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Is Ill-Fitting Body Armor Putting Our Female Troops In Danger?

Being forced to wear men’s body armor isn’t just uncomfortable. It’s a huge safety issue.

Is Ill-Fitting Body Armor Putting Our Female Troops In Danger?

We all know men and women are different. Women are biologically designed for birthing and nurturing children, so they have breasts and wider hips. Men are biologically designed to be strong and look funny, so while our muscles get a hearty testosterone drip, our testicles have been placed where they can easily be kicked for a laugh.

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We wear different cuts of shirts and pants to accommodate these differences. And in the military, when it comes to bulletproof armor that keeps soliders alive, you’d think this fit would have even more importance. But as pointed out in this piece by the Christian Science Monitor, women in the military are being forced to wear the same equipment as men.

Female soldiers are expected to adapt male armor to fit their bodies, meaning loosening straps for ample chest space, only to leave gaps in the armor as a result. Apparently, the armor also fits poorly in the back and rides up on the neck, a myriad of misfittings which the US Army has found actually constricts blood flow and makes it hard for women to aim a gun or exit vehicles.

This is especially cutting as women make up 14% of our military. And while women may not technically be placed in combat, they are dropped into warzones. (The combat can still come to them.)

Luckily, the recently passed 2013 National Defense Authorization Act will, for the first time ever, instruct the Pentagon to create female-specific body armor. Apparently, though, the problem is harder to correct than merely producing Xena: Warrior Princess plated bust armor. Traditional (male) armor plating doesn’t adapt well to a woman’s curvature–simply increasing weight while creating more vulnerable seams in the structure. It’s actually a serious design problem that may be inherently limited by current generation materials.

Then again, properly outfitting each sex is a problem we’ve had solved for millennia. Now that there’s a federally mandated will, someone highly paid government contractor will find a way. Because not every woman can make do like Ripley.

[Hat tip: Core77; Image: Panayu Chairatananoud/Shutterstock]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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