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SEXIST BEATDOWN: Sexist Patdown Edition

Well, hey there! Guess what exciting new oh-Lord-not-my-vagina type issues emerged RIGHT THE HELL AFTER I took a plane out to the Ohio?

Splendid. So the news, for those of our readers who have been trapped inside of a well for the past week or so, and have only just emerged thanks to the help of their loyal border collies, is this: There are body scanners. They can see you naked. Sometimes you have to go through them, “randomly,” at the airport. We’ve been promised that the images will never be saved or leaked or used abusively, just like all those other body scanner images that have been saved, leaked, and/or used abusively. Your alternative to being Hudged by the forces of Jet Blue? Why, you can get a “patdown,” of course! Wherein TSA agents will stick their hands down the front of your pants, check both overboob and underboob, and wedge their hands right up in your crotch, for good measure, so that you will be in an extra-good mood for visiting Gramma. Basically, everyone is having some fun and/or consent issues for the holidays!

One person who has been faithfully covering these issues, of course, is Amanda Hess of TBD. And one person who faithfully reads and/or professionally GChats with Amanda Hess of TBD is me! Join us, therefore, as we pat down the many suspicious crevices of this particular issue.

SADY: Hello, lady!

AMANDA: Hello! Before we continue this discussion, would you politely allow me to peruse the definition of your genitalia?

SADY: Hmmm. Do I have a more invasive, potentially traumatic option?

AMANDA: There is a special groping option for potential terrorists, and also libertarian bloggers.

SADY: DANG! I have missed out only by the syllables “tarian!” Ah, well. At least I can be assured that this never happens to dudes. Because if it did, THEN is when we would have a problem! Honestly, I do feel bad for dudes who are facing consequences for refusing to have their junk groped. TRAUMA IS TRAUMATIC FOR MEN ALSO. However, the thing where, “if it’s women, it’s complaining, if it’s men, IT IS AN OUTRAGE” seems to be operating in full force here.

AMANDA: Right. Trauma that is traumatic for men is traumatic for freedom. I get the outrage on this. I do not want a TSA agent feeling anywhere near my genitals. And I totally understand how invasive this body scan thing could potentially be. Particularly for trans people, who could legitimately be outed by this thing.

SADY: Yeah, dear Lord. “Granted, society is always looking to monitor and punish you based on your below-stairs furniture. However, for America, it is important that we all get a look at your below-stairs furniture!”

AMANDA: But a subset of the outrage, I feel like, is of the “they can see the outline of my weiner! And while I usually enjoy this sort of attention, what if they make fun of how small it is!” variety. Which I find amusing.

SADY: Right. Like, I believe there was actually a scene in Spinal Tap about this. Maybe there is a “hyper-realistic prosthetic large weiner” industry that has just been given the kick it needs?


AMANDA: Yes, and since those also function as drug testing fake pee dispensers, I am sensing some libertarian synergy here.

SADY: Right! I mean, I get it. It’s not just a libertarian thing. And at first, I have to admit, my impulse was, “I would be fine with going through that scanner thing! I sincerely doubt you are going to get a charge out of me!” But then I realized: I don’t get a lot of body-based flak. I’m thin, I’m white, I’m cis, I’m not disabled. I don’t love the idea of being looked at naked by that dude with the ’80s not-quite-porn-stache, but I’m comfortable with being seen that way, because everything in society tells me I have a RIGHT TO BE. Like, the problem, for a lot of people, might not just be the touching. And it might not just be the exposure. It might be body policing and shaming in general, you know?

AMANDA: Yeah. And I think a lot of the outrage comes from the exposure and the touching going further than what was promised. Hello consent issues! Like, first you weren’t supposed to be able to see genitalia on the thing. And now you pretty much can. And a lot of the people complaining about the enhanced pat-downs say they weren’t warned about what was going to happen.

