Once again, the internet is alive with the sound of outrage (really a perpetual state of being at this point). Recent topic among topics is contoured, anatomically shaped armor lovingly (or infamously) referred to as boob armor. Yup, you guessed it. In a world of little green magical babies, light-speed flying space ships, and laser swords, people have an issue with women looking like women when they wear armor. Unfortunately you can’t say, “It’s just fantasy,” or, “Maybe the character likes her armor that way.” People have come up with all sorts of reasons for why this is bad. But, is it?
Is it? No one ever seems to complain about the pectoral enhancements on Mando himself, the abs on Julius Caesar, or the literal fur diaper Conan sports in popular art. Why is it sexist when it is a common trend to accentuate the human body in almost every artistic endeavor, but only when it’s a woman?
It has been a staple of art, and even the artistic expression of implements of war, forever. The taboo of the human body has been a recent invention of religion and it seems to carry on with confusing results. I’ve seen the same people who argue that breasts are not sexual objects, and turn around and say the breast must be hidden so that it isn’t sexualized. Almost like the minister who wags his finger at the degenerate pornography only to be discovered to be a frequent customer of sex workers or strip clubs. The human form is sexy, it should be appreciated, and making it taboo only serves to feed some of our societal problems concerning sexuality and gender relations.
That still doesn’t answer the question, why is this only an issue when it’s done with women? Power fantasy and Objectification are often words used to show the difference. Something I have talked about before. Aren’t women allowed to have power fantasies? Are we dudes the only ones who envision ourselves playing the part of the big, hulking hero, covered in rippling muscles, saving the day from the evil whatever? Do women really want to imagine they are dumpy, flat, featureless and androgynous bipeds saving the day? I have a hard time believing that image would appeal to anyone, men or women, but I could be wrong. Maybe women do want their heroes to be indistinguishable from teenage boys. And, as I often wonder, why is it only us guys who get the stern look from the puritans about our gaze? Last time I checked, there are women out there who like other women, and like looking at them. I’m fairly certain their gaze isn’t male, and their existence is something we should accept.
It’s Not Historically Accurate
Ok, let’s set aside the fact that Star Wars, and most of this media being discussed, is not set on Earth. Let’s talk about Earth’s history for a minute. We know, for a fact that anatomically correct armor was made for men throughout history. There’s some 5th century Etruscan armor above. But, wasn’t all standard armor the same, and made for men? Obviously, and there’s a couple of reasons for that, primarily because women in combat was extremely rare, especially among cultures who used metal armor. It also had to do with time and cost. Armor was expensive, even for your standard foot soldier. But, if you got your armor like most average soldiers, merchants and mercenaries did, you bought it ready-made. Or looted from a battlefield. You aren’t likely to have found a merchant at a fair who specialized in the making of female specific armor at the time. So, if there were pieces that were specifically made for women, they would have been custom jobs, most likely ceremonial (but still functional), and expensive.
Admittedly, examples are hard to find, if they even existed. Even women we know wore armor, Joan of Arc, for example, were not depicted in armor in art all that often. There is one example from the Karga museum in India which does show it happened and is likely as rare as seeing a female knight on the battlefield in Medieval Europe. But, what if women warriors were more common in a society? Would they have had more of a say in the design and manufacture of their armor? Would they have wanted something to fit their form, or to be more androgynous? Would form have been a bigger consideration than function? And, what about function.
It’s unrealistic, you would die!
Again, let’s set aside the laser guns and energy swords, and think about the practicality of armor shaped like a woman’s natural figure. Some argue, vehemently, that swords would get caught in the deep crevasse of steel cleavage, and the wearer would surely die a horrible death. Would they though? You’d think the greatest military engineers of the early world, the Romans, would have considered that before decking out their officers in anything but smooth breastplates. The idea that armor is easy to cut through is a common trope used in entertainment. Fact of the matter is, most weapons would only dent, ding, and scratch armor. The entire purpose of using your weapon was to defend yourself until you found a weak spot, or chink. Despite everything you see in movies and games, you’re very unlikely to deliver a killing blow with a sword, directly to an armored knight’s chest. Even if that chest has a dent in the middle to make it easier to hit.
Don’t take my word for it. Ask Samantha Swords, former women’s sword fighting champion, and wearer of ‘boob plate’. While not as stylized or accentuated as some fantasy armor, you can clearly see in many images that this is not the smooth, convex breastplate that is more common in armor. Why doesn’t the shape deflect the sword into her neck, or the joints of her arms? That’s the fear isn’t it? That if it’s not shaped correctly the weapon won’t be deflected down and away from the wearer? If boob plate is so unrealistic, and potentially deadly, why is this actual fighting woman wearing it? Maybe it’s just cause of the way it looks? Does it make her look less badass in that image? I don’t think so. If you do, maybe it isn’t the armor you have an issue with.
Really, ‘boob armor’, anatomically correct armor that fits the form of a female wearer, is largely the product of fiction and entertainment. There are very few real world examples of it, but they do exist. What we will probably never be able to answer is, if more women had been warriors in our past, would that have been different? In a warlike society in which women are equals like the Mandalorians of Star Wars, would they have been more apt to have anatomical armor? We’ll never know. But, what we do know is that many of the arguments against it are ignorant, biased, and self-serving. There is no legitimate reason I can find to discount an artist’s interpretation of plate armor, whether it is a wildly sculpted German jousting suit or a fantasy piece that looks like the wears naked body.
While it’s not nearly as extreme as some of what we see (though I wouldn’t call Bo Katan’s armor extreme), modern armor manufacturers are recognizing that men and women are shaped differently. With the rise of women in combat zones, and more women in law enforcement, efforts are being made to make armor specific to the more diverse size and shape of women’s bodies. Giving them better protection and more comfort. You obviously won’t see breast-shaped kevlar on the battlefield, but the idea that they should be indistinguishable from a man’s armor is proving to be more dangerous than the fantasy boob plate ever could, and that’s finally changing. Took them long enough…