On Sunday morning, Boing Boing founder Mark Frauenfelder’s 15-year-old daughter got in the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) line at LAX. She was traveling with a group of other students her age to visit colleges. Wearing a tank top with a long-sleeved shirt over it and black tights, she was dressed for a long flight — certainly not to provoke anyone’s ire. However, as she approached the station where her ID was to be checked, a TSA officer greeted her with hostility and judgment.
According to text messages she sent to her parents, the officer was “glaring” at her and mumbling. “Excuse me?” she asked. “You’re only 15, COVER YOURSELF!” he responded in a hostile tone.
Frauenfelder’s daughter was shaken up by this encounter. Maureen Herman, co-founder of A is For, a women's rights advocacy group, wrote that incidents like this “inject shame (or try to) in a young woman who is just living her life, going to check out colleges, and throws on the first of what will unfortunately be many layers of sexism she will encounter in her life.”
Though this incident may not seem like a big deal, it reflects a number of ironies and abuses of power that are at play both against women and against our Constitutional freedoms in general. Since 9/11, the TSA has been given unprecedented license to invade the privacy of airline passengers in the name of transportation safety. In an effort that seems ironic in light of the LAX TSA agent’s behavior yesterday morning, the TSA controversially piloted the use of full-body scanners that penetrated passengers’ clothes in 2007. Fortunately, those were put away at the beginning of this month.
A recent $1 billion “behavioral detection program” was also found in a damning New York Times report to be ineffective at screening passengers objectively. Despite the questionable effectiveness of these programs in halting terrorism, the training that goes into them may be promoting TSA agents’ judgmental behavior; managers at Logan International Airport in Boston, for example, sought to generate arrests for drugs, outstanding arrest warrants or immigration problems so that officers could be promoted.
This enforced mentality of judgment and shaming is perhaps what led the unnamed officer to start acting on behalf of the fashion police. Rather than minding whatever uncouth thoughts he may have been having, he instead decided to blame the 15-year-old for her outfit choice — which is perfectly modest and practical for an airplane ride, not that that should even matter, especially in the often invasive environment of airport security screening. Women’s bodies, especially those of girls so young, are the property of the person inhabiting them and no one else.