SADY: Yeah, exactly. And, you know, the point being that the patdown IS invasive and unpleasant and that’s supposed to somehow “encourage” (read: “pressure”) you into getting in the scans. It’s the total lack of control that is so very anti-consent, I think. But it seems like there’s widespread pushback against it. Whatever climate of fear we used to live in that we could freely cede certain privacy rights, seems to have dissipated to the extent that people are no longer allowing people to have their junk searched for no real cause. I think it was Amanda Marcotte [ED: Nope! Melissa McEwan!] who pointed out that, if you wanted to conceal something, REALLY, you might just use a body cavity. So what’s next, a Private And Professional And Totally Random OB/GYN Exam for passengers? Jesus. I woke up on a Greyhound and realized that the seat in front of me was, in the light of morning, obviously covered in splooge, but I’d STILL rather take the damn Greyhound than this.

AMANDA: Yeah. I mean, I expect some of the push-back has to do with Obama being president? It seems like it’s really keyed into that conservative contingent that, under Bush, may have been like “well I know I have to give up some of my civil liberties to behead Osama Bin Laden, but I’m willing to do that because it’s mostly going to affect brown people.” But now they can comfortably settle into a “Democrats stealing our freedoms” argument with a “maybe just grope brown people” follow-up. I mean, the Washington Times headline was “Obama’s hand in your crotch,” which I feel like may not have been the spin under the last presidency? Maybe?

SADY: Haha, yeah. HE HAS COME FOR YOUR CONSTITUTION AND NOW HE WANTS TO TOUCH YOUR WEINER. Whereas under our last president it would have been like, “Brave heroes sacrifice all to keep America’s flights safe from weiner bombs.”

AMANDA: Haha. It’s pretty clear at this point that the new procedures are universally reviled. The funny thing, for me, is all the ways that the people who hate it are spinning it. So we’re feminist right, so we’re all “assault trauma! consent! trans rights!” etc. And homophobes are like “but what if the TSA person is gay!”

SADY: Yeah. There was a piece that was like, “maybe men should just wear kilts!” Which I believe was in The Atlantic, which we love. (Yay! Love!) But, you know, it’s a very dude way to go about it. THE LAST THING YOU WILL WANT TO ENCOUNTER IS: MY BALLS, SIR. And now the homophobes are like, “BUT WHAT IF HE DOES WISH TO ENCOUNTER YOUR BALLS?” Basically, no-one wants their junk touched. Whether they’re wearing a Purity Ring or they’re feminist or they’re ignorant as heck and scared of same-sex touching — which, I have to wonder: Would they be happier about getting their dicks measured by a lady? And if so, could THAT constitute sexual assault? — or whatever.

AMANDA: Yeah. I mean, it is sort of inspiring that we’ve been able to reach some consensus on this. Unfortunately, my greatest allegiance lies with the “DEAR GOD GET ME OUT OF THIS AIRPORT AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE” division, which forces me to look down upon those who would attempt to protest the system.

SADY: Yes. I, too, have only one desire and/or request for airports, which is: Get me through this ordeal as fast as you can, I AM WEARING A SPORTS BRA THERE SHOULD NOT BE A PROBLEM, and also DO NOT CHARGE ME NINE DOLLARS FOR YOUR SANDWICH, for I know it to be stale. Also institute the sad little smoking cages like they have at LAX. All the people with rough skin and coughs, hanging out in a little cage over the tarmac like diseased parakeets: That is what I want from my airport. I guess I have a lot of requests for airports, Amanda! I guess we are on OPPOSITE SIDES OF THIS ISSUE.


  1. Meg wrote:

    They have been patting women in intimate places for at least the last eight years, and some how it never made the Washington Post.

    Our country: ruled by men, the tiny appendages dangling between their legs and their anxiety about the same.

