I was digging through some armor illustrations in an attempt to redesign Naomi’s breastplate (my concerns with my own designs are a topic of their own). I had some conflicting thoughts in my head while doing this and thinking about what complaints people might have with some designs I was considering. So this got me thinking about something that’s been annoying me for awhile…
People in general are very good at noticing when something is wrong, but often bad at articulating why. Many arguments about women in armor (or poses) I’ve seen recently hinge on realism. “Boob plate is dumb because it directs sword blows to the sternum” or “Her -blank- is unarmored and would be really easy to attack!” are arguments that come up a lot and I really don’t think they’re ever particularly effective arguments. Male characters are littered with impractical armor, even in the areas of coverage (see every Fire Emblem character ever). The ‘chest plate’ and exposed stomach (in the male case, clothed, but equally unarmored) is among the oldest of anime tropes.
Most fictitious armor is costuming. It is not meant to be practical. It is meant to communicate things about the character. A character with a huge breastplate and pauldrons communicates that he’s armored and invokes other ideas like ‘he’s a knight’ or ‘he’s evil’ or ‘he’s strong’ depending on how it’s designed. Most fictitious armor we see in games and art isn’t even functional even on the ground of articulation. It’s all style. How realistic armor (or weapons, or anything) attempts to be in a piece of media is a function of tone. Costuming is based on aesthetics and communication, not practicality.
Things like Dark Souls, Berserk or Game of Thrones have very functional armor because that’s the vibe they’re going for. Applying the need for realism to all things when arguing feminist topics acts like a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the opposition. When I see this arguments happen they go…
“Well that isn’t realistic! Her armor is totally impractical!”
“Well fictional guys aren’t realistic either!”
“Yeah well they’re not realistic to make them look cool, not to always sexualize them!”
The last point is the key argument. That is the strongest and most valid argument you have. But once you bring it up, you already ‘lost’ part of the argument, which makes it easier for the person you’re trying to educate to blow you off. Unless this is something like the Dark Souls 2 boobplate concept art, don’t over-complicate the argument. The arguments about realism are cruft, cut them and get to the meat of things. Maybe bring them up for fun or as an aside, but don’t leverage on them unless the design conflicts with the tone of the fictional piece you’re discussing.
When you bring up elements of realism into these discussions, I’m forced to ask ‘if it were realistic/justifiable, would it be okay”? You can do a GIS and find plenty of porn with real people that would make for really sexist poses in a piece of media but would be totally realistic. Or what if you can justify something? “Oh her skin hardens on contact with things, so she fights naked”. Obviously this shouldn’t fly. People are right to notice a pattern of ‘unrealistic’ and ‘sexist’, but that’s not because ‘unrealistic’ == ‘sexist’ but because most unrealistic concessions are made to objectify.
You want your arguments to be lean. Cut the cruft and stick to the harsh, unassailable facts.