Think it was bad when Southwest Airlines started kicking women off of their planes for dressing “inappropriately?” Well they’ve apparently got nothing on the Transportation Security Administration. They recently forced female traveler Mandi Hamlin to remove her nipple piercings before allowing her to board a plane — even though she offered to show her piercings to the female officer and required pliers to remove the jewelry:
Hamlin, 37, said she was trying to board a flight from Lubbock to Dallas on Feb. 24 when she was scanned by a Transportation Security Administration agent after passing through a larger metal detector without problems.
The female TSA agent used a handheld detector that beeped when it passed in front of Hamlin’s chest, the Dallas-area resident said.
Hamlin said she told the woman she was wearing nipple piercings. The agent then called over her male colleagues, one of whom said she would have to remove the jewelry, Hamlin said.
Hamlin said she could not remove them and asked whether she could instead display her pierced breasts in private to the female agent. But several other male officers told her she could not board her flight until the jewelry was out, she said.
She was taken behind a curtain and managed to remove one bar-shaped piercing but had trouble with the second, a ring.
“Still crying, she informed the TSA officer that she could not remove it without the help of pliers, and the officer gave a pair to her,” said Hamlin’s attorney, Gloria Allred, reading from a letter she sent Thursday to the director of the TSA’s Office of Civil Rights and Liberties. Allred is a well-known Los Angeles lawyer who often represents high-profile claims.
Applying pliers to the torso of a mannequin that had a peach-colored bra with the rings on it, Hamlin showed reporters at the news conference how she took off the second ring.
She said she heard male TSA agents snickering as she took out the ring. She was scanned again and was allowed to board even though she still was wearing a belly button ring. (emphasis mine)
Best case scenario, this was sexual harassment. Absolutely nothing that Hamlin was forced to do was necessary. She was upfront and compliant. None of it made passengers more safe, and the officers knew it. It seems pretty obvious that the male agents did this for shits and giggles. They sexually humiliated and injured her, laughed about it, and then proved that this was their goal by completely ignoring her equally “dangerous” belly button ring.
I also don’t think that there’s any huge leap in calling this sexual assault. Granted, it doesn’t seem as though any of the officers touched her. But they did force her to touch private areas of her own body for their personal enjoyment, despite her protestations and despite the pain it caused her. This was not a security measure, but the agents used their authority as an excuse for the abuse. Other than sexual assault, I don’t know what the hell else you call that.
Though I find the whole thing to be outrageous, nothing about it surprises me. When you put men in positions of extreme authority in a patriarchal culture that strongly cherishes that authority, rape and other violence against women (and numerous other oppressed groups) is just going to happen — particularly when the violence is regularly condoned, ignored and defended. And it does happen. All the fucking time. It’s only natural that once federal security starts taking a larger role in our daily lives, and once those who used to be lowly security have supreme authority, more dangerous and discriminatory abuse of power will follow.
I don’t let the female guard in this instance off of the hook, either. Even if the male guards were her superiors — which it seems that they may have indeed been — I can only assume that the woman still has a conscience and knows the difference between right and wrong. If nothing has been omitted here, and the female guard actually did not protest or attempt to reason with her superiors in any way, she holds some responsibility. But it’s also pretty clear here that the male guards were the ringleaders, and that they were very pleased with themselves.
It takes a brave woman to come forward in this situation, and I praise Hamlin for refusing to take this shit laying down. It would be much easier to try to forget the whole thing. It would be even easier than that to not seek out publicity and show her face on television. She’s going to face ridicule — compounded, let’s face it, by the fact that she’s not a 20-year-old blond who wears a size 2 — and as she strikes me as an intelligent woman, I can only believe that she knew this. Reflecting on the officers who laughed at their abuse against her, she had to know that they weren’t the only horrible, entitled assholes who would find the whole thing to be fucking hilarious. Staying quiet is understandable, and the officers expect it — which is how the abuse continues.
But clearly, Hamlin has also recognized that she is not the one who deserves to feel humiliated. And in standing up for herself, she has also stood up for every other woman who was the victim of similar treatment but shamed into silence. She sure as hell has my respect.