Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How not to stick it to the Man.

Aaron sent me this link (NWS; Google cache due to the original site having technical problems) about a woman who decided to protest the TSA's sexually invasive search procedures... by wearing transparent underwear to the airport and taking off her clothing at security.

(I admit, I'm biased by the fact that her blog's premise is apparently "I'm not a feminist, because I'm sexy.")

Maybe it's my night-shift grouchiness, but this strikes me as a singularly ineffective form of protest. Sexy protesting is problematic to begin with, but a woman responding to pressure to expose herself by cheerfully exposing herself is sort of the exact opposite of a protest.

Put on your sexiest, filmsiest underthings, opt for a grope-down, have fun with it, treat it like a performance, and fake an orgasm in public next time you fly. You'll gain self-confidence, amuse and inspire other passengers, draw attention to the sexually-invasive nature of the modern airport security process, and make government employees look more predatory and inappropriate while feeling up strangers.

No. No, thank you. I'll be sexy on my own damn time. Fighting sexual harassment with sexiness isn't sticking it to the Man; at best it's making the Man's low-level employees vaguely uncomfortable, and at worst it's giving the Man just what he wants. It draws more attention to yourself than it does to the TSA screeners (they came off as the reasonable ones in the SeaTac scenario) and it seems to promote the idea that women can be happy sexy or angry sexy but by God you'd better be sexy.

I don't want to dress up sexy naked and fake a sexy orgasm and reclaim my sexiness next time I get groped. I want to NOT BE GROPED.

Anyway, from a purely practical standpoint, I think it would be a far more effective protest to burst into inconsolable tears during the screening. If you want to make the TSA look bad, sobbing "I'm so sorry, I'm not trying to be difficult, I just *sniffle* can't stand to be touched like this," does a hell of a lot more to highlight the real issues than sexypants shenanigans.


  1. Maybe. But it's eye-catching, you know? Inasmuch as protests are a tool to get an issue into the mindspace of the public, most means of doing so are fair game.

    Not to mention that as a publicity stunt for her own personal business, it was probably fantastic; her site's been absolutely hammered by the traffic, after all.

    In the end, anything that increases awareness of the issue in the public mindspace - or even just makes the work itself less palatable for the TSA employees doing the job - will contribute to a solution, should one ever happen. So I think the strategic elements that underpin her post are sound, even if you (and I) may disagree with her tactics.

    I'm not really endorsing her tactics (though I find them hilarious) so much as I just wanted to point you at it to hear your thoughts and provoke some discussion. Success!

    (I do endorse her tactics to some extent, actually, which is why when I fly back to California in December, I will be wearing a kilt. True Scotsman style.)

    (Also, I think her rather combative blog premise is mostly just a pissing match against the Patriarchy Is Everywhere, All Sex Is Rape feminists.)

  2. Inasmuch as protests are a tool to get an issue into the mindspace of the public, most means of doing so are fair game.
    No. Not really. If I poop on the sidewalk to protest famine in Somalia, I'm not a humanitarian, I'm a pooper. "Anything to raise awareness" doesn't justify counterproductive or pointlessly-offensive protest tactics.

    (Also, I think her rather combative blog premise is mostly just a pissing match against the Patriarchy Is Everywhere, All Sex Is Rape feminists.)
    This is why I stopped doing Twisty Faster mockings. The evil specter of the "Patriarchy Is Everywhere, All Sex Is Rape" feminists is being used to dismiss the "we'd like our dignity and independence on a par with men" feminists. I swear you can't ask for equal wages around here without being accused of wanting to outlaw blowjobs.

  3. To me the most ineffective thing about this was that *it didn't happen*: there wasn't a backscatter machine to opt out of, she didn't get the pat-down, the entire reason she got pulled out of the line was because of her stunt.

  4. From the linked page:

    As a teenager, I had a conversation with an older activist who had been arrested many times over the years. He told me his secret to staving off despair and stress during the whole process. He said something like, "When you're in jail, and the police strip search you, their goal is to humiliate you into obedience, so it's your job to turn the tables on them. I do a sexy striptease, spin around like a fucking ballerina, and tell them how hot the whole thing makes me. It takes away their power and makes them the uncomfortable ones."

    The thing is, if a guy acts sexy and sexual under these circumstances, people will probably perceive him as gay, a sexual predator, or both, and this will probably frighten the people doing the groping.

    A woman pulling this shit is going to just reinforce the media stereotype that women love being objectified. Some of the gropers will feel uncomfortable, some will get a little turned on, others will just dismiss her as crazy.

    So the impact is really not the same.

    Plus, you know, what Holly said.

  5. S - Yeah, that too. Really, it wasn't even "a woman responding to pressure to expose herself by cheerfully exposing herself", it was just a woman exposing herself at random. How revolutionary.

