Security Theater Doesn’t Help Anyone Other than Makers of Clear Bags

When you regularly walk, ride transit, bike, or use any combination of those modes, you often have stuff to carry with you, and a previous post about packing for the walking + transit commute included robust discussion in the comments about needs and preferences for life outside a personal vehicle. Does the forecast include chances for rain in the afternoon? Make sure you’ve got a rain jacket or umbrella with you. In contrast, on the rare occasion when I drove to work in downtown Saint Paul recently, I was able to go through the entire rainy day without needing to set foot outside because of driving and then using the skyways and tunnels. And I always have an umbrella in the trunk of my car in case.

I was excited to have the chance to hear former First Lady Michelle Obama a couple of weeks ago. When I got the pre-event email reminder though, I rolled my eyes. Oh no! Had the Clear Bag Plague infected non-sporting events now? The Xcel Center email included its bag policy. I just saw the words “clear bag” and “maximum one gallon size plastic storage bag” and groaned. I had Lynx season tickets in 2017 when they had to play at Xcel during Target Center renovations, and I didn’t have to deal with that then. I could just go to the game after work with my regular bag. Then I noticed the squishiness of the language: they “encouraged” us to do that. I called Xcel to verify a regular purse of those dimensions would be allowed. And they were. But for half a day my friend and I were trying to figure out how this would work with an arena full of a lot of women there to see Michelle Obama.

If you attend major league hockey, football, or soccer games in the Twin Cities and ever have need to carry more than what fits in the typical pockets in women’s clothing, you are familiar with clear bag policies. Under a clear bag policy, you are limited to nothing larger than a wallet unless it’s in a clear bag that meets certain dimensions, like 12” x 6” x 12”.

I’ve been a season ticket holder for both Minnesota United and the Minnesota Lynx for the past two years. My first season attending soccer games at TCF Bank Stadium was a frustrating introduction to the security theater of clear bag policies. About halfway through the first season at TCF Bank Stadium, I got turned away from the entrance carrying the bag I had been bringing all season. They suddenly deemed it didn’t meet the restrictive bag policy – 6.5” by 4.5”. There was a bag check for $5 in another building away from the stadium. I was debating how much I really wanted to attend this game when a different security guy came over to me and gave me a gallon-sized plastic bag to use. I put my too-big-for-them bag inside the plastic bag and went over to a different security gate to try to enter. I watched as other women were allowed in with bags the same size or larger than mine without plastic bags. I got through that security gate without problem. I’m unclear what the magical security is that comes from putting something in a clear plastic bag. For their second season in TCF Bank Stadium, Minnesota United gave all season ticket holders clear plastic bags with their logo that met the larger 12” x 6” x 12” limit. Score for the clear plastic bag makers.

Black clutch bag

8.5″x5″ bag deemed too dangerous for an MLS match at TCF Stadium

Black clutch bag compared to a white square measuring 6.5" by 4.5"

8.5″x5″ bag compared to the 6.5″x4.5″ limit for an MLS soccer game

Black clutch bag inside a clear ziploc bag

Now the too-big small bag is magically safe enough for entry

Meanwhile, I was attending WNBA basketball games with the regular bag I use in my everyday life. A game after work? No problem! No having to remember to switch bags that morning. Just open my bag for inspection by security on entry and go on.

Every major sporting venue in the Twin Cities is now on the Green Line and therefore easy to access by transit. Some of them include plentiful bike racks as well. But only two of the major league sporting venues are immune to clear bag security theater (thank you Target Field and Target Center). Not sure what it is about hockey, football, and soccer, but in the Twin Cities those have all fallen prey to security theater and manufacturers of clear plastic bags. The new soccer stadium, Allianz Field, is continuing the security theater clear bag policy from TCF Bank Stadium, although it doesn’t have to. Sporting Kansas City’s guidelines reference “MLS Best Practices” in allowing regular ol’ opaque bags smaller than 14” x 14” x 6” in after inspection, so Minnesota United can’t blame their league for their nonsense.

