More and more of the world's military forces include women. With this mixing of the sexes, military leaders are learning to be more sensitive to certain female needs and requirements. Canada's fighting forces were so sensitive, in fact, that they considered issuing the world's first "combat bra" for their female soldiers, to accept and support breasts on duty. But according to a Canadian Defence Department survey conducted earlier this year, the Canadian women have turned down the free lingerie.
"There's such a range of size and shape of women, they didn't believe we'd satisfy enough women with one design," said Maj. Linda Bossi, an ergonomist in charge of the $15,000 survey.
According to the 1,250 military women who contributed to the survey, 92 percent said more than one bra design would be required, and 80 percent said that they didn't want a combat bra, that a commercial bra was just fine, thank you. And 55 percent insisted that the army should start reimbursing them for their bras.
Does all this haggling over brassieres seem ludicrous? It does to many in the Canadian military, who wonder if they should be more concerned with things like helmets, to protect them from getting shot and killed. Some feel that although a braless Canadian fighting breast may be uncomfortable -- or perhaps a pleasant distraction for the men -- it certainly isn't life-threatening.
"It's a subject that, for some, has been embarrassing," said Maj. Doug Palmer, director of a program to update Canadian troops' clothing and gear. "It is a subject that is littered with minefields."
Faced with such opposition to an official combat bra, the Canadian Forces have agreed to pay for commercial bras -- four per year for soldiers, plus four more when they go overseas on six-month missions. "I think other countries will follow our lead," said Palmer.
Female soldiers are understandably happy with how the bra issue has been resolved. "If the army is willing to foot the bill for bras, I think that's excellent," said Master Warrant Officer Donna Macaulay. "It's a real step forward."