Saturday, April 6, 2013

In Defense of the Breast Plate

This is the second post I’ve done without major 3d modeling content so I’ll try to keep this somewhat short. My last one, a background piece, was long. Maybe long enough people lost interest but I hope it was satisfying for those who read it.  I like background so it kept me entertained to write a foundation piece for a mythos I’m slowly creating with my miniatures. Not that GW’s existing mythos isn’t entertaining, just, sometimes you want to do something new and interesting.  Really the primary impitous behind this is that I want to kill sometime while waiting for miniatures to arrive so I can blog them.

Anyway, this time I wanted to blog a bit about an aspect of my personal projects that has gotten me some flak in my gaming circles.  Namely, as one female gamer put it, my “Fetish for Tit Armor”.  Now I don’t expect this to matter to a lot of gamers.  Sexy armor is as old a fantasy trope as Eleves being archers or Dwarves carrying hammers.  But the propensity of games to do “babe” armor on their miniatures has been criticized recently.

There are a number of bloggers that have attacked chainmail bikini’s and skimpy space suits with a vehemence that makes you less than proud to be gamers.  The often spoken notion that gaming is becoming less of a man’s hobby has encouraged these critiques.  This is generally done out of the perception that the sexy armor trope is sexist and thus should be discarded.

Obviously not everyone feels that way, and I myself don’t as you could have guessed from the title of this article. It’s hard to form a cogent argument against something like this.  The perception goes that if you support the sexy armor trope you are automatically a sexist pig, and admittedly there are a lot of those in the hobby.  But beyond that I really think very few people really have considered why armor like that exists in fantasy or scifi literature.

I’ve heard a lot of arguments against sexy armor.  The most prominent among these arguments being safety and/or impracticality.  This argument goes that receding body coverage is unsafe on the battlefield or simply impractical to be considered armor.  I always agree with this to an extent but it’s also an issue of cultural subjectivity.  There has been an obsession in first world nations with the value of human life for a long time now.  Throughout the first world nations in Europe the movement from hide and leather armors to part and full plate has captured the imagination of fantasy authors.  To such a point that we interpret full plate armor as the standard of the world when it isn’t now nor was it then.  The more affluent countries in Europe and other areas like Japan used full armor extensively for hundreds of years but that wasn’t the norm.  Throughout Asia, Africa, Mesoamerica the standard was lighter armor that protected the core of the body and the head.  Limbs, regardless of how important to you or I were considered expendable and rarely armored.  These lighter armor often left large swaths of the body exposed. They also tended to hang on the body making female anatomy more visible when women were allowed to be warriors.  The fantasy trope of the nomad barbarian half naked living among beasts is essentially true in some parts of the world.  The primary concern with these lighter armors was generally speed and maneuverability.  Segments of the body, like arms and legs, were uncovered so the soldier didn’t have as much weight to move while in action.  Even into the middle ages common soldiers were only lightly armored. Archers rarely wore anything more than chain shirts, while city watches and spearmen were lucky to have breast plates to shield their hearts and lungs.

Other arguments include that it’s entirely an aesthetics issue.  That the idea of curvy armor only has the purpose of being pleasing to the eye, specifically the male eye.  Again this is quite true to some extent. As a man I admit that female curves are attractive, that’s why most sports cars are so curvy.  It’s just bred into me to like those soft curves.  At the same time that isn’t the only thing that is forged into those curves.  Most men can attest that there are times when women are simply frightening.  Like a tigress protecting their young a woman can be more fierce and brutal than any man could hope to be. Along with the attraction of those curves a woman’s body calls to mind that absolute willingness to destroy anything that threatens her family.  This dichotomy of beauty and ruthlessness is a part of femininity that shouldn’t be forgotten. Stopping sexism is all about gender equality but it also is tempered with the truth that some things men or women can’t do.  No one can complain that women not peeing standing up is sexist, it’s a fact of human physiology and as such must be accepted. All we can do is offer equal bathroom facilities and be done with it. It’s true that women can be soldiers just as well as men can but we must also acknowledge that they have tools at their disposal that men don’t. Both the disarming allure of the female body and the frightening ferocity of a woman’s mental and biological drive to fight for what she holds dear are weapons that men rarely can achieve.  There is a psychological component to warfare that aesthetics plays a big part in.  No matter how gruesome we don’t question the idea of littering things with skulls and wicked blades in table top gaming.  The ancient Greeks would mold chiseled abs and pecks into their body armor for psychological effects.  There are even some accounts of Pict women fighting naked on the battle field against roman soldiers.  Regardless of how you feel about the female form arguing that because it’s aesthetically pleasing doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a place on the battle field.  That may mean it has more of a place there than you’d like to admit.