So what are you supposed to do with your stuff? If you won’t just succumb and buy a clear plastic bag you won’t want to use for anything else, the people who come up with these policies seem to assume that you can throw it in your car or have capacious pockets. Minnesota United’s web site tells you to take your umbrella back to your car (“Those that bring them to the gate will be asked to return them to their vehicles.”). Oh wait. They’re banking on almost 40% of fans arriving to the new stadium by transit, and more by walking or biking. Hmm. Is there a team vehicle available by the entrance for storage since there aren’t lockers? Bonus points to the Minnesota Orchestra, which provides lockers for attendees of its performances (and promotes biking to the show).

So if you don’t have a car trunk, what about your pockets? Great if you’re wearing clothing marketed to men. Most clothing sized specifically for women have insufficient to no pockets. Let The Pudding demonstrate:

Illustration comparing a typical woman's pocket to a man's and if it can fit a front wallet. Only 40% of women's pockets can while 100% of men's do.

Graphic source: The Pudding,

Illustration comparing women's pockets to men's showing only 10% of women's can fit a woman's hand while 100% of men's pockets can

Good thing our hands are attached. Graphic source: The Pudding,

This view of the world, where you bring almost nothing with you or have to carry a specific bag to an event, also relies on your trip being just for that event, which is rarely how it works for me as someone who is most often on transit and foot. If any of this security theater actually made us safer, that would be one thing. There’s no reason to believe it does. In the meantime it promotes plastic junk and works against transit riders, walkers, pedestrians, and women who travel in any of those ways.

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47 thoughts on “Security Theater Doesn’t Help Anyone Other than Makers of Clear Bags

  1. John Maddening

    It is so ridiculous. What’s worse is that they’re not even responding to SM questions about it when they’re responding to other, unrelated things. Maybe someone from a local news organization could sit down with a Minnesota United PR person and hash it out.

    I want to ride my bike to a game, but I’ve had my helmet and lights stolen too many times to not bring them with me if I’m going to be away from my bike for three hours.

    DC United had a similar policy, but they went back to the side of sanity. Here’s hoping Minnesota Common Sense prevails.

  2. Micheal Foley

    Pro tip: Wear a high-visibility vest that’s three sizes too big while biking. Walk through security wearing your helmet and vest, and once you get inside, tie up the ends of the vest and turn it into a carrying bag for your helmet and other items.

    But, yes. I totally agree that we shouldn’t have to do this sort of stuff for the illusion of security.

  3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Thank you for writing this. It’s a terrible security theater trend that, as a bicyclist who always has a bag, I deeply hate. Thank god for the Twins. They have the best bag policy in town.

    Go Twins!

  4. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

    I’m so glad you wrote this! And the photos of the bag-in-plastic-bag are great.

    There is no way I’m going to spend money on plastic junk just to get into a sports game, so… maybe I’ll just have to invite a friend who wears a fishing vest everywhere? Or borrow some “men’s” pants and wear them to games? Though that still won’t solve the helmet problem.

  5. Hillary Frazey

    It’s also super not good for parents with children and people with disabilities, who need to have extra supplies on hand when going to an event.

    1. Colin Fesser

      I, for one, love having all my Schedule 2 drugs on full display. It makes the people sitting around me super comfortable, too.

  6. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Last year during the work day someone offered me a ticket to a Wild game. I did some digging about how I could get over there on my bike and what I would do with my bag. There weren’t really any options, so I went home and drove instead. Great result for everyone involved.

    I’m also cynical enough to believe that these policies are really about keeping out outside food and drink, not security.

    1. Julie Kosbab

      Which also crosses into the Target Field stuff. Target Field is very generous there.

      • Soft-sided containers and bags 16″ by 16″ by 8″ or smaller are permitted in Target Field. Bags and containers are subject to inspection by gate security prior to entering the ballpark.
      • Sealed, bottled water 32 oz. or less, and soft sided single juice or milk containers for children are the only outside beverages permitted into Target Field. Flavored water, performance beverages (Gatorade, Powerade, etc) are NOT permitted into Target Field. Guests may bring liquids required for legitimate medical purposes into Target Field.
      • The Minnesota Twins permit guests to bring food into Target Field as long as items are consumed in the general seating areas. Outside food cannot be brought into any restaurant, club lounge or suite. Food containers must be soft-sided and fit under a guest’s seat. Food that could be thrown as a projectile should be sliced or sectioned (i.e. apples). Additionally, any food purchased from the concession areas on Target Plaza is allowed into Target Field.

