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The Mandalorian ‘Boob Armor’ Controversy Explained, Sexism Versus Practicality

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BY November 16, 2020
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One thing Star Wars fans love to do, other than watch or read Star Wars stories, is argue. Unfortunately, since the days when the Ewoks first waddled their way onto the galactic stage, this comes with some toxicity. Toxic Fandom is a real problem these days, amplified by social media, and it poisons real discussions about stories and their impacts culturally. Thus, with the appearance of Bo-Katan Kryze in The Mandalorian Chapter 11: The Heiress, the fandom got mired in controversy over ‘Boob Armor.’ First, we’d be irresponsible to suggest that was some massive argument or serious issue. It seems like it was a casual observation made on social media that just flew out of control.

A respected cultural critic seemingly kicked things off by lamenting the fact that Bo-Katan’s armor was designed like it was. Some women who replied to this comment disputed this reaction, saying that the design seemed more practical than sexist. Sadly, a significant number of the replies came from anonymous, sock puppet accounts who saw an opportunity to be cruel on social media. Still, the question at the core of this debate is one worth examining. In asking if a particular fictional representation is sexist, critics are able to point out things most casual audiences don’t even realize. One only need to look at the reactions to any story about Rose Tico to know that fans of the story which gave us Princess Leia are not immune to sexism.

So, while it might be easy to write off The Mandalorian boob armor controversy, it’s a serious enough issue to warrant some objective examination. Because for all of the diversity behind the camera, the track record of on-screen representation for women in The Mandalorian is spotty at best.

The Mandalorian Boob Armor Controversy Explained

In a lot of genre media, which until recently seemed to be exclusively marketed to men, is rife with sexism. Cultural attitudes, especially in the United States, are why there is a difference in perception between men and women characters. The ridiculously fantastical proportions of characters like He-Man, the Hulk, and Colossus, is different than the ridiculously fantastical proportions on women characters. In the 1990s especially, women characters in comics were drawn hilariously tall, slender, and buxom. Uniforms for women were revealing in ways that male character costumes are not. This carries over into live-action fiction and video games, as well. (Ivy from Soul Caliber, anyone?)

Yet, there is also the issue that when it comes to things like plate armor, physics and anatomy can play a role. In the video above from armor YouTuber Shadiversity, he explains why some boob armor can be practical. In the case of The Mandalorian boob armor controversy, the chestplate worn by Bo-Katan does seem to be more practical than exploitative.

The breastplate itself is domed, very akin to some full-plate armors from the medieval era. Beskar armor is also stylized with a centerpiece that, one assumes, plays some role in the sci-fi technological aspect of the armor. (Shadivsersity suggests it’s “inertial dampening” tech, which makes a lot of sense.) Also, given that Mandalorian armor is specifically tailored (as evidenced by the ill fit of Boba Fett’s Armor on Cobb Vanth), the chestplate makes sense. If this armor has technology to distribute melee impacts, then it’s not “dangerous” as some might suggest. In fact, Bo-Katan’s Mandalorian armor’s design matches newer designs for women’s tactical body armor. There is a line between anatomical practicality and sexual exploitation, and The Mandalorian seems to fall squarely on the former side. Though, we disagree with Shadiversity that this topic isn’t worth discussion at all (and likely neither does he since he’s done three videos on the topic.)

Practicality Doesn’t Erase the Need to Focus on Sexism in Pop Culture

The Mandalorian Boob Armor controversy Leia Carrie Fisher Metal Bikini Slave costume Image via Lucasfilm

As I mentioned above, the unattainable body standards presented by comics and video games for men and women are simply different. There is a context in society whereby women’s appearances are given much more importance than men’s. Since genre stuff was mostly marketed to men, sexualizing the women characters was seen as part of that. This problem, often summed up as the Male Gaze Theory, runs rampant in all media, including things like advertising and even the news. And Star Wars is not immune to this.

In the George Lucas-helmed trilogies, both Carrie Fisher and Natalie Portman have male gaze-y moments. In Attack of the Clones Portman’s Padmé Amidala was attacked in such a way that her space jumpsuit turned into a halter top. Fisher’s Princess Leia donned a revealing metal bikini in Return of the Jedi. There is legitimate debate about the value of this creative decision and how fans, especially women, react to it. To some it’s sexy and empowering, and to others, it’s exploitative and reductive. Discussing why that is allows people to understand those moments in a larger context. However, it doesn’t diminish those moments or mean that you can’t love those films.

So, while The Mandalorian boob armor controversy does feel like much ado about not much, it’s not. People who are more able to notice subtle sexism that others don’t may be primed to be on alert for such things. Merely raising the question is not a capital crime nor does it mean the person who does “isn’t a fan.” Just the opposite, these divergent or fresh perspectives enrich the fan experience and help future storytellers avoid mistakes in representation that can drive people away.

What do you think about The Mandalorian boob armor controversy? Share your theories about why the armor would or wouldn’t work in a practical sense below.

Featured image via Lucasfilm

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Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.

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