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink
  2. Samus wrote:

    I love me some Sexist Beatdown, but I had a lot of trouble cracking a smile at this post (wonderful as it was) because I am so upset about this. I feel like the We Won’t Fly people are basically saying the “solution” is to put up a big fuss in the airport and refuse to fly, and then take a bus instead. Except my extended family lives pretty damn far away, and I can’t afford to buy bus or train fare that whole way. My parents (with whom I no longer live, but who are richer than I am) pay my way to see my extended family twice a year, and it’s one of the only “gifts” they give me since I’m financially independent at this point. On our most recent trip last summer, the scanners weren’t mandatory yet and luckily I was not selected to participate.

    I told my Dad I was upset about the scanners and that there had been controversy about them. He told me that the controversy had been “invented” by journalists. He also told me that internet comments were fake and also written by journalists, who were inventing the entire controversy for page-views, because no one could ever be expected to be reasonably upset about these perfectly normal scanners. He said that the only problem he had was that he couldn’t see why the TSA didn’t solely search brown people. It was extremely racist, and hands down one of those most upsetting conversations I’ve ever had with my father (both my parents used to be liberals, but in their old age they seem to have become … idiots). I told him I was worried about my pictures being seen or distributed by people I didn’t know, and he told me that I was just being paranoid.

    I realize that as a cis, (relatively) thin, young, white woman like Sady I may not have a “right” to be upset about this. If I were trans, I can only imagine how much more upset I would be. I am a sexual assault victim but I don’t think that has anything to do with why I’m uspet (maybe it does — I also have diagnosed anxiety disorders though which I think are more the culprit here, or both). I just don’t want some person I don’t know to look at me naked, and to have a picture of me that they might be able to save. I don’t want anyone to touch me either, but for some reason the picture upsets me more … maybe because I can’t see who’s looking at it or what they’re doing with it. That makes me really upset. But, honestly, both options (the scanners or the patdown) seem designed to make me want to die rather than walk into airport security.

    I go to the beach in a bathing suit, though, so I guess that makes me fair game, according to the comments on that Gizmodo article you guys linked.

    This whole situation makes me so upset I could cry, and there’s no way for me to get out of these family trips without causing a huge scene, especially with my Dad who has made it very clear that he thinks I’m being ridiculous. My Mom was a lot more sympathetic than my Dad when I talked to her about it (later on, without him around), but they both pretty much think I’m overreacting. Maybe I should write a letter to Grey Areas about this. Tell Garland to use this comment for inspiration if it’s needed … I don’t think my problem is solvable though. It basically means that every summer and every Christmas from now on, I’m going to have a fucking shit time at the airport that is pretty much guaranteed to involve multiple panic attacks. Fuck my life. I guess I should just get doped up before I go so that I’m too high to even know I’m at the airport, let alone in a sketchy scanner.

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink
  3. Elise wrote:

    I am considering designing a line of underclothes with little messages encoded in tiny metal flakes, just to make sure the guys operating the scanners get to have as nice a day as those who are forced to get scanned (or groped) do. I mean, really – this is completely out of line. You do not need to see my bust, or my genitals, or grope said areas if I refuse to expose them to you.

    As an aside, since some people (not those here) are suggesting they should only scan “brown people” then what do they do if a woman’s religious beliefs say she can’t be seen/touched by a male not her husband? Which method will they use to sexually assault her and completely violate her freedom of religion?

    I smell lawsuits in the air, over both this policy and the older one.

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink
  4. MonkeyGirl wrote:

    There’s also some disagreement about the safety of the “backscatter” machines that they’re using, with TSA saying “Oh, perfectly safe! Why worry?” and actual, like, doctors saying “Wow, that’s a lot of radiation to be subjecting people to, especially if they’re susceptible to or have had cancer”. EPIC has a good overview at

    I get that everyone just wants to get the hell out of the airport, but if anything falls under unreasonable search and seizure, it is a high-tech strip search. If people don’t protest, nothing changes, and everything gets worse.

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Permalink
  5. J7sue wrote:

    The best thing to do, I think, would be to get lots of people to completely strip off, rather than go through the scanners. The pirate party in Germany did something similar. Public nudity in an airport – maybe the authorities would find that a bit difficult to deal with?

