Yesterday dudely Harpyness fan Christopher F. sent me a link to a column on Philly.com about an incident at the Philadelphia airport which pretty much sews up everything I hate about air travel and everything I hate about the Patriarchy. Thanks, Chris!
Rebecca Solomon is 22 and a student at the University of Michigan, and on Jan. 5 she was flying back to school. She made sure she arrived at Philadelphia International Airport 90 minutes before takeoff. What happened to her lasted only 20 seconds, but she says they were the longest 20 seconds of her life.
After pulling her laptop out of her carry-on bag, sliding the items through the scanning machines, and walking through a detector, she went to collect her things. A TSA worker was staring at her. He motioned her toward him. Then he pulled a small, clear plastic bag from her carry-on – the sort of baggie that a pair of earrings might come in. Inside the bag was fine, white powder.
She remembers his words: “Where did you get it?”
Two thoughts came to her in a jumble: A terrorist was using her to sneak bomb-detonating materials on the plane. Or a drug dealer had made her an unwitting mule, planting coke or some other trouble in her bag while she wasn’t looking.
Answer truthfully, the TSA worker informed her, and everything will be OK.
Solomon, 5-foot-3 and traveling alone, looked up at the man in the black shirt and fought back tears. Put yourself in her place and count out 20 seconds. Her heart pounded. She started to sweat. She panicked at having to explain something she couldn’t.
Now picture her expression as the TSA employee started to smile.
Just kidding, he said. He waved the baggie. It was his.
And so she collected her things, stunned, and the tears began to fall. Another passenger, a woman traveling to Colorado, consoled her as others who had witnessed the confrontation went about their business. Solomon and the woman walked to their gates, where each called for security and reported what had happened.
A joke? You’re not serious. Was he hitting on her? Was he flexing his muscle? Who at a time of heightened security and rattled nerves would play so cavalierly with a passenger’s emotions?
Good question. I know I’ll get accused of being a paranoid feminazi, but I’m 99% sure this asshole would not have done that to a male passenger; the fact that she was a young, petite woman traveling alone was why he pulled that stunt, and why he felt he could get away with it. In fact, I went through something similar at Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi earlier this month: a security screener pulled some harmless items from my carry-on and used it as an excuse to make me stand there while he asked me increasingly inappropriate and flirtatious personal questions about my religion, my clothes, whether I was married, etc. Two of his colleagues drifted over to leer while he questioned me. After a minute or two of this, I was almost shaking with humiliation and impotent anger. My sister, who had gone ahead of me in the security line, came over and stood next to me, scowling, which gave me enough courage to say in a loud voice “Why are you doing this? Who’s your boss?” At that, the assholes decided the show was over and handed my bag back to me. I felt sick to my stomach about it for hours afterwards.
It’s not like this is anything new. Men in power–especially the police and military–have used their authority to harrass and abuse women for most of human history, so it stands to reason that some asshole in the TSA would give it a try. The most unpleasant realities of being female are the ways big and small we spend most of our lives dealing with this brand of bullshit. From the boys on the playground who pull our pigtails to the men who grope us on the streets and harass us in the office, we live in a patriarchial culture which teaches them that it’s okay to disrespect and mistreat women for their own amusement or gratification, and then pass it off as “just a joke.”
I’m glad to see that in this case, it appears the asshole got his comeuppance:
“The TSA views this employee’s behavior to be highly inappropriate and unprofessional,” she wrote. “We can assure travelers this employee has been disciplined by TSA management at Philadelphia International Airport, and he has expressed remorse for his actions.”
Ann Davis, the TSA spokeswoman, said this afternoon that the worker is no longer employed by the agency as of today. She said privacy laws prevented her from saying if he was fired or left on his own.