I am slowly tiptoeing my way into the edits on Women Warriors: responding to my editor’s concerns about structure,* fixing sentences that cause me pain as I read them a month or ten after writing them, tracking down incomplete references,** tightening up some sections, and expanding others. I find it to be a satisfying process, but there is no doubt that it does lead me down side paths that don’t directly affect the work at hand. Over the course of nine days, I’ve dug deeply into the Tailhook scandal, the relationship between the combat exclusion policy and requiring women to sign up for the draft,*** and the troubling question of “boob armor”. You can guess which one caught my imagination. (And may make it into the footnotes as part of a brief discussion of the contrast between our response to highly sexualized female warriors in media**** and our historical discomfort with real life women warriors. Not a trivial subject after all.)
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, “boob armor” refers to the form-fitting breastplates worn by many women warriors in comics, on the cover of pulp-ish fantasy novels, and in video games, television, and movies–and consequently by their cosplaying real life imitators. (Not to mention various Wagnerian sopranos. Opera and space opera have more in common than you might think.) Some versions of boob armor are more overt than others–Xena’s armor not only has bra cups but swirls designed to call attention to the same.
Boob armor is at first glance one step better than the pervasive “armor bikini”–which is made of some material generally associated with armor but does not cover any of the body parts you would want armor to protect in case of a fight. But as the video below makes clear, the illusion of greater protection is just that: an illusion. It is intended to suggest that the character is a badass of the baddest variety while still leaving her *ahem* assets as unprotected as those your average damsel in distress.
What does all of this have to do with historical women warriors, you ask? Perhaps nothing. But then again, the image is an old one. It appears in Renaissance paintings of warrior-goddesses and in eighteenth century political cartoons of Britannia at arms. The unspoken message seems to be goddesses and female super-heroes can fight, but regular women? Not so much.
And yet, we know that Joan of Arc Joan transformed herself from a peasant girl in a homespun red dress into a knight, complete with the expensive accoutrements of horse, retinue, standard, and armor. I bet it wasn’t boob armor.
*Evidently it’s weird to have three separate introductions to a book. Who knew?
**In some cases, I didn’t have the complete reference and did not want to stop forward motion. But occasionally I didn’t write the whole thing down while I had the book in my hand. Why, past self? Why? *Headthunk”
***Evidently eliminating one would trigger constitutional problems with the other. A sample of the twisty thinking and odd arrangements that have been part of discussions about women in the military since World War I, when Western countries first accepted women in the military to different degrees and with different amounts of doublespeak.
****Not a new issue. Read Herodotus’s reports about the Amazons. Or eighteenth century ballads about women disguising themselves as men and joining the army, or the navy, or a pirate crew.
NOTE: If you’re reading this post as an email, you may need to click through to your browser to see the video. It’s worth it.