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Permalink
  6. Nicole wrote:

    “BUT WHAT IF HE DOES WISH TO ENCOUNTER YOUR BALLS?”, coincidentally, is the title of a comedy of manners I’m writing, in the style of Oscar Wilde.

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Permalink
  7. k. wrote:

    Every time I think about this on a personal level, I conclude that I would MUCH RATHER go through a security gate completely naked than either of the current options (being groped, or passing through a potentially-dangerous scanner). This probably won’t be a common preference, but it’s starting to seem more and more reasonable to me that it should be allowed.

    It seems like a safe option for some people. But I can’t imagine the TSA seeing the blatant reasonableitude.

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Permalink
  8. Tabs wrote:

    Oh, Samus. I want to hug you, if you consent. 🙁 It’s okay. I don’t actually know if it is, but I’m going to say it is, because I am in such a similar-looking boat and don’t know what to do, and it’s scary.


    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Permalink
  9. speedbudget wrote:

    The thing is, these invasive and potentially (probably) dangerous procedures do NOTHING to keep us safe. While we are shoved like lemmings into radiation-producing machines or into a sexual assault, whatever terrorists there might be wanting to take down your flight are placing packages in the cargo hold (there are few to no cargo checks. Can’t upset our corporate overlords!) or hopping the eight-foot fences on the back of the airfield or, shit, just putting something in the plane toilet while “cleaning” the plane.

    Does TSA not understand from past experience that terrorists do not use the exact same MO every single time they commit one of these bombings? What if the next guy DOES shove something up his bunghole?

    You have a better chance of getting into a car accident and dying on the way to your flight than you do of dying in a terrorist attack of your flight, and for the record, the underwear bomber who is the impetus for all of this was allowed on the plane without a passport and with his FATHER having called all the necessary officials to tell them of his radicalization. The breakdown in security started way before he even got to the security line at the airport.

    When the former head of El Al can say with confidence that this shit does nothing to promote passenger safety, I have to wonder why we are being subjected to this.

    And having seen the pictures from these new machines, I have to say, it’s much more than an “outline.” You see EV. RY. THING.

    This whole thing really burns me up, as my boyfriend lives halfway across the country and I don’t have the luxury of taking all kinds of extra time off for a plane or bus ride in order to see him.

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Permalink
  10. Smoovie wrote:

    I really don’t understand how instituting a screening technology that will *cause panic attacks* for many people, and perhaps *prevent them from flying* can possibly be said to make anyone “safer.” Isn’t that, um, kinda the goal of a terrorist?

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 6:37 pm | Permalink
  11. Emily wrote:

    Speedbudget said it all.

    I have a job where I do not have the luxury of refusing to fly without being fired for refusing to carry out essential job functions. I have to use air travel or find a new job and in this economy that is no small task. I don’t want to be forced into being seen nude or groped without my consent. I struggle enough already with my feelings of the right to own my own body.

    And as many others have said, the logical next step if we have to search everywhere a terrorist might hide something, is body cavity searches. Where does it end?

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 8:57 pm | Permalink
  12. winnow wrote:

    Are these scanners in all airports now, or only in major cities?

    I’ve been subjected to one pat-down (standard, not ‘enhanced’) and it was enough
    to make me take a long hard pause before ever flying again.

    Maybe if I fly from tiny regional airport to tiny regional airport I can make it across the country without triggering my PTSD. It might only take a few days. Maybe?

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Permalink
  13. Victoria wrote:

    @Elise: I believe they always have TSA ladies available to pat down traveling ladies. I don’t think this makes it better at all, but it does address the religious/no-strange-men issue.

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 11:08 pm | Permalink
  14. shallowwater wrote:

    Since I fly all the damn time, I have been pretty irritated by these new naked-machines for a while.

