Do TSA agents have a breast fixation?

Amy Strand’s little breast pump problem is just the latest in a long line of gaffes by the men and women of the TSA. But mostly, the men.

If you haven’t already heard, here’s what happened to Strand when she tried to board a plane from Lihue to Maui, where she works as a high school vice principal: A male TSA agent who noticed her breast pump insisted she show him the full bottles of milk before she could board her plane with the device.

And yes — you guessed it — that meant Strand had to disgorge some of her own breast milk. In the semi-privacy of the women’s bathroom. Not an easy task when you’re traveling with a nine-month-old.

Strand says she felt “humiliated.”

The TSA issued a semi-apology, accepting responsibility for the “apparent misunderstanding” and admitting the pump was incorrectly screened.

This isn’t the first time the agency charged with protecting America’s transportation systems has spilled a little breast milk.

To say the TSA has a breast fixation might be putting it politely. Some might call it a fetish.

If Strand needs a crying shoulder, she might call Stacey Armato, another young mother who had a little run-in with TSA agents in Phoenix a few years ago. She didn’t want her breast milk X-rayed, so they subjected her to what she and a vast majority of people who watched her video consider a degrading screening experience. Or Heidi Souverville, who wasn’t allowed to bring her breast pump at all when she flew in 2007. (The reason? Breast milk is a liquid. And liquids are dangerous.)

At least none of these women were forced to drink their own breast milk. Yeah, that’s happened.

It goes beyond nursing. Consider Alaska State Rep. Sharon Cissna, a breast cancer survivor who now wears a prosthesis. Agents aggressively tried to screen her artificial breast in 2010, in a “horrifying” physical check that she said was more invasive than a doctor’s exam. And since she’s an elected representative, Alaska is now considering a bill that would criminalize the TSA’s controversial pat-downs.

TSA agents spend more time than the average American male asking, “Are they real.” Problem is, they have the authority to make you prove it. They did to this former flight attendant and cancer survivor, who had to remove her prosthesis like Cissna.

The TSA’s fascination with breasts goes to the highest level. Last year, authorities warned that “new” intelligence showed terrorists may try to sneak explosives onto airplanes by surgically stitching them inside suicide bombers. These dangerous bombs could come in the form of breast implants, they cautioned. While many female passengers were fondled as a result of this vague warning, no boob-bombers were apprehended.

The TSA hasn’t showed the flying public any credible evidence that large-breasted women want to blow up our planes. Rather, their paranoid conjecture sounds like the creation of a Hollywood scriptwriter or the fantasy of a red-blooded American TSA agent (He: “Ma’am, what do you have under that sweater?” Her: “That’s for me to know and you to find out.”)

Is it any surprise that passengers have had enough of being fondled? That may explain why Yukari Mihamae, a writer and translator who lives outside Denver, struck back by allegedly groping and squeezing a TSA agent’s breast in Phoenix a few years ago. She was arrested and reportedly is facing a felony count of sexual abuse, but has also become something of a folk hero.

Apart from the obvious question — how do you recruit, hire and train a workforce with such a single-minded fixation on one part of the female anatomy? — there’s a more important pressing issue to the flying public.

What, exactly, is the TSA protecting us from?

Breast milk in tiny bottles? Let’s think about that one for a minute. A new mom is about as likely to go all Jihadist on you as an incontinent grannie in a wheelchair. If the TSA took just a few minutes to consider it, then it would lay off the nursing mothers and let their breast pumps pass through their X-ray machines without flinching or blushing.

Is the TSA protecting us from cancer survivors? Why would a survivor of anything try to kill herself? Maybe they can explain that to folks like Cissna, the Alaska lawmaker. What makes her breast prosthesis — and specifically her — so dangerous to aviation security?

Are agents protecting us from large-breasted women? Ah, now we get the the heart of the matter: the TSA’s apparent breast fixation. Well-endowed women make an easy and desirable target for the TSA’s underpaid, mostly male workforce.

But there’s no easy solution. Memos, rhetoric and expensive sensitivity training won’t fix it. Because in order to treat passengers with respect and dignity, you must first respect yourself.

(Photo: ga zoumou/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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