      So, basically, no full cans (projectiles), water and kid drinks are fine, food is fine. 16x16x8 is pretty reasonable for size.

  7. David Zeller

    The team is allowing helmets into the stadium as well as diaper bags that fit their arbitrary 12x12x6 sizing. I have been railing against this policy since when they announced it 3 years ago. I have spoken with friends in the FO, including and up to Dr. McGuire himself. I hope against hope that the team will see the error of their ways, but I don’t see that happening (I hope I am wrong).

    Also as someone headed to the Twins game today with my messenger bag, I don’t understand how a ballpark that fits more people, can manage to do this 81 times year vs a soccer stadium that at best hosts 21 matches a year (laughs because this team won’t make the playoffs)…

    1. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

      Is the helmet policy stated anywhere? All I’ve seen is an email screenshot that said if you asked for the security supervisor (instead of the security person that’s already there) they’d probably let you in with a helmet.

  8. Matt L

    Thank you for writing this! Security theater makes me crazy. I’m a Gopher football season ticket holder who usually bikes to TCF, so this has been making me crazy for years. Thankfully they will usually let me bring in my lights shoved in a pocket, but I’m a dude, so I have big pockets. Not an option with the tiny or nonexistent pockets on women’s clothes. At some point last year I had to bring more stuff than usual and just left my pannier on my bike and crossed my fingers, which was not ideal.

  9. Conrad ZbikowskiConrad

    Another commentator may have shared this opinion, so possibly seconding, but I firmly believe these policies are designed to increase liquor sales.

    I have noticed that all these venues don’t allow outside outside food, beverages, or illicit drugs, so if you want to do do any of those you will have to buy within the walled garden of the venue with monopoly pricing.

    Of course none of this prevents attacks. In fact, the snaking line of people outside security is an easy target. There have been attacks in other countries against airports and shopping malls, so attacking the hundreds of people lined up to see an event is well within the realm of possibility.

    1. John Maddening

      I don’t think anyone is saying that we wouldn’t want security to inspect the bags, just that we want the option to bring them. Separate lines for people with and without bags would be fine, too. It can be like the State Fair. Or Disney World.

      1. Julie Kosbab

        Every stadium in MLS has bag size limits and inspects bags. 6 have Clear Bag policies, 1 has a no bag policy. Everyone else ALLOWS NORMAL BAGS. No backpacks, strict size limits, but bags.

        Much as Target Center do for Lynx/Wolves games. Target Field allow backpacks below a certain size as well. All are subject to search.

    2. Frank Phelan

      Alcohol? I doubt it.

      Before the Xcel (it’s an arena, not a spread sheet) had metal detectors, ASIA security would do a pat down to search for alcohol (and weapons, I assume). Now, they don’t pat down. A non-metallic container with liquor will make it through now.

      But I can’t slip in a can of beer like I used to.

  10. David Zeller

    Not posted, yet. But the page where they had diaper bags on the naughty list also came down this week, so hopefully, they are fixing that stuff.

  11. Julie Kosbab

    I am in A Mood so I just looked around MLS.

    Clubs with clear bag policies: Atlanta, Dallas, LAFC, LAG, Orlando, Seattle

    Clubs without: Chicago, Cincy, Colorado, DCU, Houston, Montreal, NYFC, Philly, Portland, Salt Lake, San Jose, KC, Toronto, Vancouver

    Clubs with a NO BAG policy, WTF: Columbus

    Not sure: New England

    Sort of: NYRB show clear bags in their policy but don’t indicate that bags actually have to be clear.

    Everyone has size limits. A couple allow supporters groups to bring in incendiaries but also have clear bag policies, so way to go with that.

    This isn’t an MLS dictate. This is just Minnesota United contradicting their own stated goals to be welcoming to all (including ladies!) and encouraging transit use.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      Maybe it’s just me, but the “clear bag policy” list seems to be in mostly car-dependent places in the sunbelt. Transit/bike/walk-friendly stadiums should not have clear bag policies.

      1. Brian

        If clear bags are truly about security then all stadiums should require them. If they do nothing to enhance security then get rid of them everywhere.

        We shouldn’t base security policies on the method of transportation the customer chooses to use.

