. There are no scanty thongs on show here but a consistent and well designed series of models. Much better than the slave girls from earlier years. 

Of course, no discussion on Women in Warhammer can be complete without the villagers and townsfolk ranges produced throughout the 1980s. There are an abundance of female miniatures to be found here, and though not overtly militaristic like the Amazons, they do attempt to show females in the Warhammer world in all aspects of society - just like male figures. 

Take a look:

A Noble Woman from Orclord's collection.
Mother and Child from Orclord's collection.
Mother and Child from the dwarf villagers range - and yes, there were once female dwarf models in the game. Orclord's.
An old hag from Orclord's collection.
Washer Woman from Orclord's collection. 
The villagers and townsfolk ranges are some of my favourites and I have a large number of them. There are far more female figures in the ranges than I have had space to show here and all of them sit comfortably with me. Sure, you have some less moral stereotypes in there, and some lowly tavern wenches too, but you also have some haughty ladies in fine dresses, just like in any genuine Renaissance town or village. 

From the author's own collection.
And no discussion about Women in Warhammer can be held without mentioning these two, Wanda and Kristen, two of the characters from the epic Enemy Within Campaign. They were originally villager models but were pressed into service for the miniature release of the roleplaying supplement. Again, they don't bother me because they represent real people in a fantasy world, Wanda is dressed as a wealthy woman and Kirsten in the clothes of a sneak thief - which reflects the backgrounds of both characters nicely. It is worth pointing out that these are major characters in WFRP's biggest scenario, and though there are five other male characters, these are broken down into two humans, a halfling and an elf. The human characters are presented equally - two men and two women. 

Wanda and Kirsten were not the only major female characters in WFRP's The Enemy Within either, though only one of them received a new model to represent them. That was Renata/Renate and I am lucky enough to own a painted version of this rare model.

Have a look: 

From author's collection
I bought her for a hefty price because she doesn't look like a ridiculous caricature of a woman in Warhammer. She wears appropriate clothing and knows how to use a bow. She is a variant of another female character, and we return to McDeath as we begin to wrap up this blog post.

I am talking of course about Sandra Prangle. Here he is:

Taken from eBay listing. Photographer unknown.
There are slight variations between the two models, but they are appropriate and realistic - in fact the only proposturous thing you can say about Sandra, is the price tag she often sells for! While on the subject of McDeath, perhaps the single Warhammer release bar the Shrine of Rigg to have such a high number of female characters, we need to mention Lady McDeath - the evil sorceress and all round evil doer. 

From the author's own collection.
Of course, this blog post has missed out a great number of female models released in the 1980s for use in Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000. There simply isn't space as there really are so many of them, and yes a few of them (and I really do mean a few) are incredibly awful, but on the whole there are far more female models than I had originally expected and most of them are quite positive. Of course, the amount of them is far fewer than their male equivalents and some of them do slip into the dubious zone of implausible clothing, at least they are there. 

Which cannot really be said on the more modern ranges of Warhammer or Warhammer 40,000. A browse through the modern ranges reveals very few female characters. It seems that though the rest of the world has progressed in terms of gender equality, Games Workshop seems to have regressed significantly. 

And that is very sad. 



  1. Interesting post. I agree with your comment re Warhammer (well in the 80's at least) not being as sexist as claimed simply because there wasn't a 50/50 split between male and female figures in books like StD. One doesn't see such percentages in boxes of historical army figures because women haven't served as frontline soldiers until recently - and they still don't in some armies and in those where they do they wouldn't form 50% of any force. But that won't convince the small percentage of feminist loonies out there...

    And I can confirm that the seated nude female figure above is tied up. I've collected a few of that range because they are pretty notorious figures. Bit like the small collection of communist stuff that I have. As you note they aren't well sculpted either.

    1. It was clear to me that the writer of the article about StD had a preconceived 'angle' that they wished to come from, when with a little research it becomes quite clear that the 1980s Citadel catelogue had a far higher percentage of more responsible female sculpts than GW produce today. Sure, there are not so many fighters, for the reasons you describe, but there was plenty of scope to convert your own.

