Another TSA Agent Shames Another Woman For Wearing Clothes, Plus My Own Effed-Up Sexist Flying Story

You are what you wear. More specifically -- you are what other people decide you are based on what you wear.
Publish date:
June 19, 2013
casual sexism, airplanes, flying, rape culture, TSA, being a woman sucks

This past Sunday, the 15 year-old daughter of BoingBoing founder Mark Frauenfelder was verbally assaulted by a member of the TSA at LAX. It happened while she was traveling with a group of other high schoolers on a trip to visit colleges.

The assault was initially passive (if not still terrible.) She noticed the TSA agent who had screened her ID angrily speaking under their breath. She, being a braver girl at 15 than I am now at 29, then said, “Excuse me?” The agent in question then barked at her, “You’re only 15 -- cover yourself up.”

It should be shocking, but it isn’t. What is this, the eighth, tenth, or eightieth variation on this story that you’ve heard? It’s gone from being a news trend to a verging-on-acceptable practice when it comes to flying while female.

You are what you wear. More specifically -- you are what other people decide you are based on what you wear.

Sure, everybody regardless of their gender has to carefully monitor their various bags and packages while traveling, but it’s only women who have to gird their proverbial loins before they make their way into an airport.

“Gawd,” a guy might moan, “Empty my pockets? Remove my belt? This mild inconvenience is exhausting.” Meanwhile, across the room, a woman is selected for extra screening because someone likes her boob shape.

What the teen in question was wearing doesn’t matter. Do we still need to say that? I guess we do if discrimination and prurience of this level are still daily realities. I think that one fact above all the others being trumpeted out with this news story is the one I wish people would really hear. Every piece I’ve read about the incident -- all overwhelmingly sympathetic to Frauenfelder -- have given the cursory "it doesn’t matter what she was wearing," but then they veer terribly off course, adding a "but here’s a picture anyway" to the end of that statement, along with a photo of her outfit.

Even now, writing about it here, I want to go into detail about what she was wearing, but I’m not going to do it. Because even if she was wearing a hat shaped like a boob and a hula skirt, that doesn’t matter. It would be just as bad.

By addressing her the way the agent did, they were contributing to a culture that allows rapists freedom on the grounds that the woman in the short skirt or tight jeans was inviting objectification of the rankest order. My cut-offs are not an invitation for your violence. They are invitation from the respite of the brutal summer heat. And also -- I LIKE CUT-OFFS.

The outfit was not the problem: The offending agent’s line of thinking was the problem. The agent sneers at a 15-year-old girl’s ensemble as inappropriate, when the real impropriety lies in his own fucked thought process. Read: It’s not her fault that his dick gets hard from looking at her, a child. That’s very much his own problem, one that is unfortunately endemic -- I mean, it just keeps happening. It isn’t just this one guy.

To me there is something even more insidious about this sort of treatment happening in an airport. Flying isn’t the greatest experience in the world anyway, no matter who you are. You have to take your shoes off while a whole line of people roll their eyes at your slowness. A bottle of water costs roughly 18 dollars. The seats are terminally uncomfortable, and, if you are me, the flights almost always get cancelled.

I recently traveled from LGA to ORD. It wound up taking two days. My first flight turned out to be a non-flight - after several hours the flight was cancelled. (The pilot waved goodbye to us and smiled massively as he walked away, leaving each passenger to begin freaking out in their own special way -- I chose tears.) This resulted in me having to change a hotel reservation by phone. By phone. BY PHONE. I cannot overstate this next part enough: BY PHOOOONE.

I had purchased traveler’s insurance, because I have bad luck traveling. Through the terms of my insurance, I’d be reimbursed for the hotel’s cancellation fee. This did mean, however, notifying the hotel, and letting them know I’d be faxing them a form to sign later on.

The guy I spoke to at the hotel in question was irrationally angry from the get go. Really, my call was a courtesy. I didn’t want them to receive a strange fax without speaking to me first. I was gritting my teeth and trying not to scream/cry as this man’s tone turned from annoyed to furious.

“I’m still charging your card today,” he snarled.

“I understand that,” I said.

“You think because you are a girly-pretty-girl you can just get whatever you want, don’t you?”

I had that strange ringing in my ears that happens when all the blood rushes out of your head. I was shocked. I felt speechless. I felt powerless. I felt, when I could feel something other than purely awful, angrier than I had ever been.

He hadn’t even seen me. He just had passed judgment on me at the sound of my voice. My female voice. I was a girly-pretty-girl and worthy only of rage.

In another life, I would have agreed with him, quietly humbled, and waited out his rant until he agree to sign the form I needed signed and then hung up, adding the awfulness of the experience to the roster of all the other shit that had happened that day. But I didn’t.

I was so -- am so -- tired of having how I look thrown in my face by dudes who are angry about what I have to say. In a way, it was pretty hilarious. I’ve gotten “You’re ugly that’s why you wrote this,” and now “You’re pretty so you think you can get whatever you want.” It was such a mind fuck, and I was tired of it.

Instead of just letting him walk all over me, I ended the conversation with a curt, “Give me your manager’s name and contact information, please.” A mantra I had to repeat four times before he caved.

In a movie, I would have ranted at him. In reality, I realized the sort of person I was dealing with was not capable of being impacted by anything other than a verbal reprimand from the person who signs his paychecks -- so that was the way I went. I reported him.

I no longer see the point in passively condoning the behavior of a person whose does not treat the people they encounter on this planet with basic respect. I will no longer take on any of their fucked aggression. Their warped minds are not my problem, and by blithely going on and not making a fuss, I’m letting them get away with it. We all are.

It’s been really heartening to see the response of outrage on behalf of Faudenfelder’s daughter, but nothing will warm my heart quite like the day when shit like this doesn’t happen anymore.

Have you been picked on at the airport for the way you were dressed? Have you been discriminated or mocked because of what you’ve chosen to wear as a lady out in the world? Bring this, and all other comments and complaints to the comments. Things are bound to get awesome down there.