Up until last Friday, Sept. 18, West Chester University sold Sensational Inflatables dolls as “gag gifts” in their bookstore. The dolls, which must be punched in order to activate, were pulled from the bookshelves when students took notice and began spreading their anger on social media.
The dolls were first brought to attention last Thursday, Sept. 17 when a student in Dr. Lisa Ruchti’s Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies (WOS 225) class used them as an example of sexism.
The packaging describes the dolls as the “perfect female specimen,” with its features including “self-inflating,” “non-talking,” “no headaches,” and “disposable or reusable.”
Irissa Baxter, graduate assistant for Women’s and Gender Studies, finds this to be completely unacceptable.
“Such packaging suggests that this woman is perfect because she cannot say no,” said Baxter. “She will not stop your sexual advances. By framing it in such a way as being ‘humorous,’ it makes it acceptable to state that it is negative for a woman to be capable of telling you no.”
Baxter asserts, “we need to promote that women are capable of saying no, capable of talking, so that women themselves feel able to express their voice when being pressured into an uncomfortable sexual situation.”
Senior women’s and gender studies student Lauren Conwell is one of many upset by the inflatable dolls.
“It is harmful because it’s blatantly sexist and was proposed to the campus as a joke,” said Conwell. “It is presented as the perfect female companion, so does this also mean that the perfect woman is not only silent and subject to abuse, but only blonde, petite, and white?”
Conwell believes the doll is “highly problematic,” and “it is insulting that the university would try to pass it off as a mere ‘joke.’”
Baxter has organized a rally in protest against the inflatable dolls for Wednesday, Sept. 23 at 12 p.m. at the Frederick Douglass statue. Participants in the rally specifically demand that the university publicly acknowledge their mistake in selling the dolls and issue an apology. An email has been sent to WCU President Greg Weisenstein with a list of the students’ demands.
After one person took to Twitter to express their feelings over the doll, the official account for the bookstore responded: “We apologize for any offense this may have caused. We have removed the 6in ‘inflate-a-date’ from the sales floor.”
However, Baxter dismisses this statement as an acceptable apology.
“First off, we should be clear on what this apology is. It was two sentences, posted on one social media site, in response to a student tweeting insisting on comment,” said Baxter. “There has been no public official comment from the university. There has been no text addressing the actual tangible reasons this doll is unacceptable.”
Some view the inflatable dolls as not being a big deal, but Dr. Ruchti, Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program, strongly disagrees and explains that systematic oppression is often invisible.
“It feels like it isn’t really there,” said Dr. Ruchti. “It’s happening all around us, but we can’t quite touch it. We can’t quite articulate it until we connect individual acts, individual experiences and show how they form a collective experience.”
Dr. Ruchti goes on to describe how the inflatable doll represents “the kind of equity that we’re trying to fight on this campus.”
“We want to make sure that women students are not dehumanized, that women students are not seen as sex objects,” said Dr. Ruchti. “I’m encouraging all of us to convey this message that the doll is just but one example of a larger culture that promotes the subordination of women.”
Casey Tobias is a second-year student majoring in women and gender’s studies. She can be reached at CT822683@wcupa.edu.