  12. Frank Phelan

    This reminds of when my niece was working for American Security after 9/11. They were stationed just inside the entrances to the Mall of Hysteria. Their sole job was to stand there. They weren’t told to look for anything, just to stand there.

    Security theater in deed.

  13. J

    Radian, Quokka, Lidgett, Groundbreaker, are all startups making women’s pants with generously sized pockets.

    If there is demand for something, it will be offered. The free market will always identify opportunities and behave efficiently sooner or later.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      OK well that is four companies representing like 0.00001% of the pants market. I think there are many issues where the default norms are created in ways that are blind to gender differences, and the pocket issue is a great example of that. (Bathroom design is another.)

      1. J

        Very true Bill. My point is that women desiring deeper pockets seem to be like .00001% of the pants buyers.

        If JCrew or the Gap believed women wanted deeper pockets, they’d behave in profitable way because that’s what companies do. But the majority of women have shown over and over they choose the form fitting jeans with the small pockets. I’ve known a few women that value function (and maybe even prefer the aesthetic) and buy men’s workwear style denim – props to them.

        I actually think pocket design proves the opposite of your point – if designers were blind to gender differences, wouldn’t pockets be the same size? Instead I think they are sensitive to common gender preferences and have found that bigger pockets can cause the overall design to read bulkier and less desirable to their female customers who tend to be purse users anyways.

        It’s like the pink tax. If women didn’t want to pay extra for pink products, they wouldn’t. They’d buy the gender neutral version of the product instead. Businesses offer what people want, and entrepreneurs jump at the chance to fulfill unmet demand. We might not like how it conflicts with our aspirational view of our society, but it is illogical to presume that the majority of companies have some institutional misogyny or unconscious bias that overrides their interest in profitability.

        I acknowledge this sidebar is totally tangential to the point of the article, but the pudding link seems to attribute modern women’s’ fashion to some unnamed oppressor. I think that takes a rather insulting view of women’s agency, as women have been able to both create and purchase clothing for quite some time now.

        Women are buying the clothing they want, and the ones who do not care for mainstream options have created/are purchasing alternatives. Much props to them for lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          Your faith in efficient markets, especially in the face of documented history, known imbalances in power and the assumptions inherent in how people are socialized, is interesting.

        2. A

          I don’t even have words right now. But you really need to spend some time looking into how systemic oppression and patriarchy works.

          1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

            Yes. As a social scientist, I think often about how social structures perpetuate inequality rather than pointing to personal decision-making. For me, architecture, design, and other factors (especially, here, the patriarchy) are a far more useful way to think about problems like this than stating that outcomes are inherently the result of consumer preferences.

            Checking out of the conversation here!

          2. J

            I have. And as Bill points out below, it seems we are seeing two ways to view things – social structures perpetuating inequality vs people making personal decisions.

            I am not unaware that gendered pocket design is arguably a vestige of patriarchy. I just find it to be an extremely insulting position to take. The notion that the strong, badass women we respect and admire aren’t buying these jeans because they like them but instead because the of patriarchy is simply untenable.

            If a person tells me their clothing purchases are influenced by the patriarchy, well then sure I’ll accept it. But I won’t do women the disservice of assuming they lack the agency to buy the pants they truly want.

            If you want bigger pockets, buy from Radian, Quokka, Lidgett, or Groundbreaker. I repeat their names because they are, as I have mentioned, lighting a candle rather than cursing (or majoring in) the darkness.

            1. Julie Kosbab

              “If you want pants with good pockets be ready to pay $125+ per pair!”

              Yeah, how about no?

              Women can’t just not buy pants because they want pockets, and the pricepoints for each of the makers you cite is outside the budget for the vast core of women.

              But, hey, please mansplain my pants choices to me some more!

              1. Tom BasgenTom Basgen

                Hi there, Moderator here.

                Just deleted a comment for a number of reasons, among them: this is not a site for advertising products, personal or otherwise.

                That said, in this conversation we should be careful of explaining other’s personal life experiences to them. Generally that type of analysis is not only far from accurate but also grating to those having their lived experiences dissected.

                1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

                  I once was shopping for jeans at a thrift store and, in a moment of confusion, bought a pair of women’s jeans. What can I say, they sort of fit (????) and were stretchy.

