TSA Groping Is Business As Usual For Women

The TSA's new security procedures are such a nightmare that even Hillary Clinton says she'd avoid them if possible. But in some ways, women are used to this stuff.

On Face the Nation, Clinton talked about the need to accurately assess the risks of different types of terrorist attack — which seems like exactly the thing that we as a nation are incapable of doing. One guy tries to set off a shoe-bomb in 2001, so we all have to take off our shoes forever. One guy stuffs explosives in his underwear and we all have to get groped, a process that Hillary herself says she'd avoid if she could.

All of this would be a lot more bearable if, as travelers, we felt that our risks were actually being accurately assessed. But everything the TSA does is in response to a previous threat, and while Clinton says "the terrorists are getting more creative," we seem to be playing catch-up. And our catch-up procedures don't even seem particularly effective — even the clothes-penetrating body scanners that people are so up in arms about reportedly can't see powdered explosives of the kind used by underwear bomber Umar Abdulmutallab. Our TSA procedures can feel like too-much-too-late reactions to terror attempts — and with each new addition (those plastic baggies full of toiletries, for instance), flying gets more miserable without feeling much safer. The group behind the underwear bomber said in one of its publications, "This strategy of attacking the enemy with smaller but more frequent operations is what some may refer to as the strategy of a thousand cuts.The aim is to bleed the enemy to death." And if "death" means "making air travel so unpleasant it doesn't seem worth it," then the strategy feels like it's working.

Alyssa Giacobbe of New York Magazine makes the interesting point that women are used to this kind of shit:

[H]aving images of our naked selves transmitted to airport screeners goes only a few clicks beyond what women deal with all the time. And just as invasion of privacy and objectification have long been issues for women, so has putting up with measures of questionable efficacy; turns out most of us don't even need that annual Pap smear and might be better off going without mammograms. With some exceptions, men largely skate by on this sort of stuff.

Giacobbe thinks this is why men are among the most high-profile TSA objectors — but as Irin pointed out, maybe it's just that when a dude objects to getting his junk grabbed, people pay attention. Whatever the case, it's little comfort that all travelers are now subject to some of the invasive and potentially ineffective examination that's long been part of women's lives. Rather, maybe it's time for the TSA to learn what many women have long known — that "feeling safe" is about maintaining privacy and dignity as well as avoiding attack.

Administration To Seek Balance In Airport Screening [NYT]
Hillary Clinton On TSA Pat-Downs And More Sunday Talk Highlights [Daily Beast]
Flying Should Be Fun This Week; Protests Over New Screening Procedures [NPR]
Don't Scan Me, Bro! [NY Mag]