The idea of female Space Marines is often debated on 40K forums, with each new generation of gamers end up asking the same questions as my generation did. The topic never dies for long, and reawakens with new gamers wanting answers and having dreams of creating the ultimate Amazons. In a sci-fi setting almost anything is possible in theory, but no female Space Marine has ever been portrayed in the background of 40K. This seems to be an absolute rule. However this is not the whole story, and delving into the deep past of 40K, it seems the Sisters of Battle started out pretty much the same of the Space Marines in many respects...
In the beginning: The Space Marines of the Rogue Traders where 'chemically enhanced' and lacked all the implants we know about today - except for the 'black carapace' which has been there since the beginning. There was no mention of the Primarchs, or the Horus Heresy. During this early era the Space Marines were merely tough storm troopers, and not that different from the Sisters of Battle...
The Sisters were pretty much a match of the Space Marines in every way: they had the same gear and abilities, a similar organisational structure, and actually went toe to toe with the Space Marines. To put it into perspective it's the Sisters who police the Space Marine Chapters, and will take down a Chapter they judge as impure. The Sisters were as strong, and as powerful, as any Space Marine - an equal match.
Even the old style of the Sisters armour was basically the same as the Space Marines, smaller shoulder pads and a matron's bosom chest armour - but pretty much 'Female Space Marines'.
Power creep: The Space Marines kept getting stronger and stronger over the editions, they gained the whole Horus Heresy, implants, and Primarchs. The Sisters gained nothing.
Re-balance: If the Space Marines can be retconned into demi-god Herculean beings, why not boost the Sisters in the power stakes too?
In order to rebalance the power divide between the two, I suppose you could down graded the Space Marines (shock-horror), or upgrade the Sisters. I would go with an upgrading to the Sisters.
The Sisters need a new background to explain these powers, and they need their own 'Horus Heresy' level epic (which they have in part). Instead of retconning the background to make this fit, how about the Sister's big story is contemporary to current 40K - their story starts now?
Ideas - 'marine': In effect the Sisters should be upgraded to match the current Space Marines in ability, but how to go about this is in a way to make them different is a bit of a head scratcher. I suppose you could go with straight copying, and have 'female' Space Marines, as in female that go through the current marine process, but the marines are such a male archetype, and the process so extreme, any woman who goes through the process would probably look like every other marine. No vestige of femininity would remain at all, which kinda defeats the whole purpose of a 'female' Space Marines!
To accomplish this I imagine that the Ad-Mec/ Apothecaries would first turn the women into a man (sex-change), and then turn the 'man' into a marine. However that is an extra step, and there are loads of men (I sure there are other theories that avoid this step). Yet the basic fact remains that no matter which why you go there would be nothing feminine about a 'female' based Space Marine. They would have a very masculine face, with slight giantism, and look more 'male' than most regular males!
If you move away from this, and attempt to emphasis the feminine, you run into problems. If you try and make 'her' look female, by adding curves to the power armour, it will diminish the heavily masculine iconic design of the armour. In truth you would be hard pushed to better than the current Sisters of Battle armour design, but it is not heavy and masculine like a marine. I like the current Sisters armour, but how do you ramp up the power yet keep them feminine?
Perhaps the answer is to look an the classical female ethos and traits, and draw from the archetypal aspects of women in goddesses and heroes and play to that. Women would go about things differently, and their reasons to fight and war are grounded in deeper drives of survival rather than bravado. These deeper drives, the fight for survival, and faith may provide an answer. More matron than psycho.
Ideas - faith: Perhaps their faith based powers could be expanded?
These powers could strengthen their bodies and minds instead of the marine like implants. All natural. This could be explained as channelling the power of the Emperor, and form of 'warp enhancement'. It would tie into the old story that human are latent Psykers, and the Sisters are tapping into the power of the Emperor in his near death state (and possible nascent godhood), to release powers humans do not normally exhibit (yet they may have naturally, but are normally latent).
Perhaps this could be combined with closer ties with the Adeptus Mechanicus, as some factions of Ad-Mec could consider the Space Marine project a failure (half turned to chaos) and seek to empower the Sisters. They could do with some more advanced power armour (perhaps their sleek armour is just as good?), perhaps instead of the black carapace they have full MIU, maybe combine it with synth-skin technologies.
As a final flourish I would like to see more anti-Psyker abilities, anti-daemon powers, wards, and weird 'miracles'. Push the Sisters much more an 'angels' and 'saints'. Women transforming into angels?
Opposite forces: It would be like Ying and Yang. Equal but different. Where Space Marines derived their power from are implants and physical ability, the Sisters would gain their power from faith in the Emperor which now (in this idea, and for current 40K) translate into actual power ups.
The Sisters would be 'blessed', they are stronger and more resilient than most mortals because of their faith inducing psyker like effects.
Perhaps to pay up the Ying Yang idea, the Sisters have toughness in other ways; like rapid healing and regeneration, and able to 'faith heal'. All attributed to the Emperor of course (the latent Psyker element would be downplayed in doctrine, as the Sisters are none to keen on Psykers and chaos).
The Saints would be the extreme of this.
As an archetype I suppose it is moving them closer to that of 'cleric' in the RPG sense with older, more experienced, Sisters channelling more and more power. I know a few female gamers and they do tend to like cleric types.
In the end the Sisters would be as powerful as the Marines but not in the same way. The Sisters would not be bio-enhanced super women, they would remain natural women, but at the same time it would be clear the Sisters could take on the Marines and win. After all - when they were introduced; they were responsible for policing the chapters, and would destroy chapters that had (in their judgement) become corrupt. They would invade a home world and actually take Marines down with bolters and hand weapons - toe to toe (a bit hard to believe in with the current fluff).
Equal yet different.
I guess they would also fight in a different manner, perhaps more falling back to kill zones, and generally being more adaptable and fluid in their tactics. In a martial arts sense the Marines would be the personification of 'hard styles' and the Sisters would be the personification of 'soft styles'. I think it would make for an interesting dynamic, but I admit it may not be everyone's cup of tea, as it does make the Sisters all uber.
As for more regular women in the Imperial armed forces; I think the IG has tons of women in all roles.
Final thoughts: As the end of the day a lot of people like the idea of the Female Space Marine, the Amazon archetype, and the Sister could easily fulfil that roles with a decent work up and not mess with the whole 'Space Marine' vibe. I think GW has started to work up the Sisters, and there is power creep, but it needs to be ramped up.
As to the Sister's 'big story', perhaps the Sisters start to hunt all Space Marines as abominations sometime post Heresy?
Hmm, I quite like the 'resistance is treason' line, very Borg like. Once a few chapters have fallen to the Sisters, perhaps the Sisters will be taken more seriously?
Hearing feedback is very important to me in developing my ideas. Much of my designs are inspired, and crafted, by chatting to fans on forums before snowballing into a full concept you'll find here. I would like to thank all those who have contributed critiques and participated in discussions over the years, and I would especially like to thank all those who commented on this specific topic. If you would like join in, you are most welcome!
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