Monday, May 6, 2013

In semi-defense of the boobplate

So boobplates are all the rage lately.

A thread on the Project Eternity forums about shapes of real female armour has reached 17 pages and the discussion is going in cycles forever on:

And there's this TOR article, pretty much repeating that tumblr post by that armour smith guy:

I'm going to start by stating that I absolutely do not think boobplate is ideal, super realistic, or necessary. I said as much quite a few times in the very thread I link to.

It's curious how frequently I hear it criticised lately. Are gamers and fantasy art enthusiasts finally coming to their senses, do they finally see the beauty of real armour and functional design?

Kind of.

Let's get real for a moment - it's good old feminism at work here. Boobplate is offensive to female gamers, because it sexualizes female warriors. It seems mail bikini are a thing of the past (hooray for that!), so we've found another fantasy stereotype to erase from art and illustration.
The realism angle is not that important here, I think. There's plenty of stuff about fantasy armour that's completely out there, entirely disfunctional and which bothers absolutely nobody except a few armour enthusiasts.

I would like to go over the arguments against the functionality of a boobplate and examine them one by one.
(going from the TOR article)
(let's skip the strange notion that padding was worn primarily to deal with sweat and "discomfort")

1) "If your armor is breast-shaped, you are in fact increasing the likelihood that a blade blow will slide inward, toward the center of your chest, the very place you are trying to keep safe."

This is somewhat correct. Yes, a breastplate should deflect blows away from your body. However, in my educated layman's opinion, the "blow catching" ability of the boobplate is heavily overplayed. It would catch SOME blows coming from specific directions under specific angles. Also, plate armour was pretty good. In fact, it was bloody damn good, especially against swords. You cannot pierce plate armour with a sword, you simply can't. So those blows you'd catch would probably push you off balance, perhaps slightly more so than a blow that would glance away.
Arrows are a concern, sure, if we're talking armour piercing arrowheads shot from a powerful warbow. Again, a rounded cuirass would be superior and more efficient, that's a fact. But would it be by much? In my opinion, not really.
It'd be quite fun to actually test these things out! (not on humans, of course!)

2) "Let’s say you even fall onto your boob-conscious armor. The divet separating each breast will dig into your chest, doing you injury. It might even break your breastbone. With a strong enough blow to the chest, it could fracture your sternum entirely, destroying your heart and lungs, instantly killing you. It is literally a death trap—you are wearing armor that acts as a perpetual spear directed at some of your most vulnerable body parts. "

Let's compare this with what the smith actually wrote:

"That there, that is a boob plate. I made that one. The woman in the photo asked for it to be like that. She fights in it. I worry constantly that she’s going to fall hard and it will crack her sternum, even with the padding. ... However, it looks good and makes her feel sexy and badass at the same time. That’s important too."

Notice this lady isn't wearing much in terms of padding under the breastplate. The plate is also VERY boob shaped. Not all boobplates are this pronounced, if you look at the original article, the author posts a few designs which would fall under the boobplate category, but are (according to him) acceptable. Notice he primarily criticizes the fact boobplate often features a CLEAVAGE, which obviously doesn't make any sense at all. (looking at the lady fighter in the photo, arrows sliding to my heart would be the least of my worries. I'd invest in a gambeson, that's for sure.)
The idea of armour giving in to a strong blow and crushing your insides isn't exclusive to the boobplate. Sure thing, as the smith himself worries, the boobplate is at a disadvantage. However, a crushing blow is exactly what was used to defeat plate armour in general, a perfectly shaped cuirass would still squish your insides to death if struck hard enough. Calling the boobplate a death trap seems a wee bit excessive.

I'll finish with a few images of real historical cuirass designs used in battle. By men. And they have breasts on them. Surely, this is suboptimal design! Blows would be guided directly between their ribs. (and warriors who wore these most likely didn't wear padding underneath!)

Sexualization wasn't uncommon with armour, it's not necessarily a perfect asexual protective shell. Warriors showed off their...ehm, "goods". Surely, it's quite possible to tuck in the penis without a need for a massive codpiece like this:

As a conclusion, I'd like to repeat that I too find most of the boobplate population silly and unnecessary. I would however recommend you read the original article written by an armour smith before you make your mind on this issue. It's not entirely black and white, it's not entirely unrealistic or (in my opinion) sexist.

1 comment:

  1. Hoping he won't mind, I'll copy my friend Jon's comment from Facebook, as it's worth reading as well. (on the non-technical and yes-ethical side of the issue)

    "Essay length reply warning!

    It's been interesting reading some of the very strong reactions, which sadly do come down to, and forgive me: "tits or GTFO". People have referenced dragons (et al) as being unrealistic, therefore everything is apparently permissible and appropriate. Missing the point by a country mile: Dragons are not real - correct. But women are.

    Dragons don't look at this stuff, but women do. As do men who might not (gasp) require every female character to be sexy in order to justify a place in an image. And a great many people are tired of *all* female characters being sexualised in order to appeal to a sexuality most often possessed by straight teenage boys all the time. And it's the "all the time" bit that gets me. It seems to be the default setting, and I'd personally like to see that change.

    For me that doesn't mean that every female character must be actively de-sexualised, which seems to be the ultra defensive conclusion many leap to. "omg my freedom of expression! You're punching me square in the rights to draw bewbs!!!"

    It just means that in the world of fantasy art, bastion of barefaced sexism for *decades*, it'd be nice if there was a little more variety in how women are portrayed. And I agree with you Jan, that this is largely what boobplate-gate is all about. This matters because, as mentioned, women are real. So we treat the portrayal of them differently than gelatinous cubes. Hopefully.

    Whilst the characters in fantasy art are clearly fictional the purpose of them can be for more than eye candy to appeal to men and women who want to get turned on looking at fantasy art. They could perhaps also serve in the way many more male characters do - as a focus for us to project ourselves into an image, and to imagine we're that character.

    Now of course we can do that with "sexy" characters. And a lot of people enjoy just being titillated. Much as it makes my jaded eyes roll that people need that stuff, it's ok. If you need that stuff it will still be around. But a bbit of variety would be nice.

    Lastly, as this essay draws thankfully to a close, I think it's worth pointing out the very simple point that a lot of artists draw boob plates for the simple reason if she doesn't have prominent boobs how will we know she's female omg? Which kinda says it all really."