  6. ""Anything to raise awareness" doesn't justify counterproductive or pointlessly-offensive protest tactics"

    I don't see that this necessarily was counterproductive or pointlessly-offensive. It would, however, have been a lot funnier (and more effective) if she had been at an airport/at a line where she would in fact have had the enhanced patdown.

  7. Aaron - I don't believe that you can do anything attention-getting, explain that it's a protest, and have it thereby be an effective and appropriate protest.

    Let me put it this way: if you were on the fence, if you thought the TSA was justified in their measures but you were just starting to entertain the thought that maybe they were going too far--would hearing "some woman took off her clothes in the security line because she was, um, angry they might look at her naked (?)" change your mind? Would it have, in fact, any persuasive power at all? It doesn't seem to express or reveal anything clear about the TSA.

  8. It just occurred to me--making a crying scene is one form of protest, and Opt Out Day might make some degree of splash--but you know what the real way to protest this is?

    To say "hell no, you can't scan me, you can't grope me, and I'm getting on my flight now." No, it won't work, and yes, you probably will be arrested. But that's what real resistance is. It's not snark and it's not PR. It's resistance.

  9. would hearing "some woman took off her clothes in the security line because she was, um, angry they might look at her naked (?)" change your mind? Would it have, in fact, any persuasive power at all? It doesn't seem to express or reveal anything clear about the TSA.

    Suddenly I'm remembering the episode of Seinfeld where Kramer was protesting the US Postal Service. He was out on the street yelling out his grievances alongside a dummy dressed like a mailman- but with a bucket on its head. People kept asking Kramer why the dummy was wearing a bucket and from his vague replies it was clear that he hadn't actually thought it through. :D

  10. I opted out of the x-ray scanner (radiation and privacy concerns) and went through the "enhanced patdown" once already and the next time I fly (and I will look at other options), I'm going to do the same, except that I am going to wear a black leotard/black tights/no underwear or bra so that the "pat down" is as mundane and boring as possible. I'm small-busted to being with, so there will be literally nothing to squeeze under all that spandex and no waistband to feel/look inside. I feel/look seriously neuter-gender dressed that way and if I have to go through this degradation/invasion of privacy over a false choice of "we have to do this or someone might blow up the plane", then I'm going to do what I can to a) protest and b) make it less traumatic for myself.

  11. Holly - I don't know, but the people I've heard refer to the story (inaccurately, generally, but that's societal mindspace for you) have done so in a way which indicated two things; that they were amused and that they were intellectually engaged in some way.

    Snark, especially amusing snark, can broaden a message and get more people thinking or talking about an issue. And, imo, that's what she was trying to do.

    So I guess it comes down to two questions: one, whether general awareness is worthwhile to seek; and two, whether her tactics were counterproductive.

    I don't quibble with your criticisms of her tactics, but I agree with the strategic underpinnings of using (essentially) publicity stunts to drive awareness up.

    Pardon my imprecise language, by the way; I'm sure there're better terms to use, but I can't think of them offhand!

  12. Aaron - Everyone is aware of the TSA, though. It's huge news and pretty much everyone in the US has an opinion about it. Everyone wasn't aware of her porn site, however...

    And, unfortunately, everyone is way too aware that women get the most attention and acclaim when they're parading around naked. I'm not anti-naked (seriously now), but I feel like using nudity to amplify your political voice is like an admission that no one would care about your silly little opinions otherwise.

    I'll acknowledge that the stunt has some value because it's coming in the middle of a tide of backlash against the TSA, and it contributes by being part of that tide. But it's kind of a stupid and ugly part.

  13. I'm going to protest by, um, not flying. Ok, it's not much of a protest, but fuck this noise.

  14. I dunno, I don't actually think this idea for a protest is so bad. TSA are trying to get people to shut up & accept the new screenings by insisting that they're just a neutral, necessary part of security, & that there's nothing sexual or prurient about nude scans and pat-downs. In their view, people should ignore their feelings of being molested, or their fear of having pics of their nude body ogled. Ordinary travelers are likely to collude with this by trying to get through the procedures in as modest and low-key a way as they can, downplaying the sexual humiliation they might feel. For travelers to do the opposite -- highlighting that the procedures are immodest, have a strong sexual connotation for all of us, and easily trigger our body shame/modesty -- could undermine their attempts to make it all seem normal. So for that reason, I like the idea of everyone in a security line throwing off their clothes and being like "go ahead, search me! I love it!" Sort of a reductio ad absurdum of the TSA's mindset ("stop complaining about invasive searches! Don't you want to be SAFE?!")

    I do think that having a sexy woman do a striptease isn't the best way to accomplish this. It would get the point across better if all kinds of ordinary-looking people (old, fat, whatever) would do it. We expect sexay women to show off their bodies, but not other types of people, so it would better highlight the absurdity of the forced nudity.