  2. Interesting article and food for thought.

    I have to say the Sisters of Battle range is one of my favourite citadel armies and I have a small army of this impressive female warriors. In all this range is pretty fair and not overly stereotypical or degrading (excluding the dubious provenance of the Sisters Repentitia which are a little too BDSM for my tastes). I think they are probably the one contemporary example of GW utilising the fairer sex....well... Fairly!!

    1. Agreed on the Sisters Repentitia - they were the only unit in my Sisters army that I don't bother to complete, they there are obvious historical references to nuns 'self-mortifying' as it was known - but you are right, there is faint whiff of BDSM about the whole range.

  3. Great article. You might be interested with Ep 124 of Combat Phase Podcast : Women in Warhaming, from two weeks ago. It's on iTunes or direct download

    Women in Wargaming!
    We talk news and games played very briefly but are eager to jump right into our topic of the week: Women and Wargaming! This is reflecting the characters and units, not the sex of the player his/herself. We have added more interviews so we will follow this episode up in January or February 2016.

    As so many wargames have female characters we highlight some games, the role of female characters in the fluff, and some model choices for your female characters or conversions. We are joined by BL author James Swallow talking Sisters of Battle in 30K - 40K, as well as Garro (now with model!) and his upcoming works. Ronnie Renton of Mantic games joins us next for a great discussion about the wonderful worlds of Mantic Games for female characters in these properties. He's a fantastic guest:)

    1. Thank you for your offer, and will most definitely be checking out that podcast come the weekend and I have emailed you back about taking part in a future episode. I am glad you enjoyed the article.

  4. Interesting post. I dare say this trend for near naked and submissive ladies was the result of High Fantasy fiction such as Conan, although it has to be said it seems to appear in miniature form in the 1980's. A lot of earlier 70's ranges seem to be light on the chainmail bikinis, Heritage figures for instance has a few examples but nothing too degrading. To be fair to the 80's I can remember a short debate raging in the WD letters page about the issue after a WD cover showed a near naked female battling with a purple demon (off the top of the head I can't remember which issue). The final letter (from a chap) in the discussion read along the lines of " I would just like to point out that the stereotypical image of the near naked female fighter is one I happen to like".
    Annie at Bad Squiddo has an excellent resource having collected for sale a range of realistic female figures for all sorts of games

    1. I too can recall the debate you mention, though like you I haven't a clue which issues it was in. You mention the Conan angle here, and I wonder how much influence Frazetta's artwork had on the female near nude barbarian type - I expect it was quite a bit. Though, I don't mind such references in Frazetta's or Howard's work, as it fits the age in which they were produced. Warhammer is different, and female characters and models had a very rich heritage in the 1980s, a heritage that has since been lost.

      Oh, and thank you for that interesting web link too!

  5. iPad formatting is fighting me so I'll add this quick. I'm looking for a contact for you on this page. I'd like to extend the invitation to join us on our next episode on Women in Wargaming when Privateer Press joins us. Your article looks like you would be a good fit/resource for our listeners.

  6. I have a fair few barely clad Citadel female Barbarians/Savage/Norse/whatever, I love them.
    I have more barely clad Citadel male Barbarians/etc though, haha.

    Everybody knows that dungeons have a pretty high chance of containing at least one deadly warrior lady with not much clothing on, right?
    I thought that was pretty much accepted fact here and now in 1986.

    But seriously, I hate political correctness in miniatures and wargaming.
    All the guys are ridiculously muscly and carry weapons that are way too big for them- it's fantasy.

    1. The barbarians don't bother me at all, and looking back, I should really have made reference to them somewhere. As you state, pretty much ALL of the barbarians wear very little and have most of their bodies on show - be they male or female - so its just a stylistic choice. The more dubious ranges, like the slave girls being tortures, don't have nay male equivalents now do they? I wonder why?