Bullet trap cleavage theory, somewhat addressed as a safety issue, is also one particular argument trotted out.  This goes essentially that the cleavage shape on a breast plate makes it either A. funnel weapons fire to the heart, or B. structurally unsound.  There is some scientific evidence that would support this except for the fact that no scientific study has ever been done that actually examines this.  As a practical issue in melee combat the “breast” shape of the armor is no more or less effective against blows.  At range, any shot that would fall inside the “V” of the cleavage was already a center of mass shot which if it has the velocity to penetrate your armor was already a kill shot anyway regardless of whether it glances to the heart or passes through the lung.  I read one very scientific sounding article that said a women falling on her face in breast armor would die from a shattered sternum. An interesting scientific quandary that totally ignores any internal padding worn under fitted armor.  As though, the soldier was totally naked under the armor.  There is a certain amount of truth that surface bends, such as the concave cleavage area, are structurally less durable than a convex surface.  But most male armors aren’t a simple convex shape like classic plate armor.  They are often just as sculpted, albeit as a male body or generic design, as a female armor plate. The issue here is simply it may be less structurally sound than a classic breast plate but is it any less structurally sound than the male counter parts? Truth be told probably not.

There are of course concepts I can’t really defend in the field of sexy armor.  I don’t understand the concept of combat heels.  High heels have no purpose other than to affect posture.  Some shoe design are intended to shift the weight of the body off the heel towards the ball of the foot but there really is no evidence they would serve a tactical purpose.  There could be said to be a cultural significance to the incorporation of heels in a female boot.  If the culture has a specific focus on feminine posture as a key sexual trait of women you could lump that into the argument for aesthetics of psychological warfare.  However from my perspective the added mobility of flats vs heels on the battlefield would trump any psychological benefits.  Alternatively, in science fiction settings where zero G combat is the norm magnetic, spring, or rocket heels would be a tactical advantage but only if the heel actually represented these design integrations, a normal heel would still be a detriment to movement.

Of course the overriding reason that is the real impetus behind these arguments is simply that it makes female gamers uncomfortable.  Truthfully, some portrayals make me uncomfortable too a lot of the time.  There is always a balance between a strong feminine characteristic and a sexpot pinup girl.  It’s sometimes hard to fix where that line is drawn in your mind. It generally has to come down to the question of is this sexy for no other reason than its sexy to me, or is it part of some larger design aesthetic that is helping me represent a kick ass character that also happens to be female, and yes sexy to some degree.  Truthfully the worst offenders in my opinion are GW’s Madonna Warriors.  I’m ashamed to own a Sisters of Battle army even though I got it second hand.  And over the years as I tried to push the sisters out of the army first by adding storm troopers and then by adding inquisitor retinues I’ve come to grips with the fact that the army is just sexist drivel.  The Power Corsets and bra’s pointier than their swords is of course now considered quant in 40k.  They are a throwback to the age of 1980s female rockers like Madonna and Cindy Lauper.  That doesn’t make them right with modern sensibilities but at least it makes them somewhat understandable.

I could go on and on but really I have made my point. Generally the truth is that sexy armor isn't just about sexism.  There are real reasons that armor should be feminine.  Femininity is a part of the human condition.  The idea that women must emulate men to be perceived as strong is has been an aspect of the women’s liberation movement and its one that has been changing slowly.  Women can be feminine and still be strong without giving up what makes them feminine. Those who balk at the female form on the table top I must ask is it the sexy armor you don’t care for or is there something so psychologically terrifying about the idea that women are part of your gaming reality that you are afraid to acknowledge their right to be there and be themselves, in the game or playing the game.

Star Marine Heavy Armor, Softsuit Variant, Outfitted for Female Operator.
The Softsuit variant of the Star Marine Heavy Armor replaces the Tactics and Logistics Capsule  (TLC) for a breast plate of hardened thermo-ferric composites. The term Softsuit is something of a misnomer as the armor has nearly the same level of operator protection as its TLC equipped Hardsuit cousin.  Often used in atmosphere or controlled environment engagements where total vacuum seal is unnecessary.  It is favored by officers for its mobility and freedom of vision not afford by the TLC's visual assist systems.  The body of a Softsuit is fitted to its occupant in a process that is performed by the operator's house, often making some or all of the suit's equipment a heraldic heirloom.

Star Marine Joslyn of House Crowan being fitted for heavy armor.

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