                  But boy, the small zipper and tiny pockets were really confusing. Also, the weird hip stuff was going on…

                  Point being, I know nothing about women’s pants. And I’ve even worn them. Twice!

                2. J

                  Fair enough Tom. Rather than the sales brochure type info I left, I’ll simply state that the brands I mentioned are priced around $70 which is pretty similar to some of the prices we see at mall shops.

                  I’d hate for people to be discouraged from considering these options based on a misconception that they cost significantly more than that.

                  Also, my belief is that urbanists as group spend differently and have a quality over quantity mindset when compared with those who fill their extra bedrooms and garage spaces with unnecessary and underutilized purchases.

                  That being said, I understand limited means and responsible budgeting. I apologize if I have offended anyone who has been unable to find or purchase the pants they want.

              2. Lee

                Thank you. Shopping at a specialty retailer is not a great answer for the majority of women who have a budget for clothing.

                I go to the store, I look at what’s available and what fits me. I generally find a lot of clothing with teeny or non-existent pockets, and made of thin fabrics. I buy them because I need stuff to wear that both fits my frame and that I can afford. Men’s and boys’ wear don’t work for the first criteria, and $100+ pants don’t work for the second.

                I’ve often said that if I won a powerball jackpot, my first expenditure would be to hire a personal tailor to custom make my clothes. I doubt that it’s going to happen soon, so, yeah, I buy what’s available, not what I actually want.

        3. Andrew Evans

          J – you do have a point.

          Although I do get a kick out of coworkers who have pants with a fake pocket, actually they get a kick out of it too. Seems that, especially if they carry a purse, having a pocket really isn’t a selling point over getting that style.

          Then, even if they did have pockets, putting bulky items in them would effect the style and look of the pants, so I doubt most would use them for anything beyond flat items. Even on mens items, has anyone ever really used suit pockets for anything beyond a pocket square, or the interior pocket for anything more than sunglasses or a slim wallet? Generally putting bulky items there would interrupt the look and style of the coat and people don’t do it.

          All and all though, we’re lucky we aren’t back in the 1700’s or around those times. Wearing tights, cod pieces, and heavy clothing in the summer just doesn’t feel like much fun at all.

          1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

            Personally, I do not think J- has a interesting point to make and find this conversation extremely tiresome. I wish I had actually followed through with my interview with a woman I met once who had done her dissertation (!) research on 1870s women’s bicycling garb. I was going to have her on the podcast, but then she moved to Europe.

            1. Andrew Evans

              That’s your opinion, thank you for sharing.

              I have a few designer friends, one has a doctorate, and in some way share my opinion that fashion is more complex and goes beyond function.

              However, as a public gripe, it’s even hard to find a good pair of mens jeans. It seems Carhart and Lee’s wear out at the crotch, and Duluth Trading wear out in the pockets. I do enjoy my Carhart canvas pants, but they don’t breath like jeans. Although for an office job I really should get some regular office clothes…

      2. Monte Castleman

        Bathroom designs are blind to gender differences? Is that why you always see urinals in woman’s bathrooms?

        1. Dana DeMasterDanaD

          Bathroom design that has an equal number of stalls results in long lines in the women’s bathroom. Women need more stalls that men to have equitable outcomes in waiting times. Biologically we sit whereas many times men can use a urinal which is faster. Many of us menstruate so there are more reasons to use a stall in the first place and I imagine (never having used a urinal myself) that taking care of menstrual-related needs takes longer than peeing in a urinal. Women also tend to have more complicated clothing which makes using the bathroom take longer than unzipping a fly. Women are more likely to be caretakers of children and children take forever in the bathroom and are more likely to be changing diapers or attending to infants due to unequal distribution of care-giving responsibilities.

          So if people designing buildings want long lines out the door of the women’s room then allocate the same number of stalls as the men’s room.

  14. Serafina ScheelSerafina Scheel

    This line of commentary is inane. I’m not going to buy new clothing or a new bag to go to a soccer match. If MNUFC wants casual fans to come down for a game, they need woman- and family-friendly policies. If the team is willing to let people call a bag a diaper bag if they throw a diaper and a tampon and a sippy cup in it, my eyes might break from rolling, but that’s better the current options.

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