    The solution that works the best for me is to opt for the grope-fest. I do not have a history of assault, and both the prospect of being viewed naked by some random (probably male) third party whom I cannot and is possibly saving the images for later, purpose unknown, and being exposed to additional sketch-ass radiation (in a former job, I worked near radioactive material so my exposure is already somewhat above average, never mind all the flying) is the more distasteful option.

    I don’t know if it helps, but the ‘pat down’ I was subjected to was done by a middle-aged woman just off to the side of the general screening area in a place that was entirely visible to the rest of the agents/area. She was as reasonably professional as can be expected, and explained what she was going to do before she did it. I did feel like the agents were freaked out/upset that I declined to enter the radiation machine, so I would not be surprised to hear that travelers were getting pushback on that front. All told, I found it to be within my tolerances for touching-by-a-stranger-in-a-public-place, but obviously everyone’s mileage varies. As a lady, you should always be able to request a lady perform the touching portion of the event if that is the route you choose to go.

    At the end of the day, I don’t find it too terribly traumatic, but what is most upsetting to me is that I have to sit down and determine if going to see my family in the fastest and most convenient form of transportation is worth the complete suspension of my civil liberties and the continued abdication of my bodily sovereignty.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010 at 1:10 am | Permalink
  15. La Chica Lucy wrote:

    This is the implementation of a police state. Get the populace to surrender more and more rights. And it’s theater at best. If they were serious about security, all electronics would barred – carry-on and cargo. And of course no one gives a shit about the sexual assault angle until it happens to a white dude.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010 at 1:27 am | Permalink
  16. k not k wrote:

    Cosigning Speedbudget.

    I too will never be able to see my immediate family without jumping through the TSA’s hoops. So I will.

    Planning on the patdown, since extra radiation exposure = no. I hope I’ll have the wherewithal to ask for a female agent to do it, after a 10 hour transatlantic flight that basically leaves me completely exhausted.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010 at 6:00 am | Permalink
  17. Millicent wrote:

    I am flying in the US in the next month or so. I’m an abuse & rape survivor, with really easily triggered PTSD panic attacks. I think I will opt for the grope because the scanners feel more invasive to me, less controllable, and since I fly a lot (I work overseas) the radiation worries me.

    My plan is to advocate for myself loudly and as often as I can as soon as I say I opt out. Request a female agent, say aloud that I am a survivor of sexual assault, and ask her to announce ahead of time what she is going to do. I feel like if I can at least establish some verbal connection it will feel less disempowering than the x-ray, which they seem to be forcing people into.

    I’d be interested to hear from more people who have undergone the patdown, and if they’re successfully able to get their requested gender agent and verbal communication.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Permalink
  18. a woman of color wrote:

    Fyi guys, not all POC think it’s cute when you refer to us as “brown people”–i get that you’re self-proclaimed allies or whatever, but give me a break.
    This is in response to more than just this post, but a language trend I’ve seen here, especially from commenters.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Permalink
  19. Georgia wrote:

    Someone told me today that the stats for the amount of radiation that you get from going through these machines amounts to six cancer deaths out of every ten thousand people who go through it. Which, idiotically, with the massive amounts of people traveling by air, ends up killing more people than any terrorist attack has.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Permalink
  20. snobographer wrote:

    @elise and victoria – There have been reports of Muslim women in headscarves being forced to remove their scarves and searched by male agents. Predictably, not much of a fuss was made about it and the general consensus was that the Muslim women should suck it up.

    There was also a woman (not Muslim, AFAIK) a couple years ago agents pulled her shirt down and exposed her breasts right there in the middle of the airport. No big compared to dudes potentially having their junk touched apparently.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010 at 8:41 pm | Permalink
  21. Elise wrote:

    . . . and, predictably, they got away with it because they couldn’t get lawyers who were willing to bring a constitutional claim because those claims don’t pay, and the government can’t be sued for acting as a government (when acting like a company it can). Now I bet the statute of limitations is run, too. So all the cases anyone has to work with now are the newer ones.

