The picture you’re looking at is the teenaged daughter of Boing Boing founder Mark Frauenfelder. In the outfit that she was wearing when a TSA official barked at her to cover up. Frauenfelder explains:
“[S]he was at the station where the TSA checks IDs,” he wrote. “She said the officer was ‘glaring’ at her and mumbling. She said, ‘Excuse me?’ and he said, ‘You’re only 15, COVER YOURSELF!’ in a hostile tone.”
Frauenfelder went to a TSA supervisor, and the incident is now being investigated. He also tweeted and blogged about the scene. The story is now all over the internet. I came across it on Wonkett.com, but you can find the same story, quotes, and picture on HuffPo, or FoxNation, or any one of a dozen local news station websites. And of course, you can find it on Boing Boing.
I had two simultaneous reactions when reading this story. One was “what a jerk” (the TSA agent, I mean) combined with sympathy for the teenage girl. I can certainly understand her shock and anger – I have that reaction too when someone makes a completely inappropriate and unaccountably rude remark to my face in public.
The other reaction was, “this is news?” After having lived more than twice as many years as Mark Frauenfelder’s daughter has at this point, I’m less surprised that she encountered an asshole TSA agent and more surprised that the story has gained so much traction. Most of us who don’t have internet famous parents end up having to just blow these types of uncomfortable moments off when they arise and move on to the next thing – we have neither the time and resources nor the clout to make a public issue of it.
Thanks to a bad bout of insomnia, I spent a little time reading the various pieces that have been written about this incident, and scanning the comments sections below. Honestly, if I hadn’t done that, I think my “really, this is newsworthy?” reaction would have been the one that I went with. But internet commenters have convinced me otherwise. If I thought we lived in a generally fair society where assholes who feel entitled to comment on the bodies of young women apropos of nothing were the exception, I’d think this was being blown out of proportion. However, it clearly ISN’T being blown out of proportion, because it seems that large chunks of the society in question completely fail to see what’s wrong with this picture.
There are two themes that I saw over and over again in the various comments sections (aside from the obvious trolls and the troubling rape jokes in reference to a 15 year old child that I’m trying to beliee are just another type of troll, for the sake of my sanity.) The first is:
But he’s entitled to his opinion!
This, at least, is something that I expected to see, it’s just a pet peeve of mine. Here’s the thing. Yes, he’s entitled to his opinion. If we were discussing tossing him in jail over his opinion, even expressed in a creepy, assholish way, I’d be the first to protest. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and to the expression of it.
What you aren’t entitled to is a captive audience that’s dependent on your good graces to make their plane on time. Nor are you entitled to keep a job if you are incapable of keeping your blowhole closed about your opinion during working hours. Note that I’m not suggesting he be fired – I have no idea what the TSA’s process is – if they have one – for officials who are caught insulting travelers with their unsolicited opinions. I am trying to point out, though, that in almost any job, mouthing off to the customers is against the rules, and disciplinary action usually follows. This is because it is a JOB. This is not a repression of anyone’s first amendment rights. The man is perfectly free to bitch about teen fashion on his own time.
For what it’s worth, it’s perfectly within Mark Frauenfelder’s first amendment rights to blog about his daughter’s experience, too. And the fact that a lot of people now think that the anonymous TSA agent is an asshole is ALSO not an infringement of said agents first amendment rights. Frauenfelder’s first amendment rights mean that he can call the guy publicly on being such an asshole. And my first amendment rights mean that I can publicly agree. Anonymous TSA agent is perfectly free to respond as he wishes, or not.
See how that works? Everyone’s right to have an opinion remains intact. Moving on.
The second type of comment I saw a lot of bothered me a lot more, I guess because I wasn’t really expecting it. It went something like this:
Well, it’s a good thing somebody said something. She probably did look like a skank/slut/tramp. She probably wasn’t wearing a bra/took the over shirt off/had visible panty lines. Her father should discipline her for being rude to the TSA agent and wearing [insert whatever here], not indulge her by trashing the guy over the internet.
Whew. Just typing that was difficult. There is a lot of hate out there directed at a 15 year old child who was verbally attacked by an adult authority figure and the father who’s supporting his daughter. And this just BAFFLED me at first. I couldn’t figure it out. Her outfit more or less Standard Teen, there’s nothing shocking about it. There’s nothing at all to suggest that she was wearing something else entirely at the time (something that many commenters suggested anyhow.) And the speculation on her underwear (clearly not visible in that picture, or anywhere else on the internet, that I’m aware of) is, if possible, even creepier than the original TSA guy’s comment.
After I got past the WTF, I realized that the attitude that leads to these sorts of comments, and to the original incident, for that matter, is this weird perception that women’s bodies (particularly young and attractive women’s bodies) somehow belong to the public and are up for debate. And that women who dare to say “screw you, I’ll wear what I want” (or who have well-known blogger parents to say it for them) are somehow derelict in their duty to follow whatever rules the public thinks that they should follow.
Clearly that’s an impossible expectation – a women trying to follow all of the vastly different (and contradictory) societal expectations for female dress and appearance that exist in American society alone would drive someone crazy in about ten minutes. Males are not immune to stupid appearance related expectations either. But this is one they typically don’t deal with – can you imagine a male being told to coer up, not because he was out of compliance with some health or dress code, or a “no shirt, no service” rule, but because he’s “too young”? The implication here is that her female flesh is attractive, and she’s too young for an adult to be attracted to, so she should cover up (rather than him controlling himself and his thoughts).
This just doesn’t happen to young men – a fifteen year old boy with his shirt off, however attractive, is usually a non-event. But a fully clothed teen girl showing half an inch of belly is somehow an affront to decency. The only way I can explain it is the apparent belief that women’s bodies are for public consumption. And that’s a problem. And it’s a problem that probably needs to be talked about, which makes it newsworthy. So I guess I’m glad that if it had to happen, it happened to the daughter of someone who can get the word out (that sentence keeps coming out wrong. I’m not glad it happened to her. I’m glad they made it news.). I’m sure it’s happened countless times to people with less connections and less name recognition. Maybe it will be a little easier for one of them to be heard next time.