TSA Sexism: Pilots' Junk Off-Limits; Flight Attendants' Fair Game

Pilots who shun full body scans are exempt from the TSA's new "enhanced" body searches. Flight attendants are not. Their respective unions complained about the searches, but only pilots got an exemption.


Flight attendants and pilots go through the same FBI background checks and fingerprinting. Over 95% of pilots are men and three quarters of flight attendants are women. The fact that pilots are exempt from junk-touching and flight attendants aren't seems like a sexist double standard.

Unions representing both groups are advising their members not to go through the scanners because of concerns about radiation exposure. The dose per scan is trivial, but radiation exposure is cumulative. The unions argue that people who fly for a living are already bombarded with significantly more radiation than the average person. It's not clear that scanning anyone is making us safer, but it seems especially gratuitous to scan pre-screened professionals. Do TSA screeners have to get scanned when they go to work? I'm guessing not. Which makes sense, because they're in a position of trust. Well, so are flight attendants. They're not just there to fetch pillows and beverages. They're also part the last line of defense against hijackers. (Remember the hijackers? The ones we're supposed to be thwarting?)

As Jen Philips observes in Mother Jones, women have been complaining about literal overreaches by TSA screeners for years, to little avail:

It's great to see these men taking a stand against what some have deemed TSA-sanctioned sexual assault, but I have to wonder why it's taken so long for people to catch on to how invasive the searches are. For years, women have complained about agents copping a feel: In 2004, when the TSA first experimented with gropey pat-downs, hundreds of women were complaining. Now that a bunch of guys are calling foul, the media is suddenly all over it. [Cell phone videographer] Tyner's story went viral, but what about the stories of women—and children—that've stayed relatively quiet?

The poster boy for the TSA backlash is John Tyner, a California man who filmed himself telling a screener: "If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested."

PhDork describes how the prospect of man-on-man junk touching in the name of security galvanized popular resistance:

The problem with the debate about TSA is that in many cases, relatively little attention is being paid to practical questions like “Does this make us demonstrably safer?” or “Why is the TSA so fucking insensitive to people’s genuine concerns?” No…it’s boiled down to a man telling a TSA agent “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.”  Don’t touch my junk! has become the new I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!—the new rant of the angry white person, in a time when our 24-hour news cycle seem to be devoted almost entirely to the rants of angry white people, especially angry white dudes.

Truth is, the unwelcome touch is still rare for men, and that’s a privilege very few of them have ever realized…until now. If you’re a woman, and you’ve been in a crowded place, or on public transportation, there is a 100% chance that someone has touched your junk, or tried to, without your permission. If men united and protested as loudly over women being the victims of unwanted touching as they do over the TSA pat-downs, the world would be a different place. As Amanda Hess put it: GROPING! It happens to straight dudes too, now, so everybody pay attention.

I oppose "enhanced" pat-downs and the full-body scans for passengers and crew alike. The new search procedures may be traumatic for many screeners as well. As one anonymous TSA agent put it, "I do not want to be here all day touching penises." It stands to reason: Normal people dislike humiliating or terrifying others. Normal people don't enjoy being hated, ridiculed, or branded as perverts. The vast majority of TSA agents are just normal people trying to make a living. Let's not even go there with the Nuremberg arguments, okay? The TSA sprung this new grope-search protocol out of nowhere. It's probably even legal. If the government's claims about security were true, this kind of screening might even be justified. I bet a lot of good agents will quit or burn out when the reality sinks in. I shudder to think who might be clamoring to replace them.

I sympathize with everyone who's being screened or groped against their will, but there is some irony here. When male bodily autonomy is challenged, it's a social emergency! A man's junk is his castle. What did our ancestors fight and die for if not the right of the penis to be left alone? Women are expected to compromise whenever their bodily autonomy conflicts with someone else's idea of the greater good. I'm thinking of bringing a "Don't touch my junk!" sign to my next pro-choice protest. Empathy is catching.

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