  7. Meh I hate PC and the shizness that gos with it, in wargaming even more so. It's a Wargame and I don't see how people can feel that killing people and extreme violance is ok but boobies or sterotypes (Pygmies, Slaves ect) are too far and you shouldn't use them to ruib you bloodshed heh.

    I like my gaming gritty and unrestricted, oh on a side note my Wife plays and run a Slaaneshi army with more boobies then I have in my whole collection :D

    1. 'Gritty and unrestricted' -now there is a quote. Looking back over the 'sexist' articles out there once more, it seems that more angst is flung at the fluff than the models themselves. Its all part of that modern expectation that everything has to be done for you 'officially' by GW or some other manufacturer. Responsibility for the models you want to use and the background you want to play in is up to YOU as the player. If you don't like an aspect, just change it, as many of us do. Though such a concept is anathema for many 'modern' players.

  8. I still love that WD cover!

    To me, I think the problem with the way many gaming & miniatures companies deal with portraying women is not really an issue of being PC or a sensitivity regarding nudity or BDSM imagery*. I think it's the context. As mentioned above, barely-clothed female barbarians in the context of their male counterparts makes sense. The Celtos & Rackham Celtic themed factions were good examples of that.

    But when there's a wide range of male barbarians, vikings, knights, mages, etc. all in career and environmentally appropriate clothing and gear, but all/most of the female figures are barely clothed, wearing high heels, and in some sculptors' cases, frequently in suggestive/sexualized poses, then that's a little annoying. Again, not bothered by nudity or BDSM stuff, just that it's nice to have more options than just that. For example, Dark Age Miniatures whole range has a strong BDSM aesthetic, and it works for them because that's the setting and it's not just placing women in that role. But then you've got other companies and their games featuring some sort of unrelated setting but the women are set aside as being "half naked bondage vixens" and that's about it.

    I'm not singling out GW with the comments above, as I think there are far worse offenders. However, I do think that one of the other annoying things GW has done with gender in their settings is to set women apart in general. Given the historical bases for the human armies, and the slightly better diversity of the elf armies, WFB isn't *completely* awful. I agree that I don't think anyone initially set out to create some sort of actively sexist game. It really had it's roots in real world history. But as it expanded they didn't just stick with a more or less male-dominated historically based game, they started adding more female figures, units, armies, -- but in a really sad way. GW really missed opportunities in games like Mordheim and Necromunda, where they could have had a good mix of male & female adventurers/gang members, etc. but instead set aside women in a faction of their own. And, you'know... nuns with whips had to be one of them. I haven't kept up with 40k since around 2nd ed., so correct me if this is really far off the mark, but from what I gather the far future of war is generally male figures/armies except for a separate army of space nuns, the somewhat integrated space elves (are the only aspect warrior women still shrieking Banshees, or are they allowed other career choices now?), dark space elf bondage vixens, and pleasure daemon bondage vixens?

    It's tired cliche, and it's generally bad/lazy writing. I hope we could expect better from modern games & figures.

    * I'm not personally bothered by nudity or BDSM aesthetics in figures. I think they have as much a part in the market as more "family friendly" figures for games about killing, violence, and warfare. ;)

    1. Thank you Zero Twentythree, you make some interesting points about how a lack of thought can result in an easy to ridicule background. As you say, this is most likely down to bad/lazy writing. The GW team in the 1980s was highly literate and well educated, and they brought this understanding of the world and its history to their work. I wonder if the combination of sales people 'thinking' what type of figures will be most popular, alongside the recruitment of less knowledgeable writers created the perfect storm that companies now find themselves in.

  9. The elf and eldar ranges had a few nice female figures, especially Skarlocs Wood Elf Rangers (awesome never bettered figures) wardancers and the Harlequins.

    Irrc the 80s counterculture, especially music and alternative comedy were very right on and what was later referred to as politically correct. Actually most of this was pretty laudible imo.

    1. Interesting that you mention '80s counterculture. I have never really looked into in in any detail, but it would certainly make any interesting piece of research!

  10. "....and the slightly better diversity of the elf armies".

    someone who hasn't followed the post & comments will have fun with that someday.