    To A Woman Of Color: I am very sincerely sorry that I used offensive language. I thought at the time it was not offensive because of my intent to make it sarcastic, by making fun of those who use such language in earnest. I will make sure to remember that sarcasm, well meaning or not, is hurtful, and not do so again. Thanks for pointing our behavior out.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010 at 9:38 pm | Permalink
  22. k not k wrote:

    Millicent: Thanks for the suggestion on asking for verbal communication before touching! I actually make that request at doctor’s offices and hair salons as well…

    Sunday, November 21, 2010 at 5:22 am | Permalink
  23. DB wrote:

    My girlfriend and I have been planning a trip to Europe, but I’d rather eat nails than submit to a body scan or a pat down. I nearly stopped flying after I was flagged for a random luggage search (airport security opened my bag and my suitcase in front of everyone and started going through it all…having my undies on display was humiliating). Later I learned that I was flagged because the airline had offered me an earlier flight and I had taken it.

    As a teenager, I allowed things to happen to my body that I didn’t want to have happen because of peer pressure…I was later sexually assaulted and raped…and told by others (some of them women) that it was no big deal…and even later, I was pressured into sex by my now ex-husband (when I was so angry at him that I could barely look at him). He argued that I owed him sexual gratification no matter what. And sometimes I went along with it.

    Despite what various people have told me over the years…all of it, all of it, was a big freakin deal. Most of my life I’ve felt like my body wasn’t my own. And I’m tired of it.

    You can’t control everything. I know that. But I don’t let people push me into doing things I’m not comfortable with anymore. Airport security is no different.

    Sunday, November 21, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  24. JustDucky wrote:

    I’m trying to decide whether to go visit my stepsister in Ohio for the birth of her baby. My local airport doesn’t have the radiation machines – yet. I’ve got six months to decide.

    In floating around the blogosphere getting random strangers’ input about this, I stumbled upon the VERY NSFW site, Feminisnt. The woman who writes it is a sex worker, and she taped her experience going through SeaTac. Amusing for the first minute or so of tape.

    (Again, NSFW – nekkid wimmunz)

    Sunday, November 21, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Permalink
  25. Jenny wrote:

    You know, I feel the worst for the TSA agents. Imagine having to feel hundreds of pairs of breasts and/or crotches ALL DAY LONG.

    Sunday, November 21, 2010 at 10:02 pm | Permalink
  26. Mimi wrote:

    I was on the pull list for more than a year after 9/11, and lived in CA and my family & boyfriend were in VA, so I was flying cross-country every two months at *least* and I’ve never had the “enhanced” pat-down, as they’ve obviously implemented it since, but I have had the regular one. Many many times. It sucks. The regular one. It made me extremely uncomfortable. I’m a cis white woman who had blonde hair at the time, and while I always only had female agents, when I was leaving my boyfriend in CA to move back east, and couldn’t help bursting into tears as I was pulled *again* I did find it to be the most effective presentation in getting people to stay off of you. It’s an awful recommendation, but I do recommend crying if you can, preferably in public. No shouting or screaming, just letting people know that you’re profoundly unhappy.

    Or, they should stop this shit. Right, realistically they should stop this shit, and NOW, because it’s both stupid and useless, but what do I know with my silly little ladybrain.

    Monday, November 22, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Permalink
  27. PaleFenix wrote:

    Though concerned for myself as well, I must say that I am far more upset at the possibility of someone basically looking at my child naked or saving and misusing a naked pic of a minor. There are just too many ways this supposed “safety” measure can be abused.

    Monday, November 22, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink
  28. lil sis wrote:

    i agree with woman of colour, i think ‘brown people’ gets used in a hipster racism kind of way. i am never going to use the term again and i am glad she pointed it out. i am a whitey in australia and while race relations differ between here and the US i think that hipster racism is universal and we all need to cut it out. being an advocate or an ally and thinking you are cleverly paying out the racist people by using their terms is counter intuitive! a slur is a slur is a slur, it’s what you say not how you say it. so yes, lets cut it out!

    Monday, November 22, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Permalink