  15. Emily H. - But I don't love it. I much more like the idea of everyone in a security line keeping their clothes on and saying "No, you can't search me. Go ahead and arrest us all."

    It requires taking a much bigger risk. I can completely understand why someone with a family and career, or, hell, even just a life that they liked, might not be up for the possible consequences. I'll straight-out admit that I wouldn't have the nerve unless I had a very large group doing it with me and maybe not then. But it carries with it a hell of a lot more dignity and meaning.

    I don't want to "highlight the absurdity" by being absurd myself; I want to be reasonable, and let the enemy's absurdity show itself.

  16. I admire Holly's protest more but I'm afraid I'm really only up for perlhaqr's. But it's pretty significant if enough people do it.

  17. She's irritating and comes across as profoundly self-conscious. Although I'm inclined to agree with Holly (and S), I'll leave open the possibility that someone could have pulled this stunt off well; she did not.

  18. So I checked out the link that you provided about the so-called TSA protest, and honestly, I just don't get it. I really don't see how a highly sexualized act like that is in anyway conducive to actually CHANGING the current procedures. Don't get me wrong, I consider myself a feminist as well, and while I respect her right to express herself as she sees fit, I don't necessarily agree with it. I feel like it makes a mockery of the fight against TSA and don't see it as being an effective form of "protest". Additionally, I'm not sure it was the best approach for another reason. The reason being that many people are legitimately traumatized by theses invasive pat downs. Specifically survivors of sexual assault and abuse. This girl acted the part of someone who ENJOYED it, which to me, seems to be sending the entirely wrong message. But that's really just my opinion. I understand her need to exercise self-expression, but at what cost and with what kind of end result?

  19. I should've known that a girl in her underwear and TSA in the same video would show up in more than one place across the internet. As such, I'll recycle my commentary on the thing from where I first saw it, as I feel it still stands:

    That was a truly masterful tour of the Seatac ceiling, and the professionally illuminated internals of the x-ray machine in the video posted above. I am deeply enriched for having spent 12 minutes with the Blair TSA Project in which there is mild confusion among the goons when nonstandard behavior is encountered.

  20. To those planning to wear a kilt scotsman style, a perspective you may not have considered yet: http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2010/11/in-things-that-shouldnt-need-to-be-said.html

    Don't turn into the TSA.

  21. Wait, wearing a kilt now equals sexual assault?

    Does that also mean that it's sexual assault if I go without underwear under a skirt because I'm more comfortable that way? Or does it not count, because I'm seen as female?

    I mean, they're going to be groping genitals *anyway*. So why does it matter if you go commando or not? Seriously. I'm confused.

  22. You're being deliberately obtuse. Going commando is not inherently sexual assault--forcing someone to touch your naked genitalia is, regardless of your gender. These agents have a job they have to do, and if you insist on a patdown, they can't exactly force you to go through the scanner or refuse to touch you without getting in trouble at their jobs. You're capable of making a point without forcing someone who probably needs the income to touch your naked genitals.

    You may not agree with the perspective, but the point is that the TSA agents are people too, and most of them don't like this any better than you do, so it's really not useful for you to be a jerk.

  23. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  24. I think you're missing the point. This isn't about immediately changing things per se - however, I would hate to put words in her mouth, so please take this with a grain of salt - it's about you personally taking control of the situation. I have my own quotes of her post, ones you seemed to have brushed over:

    ""Sticking it to the man" can be about learning to draw power directly from disempowering constructs themselves."

    "Don't be scared like the TSA wants you to be."

    "PROTESTING IN SUCH A WAY WON'T CHANGE TSA REGULATIONS OVERNIGHT, but it adds to the dissent and public conversation, FLIPS AROUND A DEMEANING DYNAMIC, and for bold travelers, getting this transparent just might be the only way these days to enter an airport with a smile on your face and YOUR DIGNITY INTACT." (emphasis mine, sorry about the caps.)

    If the goal is to feel in control of yourself and body then I can see how crying would not fulfill that for many women (although it might for others.) Personally, if I were to go through her form of protest I would feel nothing more than panic, and so won't do it. But that clearly is not the case for her.

    And I find your description of her blog's premise ("I'm not a feminist, because I'm sexy.") incredibly patronizing. I think it would be best for your readers to look at the actual description: http://www.feminisnt.com/2009/introduction-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-non/ or http://www.feminisnt.com/2009/biography-of-a-pornographic-polemic/

    You can disagree if you like (I call myself a feminist, so clearly I do to a certain point) but I see no point in trying to make a seemingly intelligent activist look foolish for your own agenda.

  25. @Anon:

    "You're being deliberately obtuse."

    No, actually, I was really confused. But thank you for calling me stupid, and insinuating that I do it on purpose. I'm sure my high school teachers will be vindicated by your response.