TLDR: They don’t. Fit, function and coverage matter more than gender.
I’m on the cusp of breaking my golden rule, but I’m writing this post at the request of Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader, a frequent visitor of this blog. He spotted this promo shot from the new Power Rangers movie reboot:
Notice anything about the way the costumes are different for the male and female characters? Perhaps in the chest area? Hoffelder did, and he wanted to know whether body armor in reality is divided along similar lines.
The short answer is no. Here’s why.
Body Armor Basics
If you’re not already familiar with body armor, here are a few posts you may want to check out first:
- Can a “Bulletproof Vest” Also Stop a Knife?
- Does Getting Shot While Wearing Body Armor Leave a Bruise?
- Could a Wall of Corpses Wearing Body Armor Offer Protection During a Gunfight?
To summarize, ballistic body armor disperses kinetic energy from a projectile to prevent said projectile from penetrating into the person (or character) wearing it. Think of goal netting stopping a soccer ball. Body armor does this using panels inserted into a vest, a vest with those panels already built in or a hard shell vest. (Note that I’m using the colloquial “bulletproof vest” and “body armor” interchangeably here, and that there are types of body armor other than a vest.)
Fit > Gender
When matching body armor to a person in the real world, there are a few factors that take precedence over anything else:
- Coverage (Are the vital areas protected?)
- A snug fit (Is the body armor too loose or too tight? Does it ride up or down too much? Does it remain in place whether standing, sitting, running or crouching?)
This doesn’t mean men and women won’t have different needs in these areas. Of course they will. But so will each individual. That’s why manufacturers make their products customizable with Velcro, straps, buttons and more. See for yourself here at Body Armor Outlet. Products aren’t divided by male/female.
Here’s an example of a female police officer being fitted for body armor:
That isn’t to say there aren’t fit issues specific to females that deserve attention:
The Takeaway for Writers
The end result looks a lot less like this:
And more like this:
It’s not fair to compare a Power Ranger character up against IRL body armor. One is a product of Pavlov’s dick marketing techniques, and the other is a life-or-death priority.
The point for writers, however, is valid. When it comes to weapons, what you see in pop culture is often a crude caricature of the real world.
Get the Book
The Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books) comes with everything but the ammo. Pick up a print or digital copy from these fine retailers: