Thu. May 26th, 2022

If the articles and opinions posted and retweeted on Facebook and Twitter have created, sustained and flooded our heads with anything, it’s our susceptibility towards hyperbole.

Millions of bytes of information, exchanged and consumed, important and banal, by the minute, enter into our minds upon mere glimpses of our device screens. Every scroll, every click, every tap, reveals opinions and entertainment, side by side with factual and important journalism turning us, at times, into mindless absorption pods.

Due to exaggeration being the official language of the internet, only the most strident and outrageous of statements have any impact or garner any attention–statements such as those raised in the recent scandal regarding the “Sensational Inflatable” doll sold at the West Chester University campus bookstore.

“Hey @WCUofPA why are you contributing to rape culture by selling self-inflating dolls in our university bookstore?” tweeted Lisa Maria, WCU student who initially brought the presence of these dolls to the public’s eye.

Should weighty phrases such as “rape culture” be cast so freely when the implications of such a statement are severe and overstated in reference to a doll that arguably has nothing to do with sexism and misogyny?

I do not wish to undermine the good intentions of the Facebook group, To Plan Action Against Misogyny and Gender Based Violence at WCU, or other students and faculty who opposed the presence of these dolls.

But is it possible that, in pursuit of what is right, we can lose track, become misguided, and preoccupy ourselves with illusions? Does it stand chance to question ourselves if we care so much about a particular issue, remaining skeptical in hopes to ensure that what is being done to battle oppression is actually a battle not committed in vain?

“The objectification of women is a deep seeded idea,” says psychology student Nick Sheridan. Sheridan goes on to explain how “individuals who purchase the gag gift and take from it that rape is okay…that is not a fault of the doll itself.”

“These ideas stem from years of indoctrination of young, impressionable children by parents, friends, family, school, church, and so on. [The doll] is a reinforcer to an already pre-existing idea in the minds of people. The bigger issue at hand isn’t the doll, but the power people give to it.”

Until they were pulled from store shelves on Friday, Sept. 18, the “Inflatable Sensationals” were sold as a gag gift for comedic effect. The intent of the “Inflatable Sensational” is to make the receiver laugh.

After catching the attention of Dr. Ruchti’s Gender Studies class, the doll’s original comedic intent has been nullified. It’s almost as if those who claimed the dolls as offensive also created any offense that could be taken.

The rather innocuous looking object sat on shelves from Valentine’s Day last February, until their removal two weeks ago. For eight months these dolls laid dormant, supposedly silently promoting gender-based violence and contributing to the narrative of a systematically oppressive society.

What if this doll holds no intrinsic misogyny? Is it fair to say this is a projected characteristic? Up until the lamenting of social media complaints, these dolls remained absent from public eye. Could these dolls really be responsible for perpetuating an unsafe environment?

Issues with the doll stem from the etched descriptions on the packaging, detailing it as the “perfect female specimen,” with features including “self-inflating,” “not-talking,” and “no headaches.” Male dolls, also sold at the bookstore, were advertised as “not smelly.”

It goes without saying that these descriptions convey sexist stereotypes. But does the simple conveying of stereotypes, particularly under the context of comedy, really perpetuate sexist undertones in society?

From a dissenting perspective, couldn’t these dolls be viewed as making light of such stereotypes, stripping them of power, mocking notions of gender stereotypes, treating these loose definitions without sincerity? On their own, without our projected values, what power do these dolls actually hold?

Senior English major Chris Garriga likens the notion of dolls perpetuating misogyny to video games.

“As a minority, I understand the sensitivities of a demographic that feels oppressed. However, I do believe comedy has a place and that intent is very important. Just because you watch a violent movie or play Grand Theft Auto doesn’t mean you hold ill intentions in your heart.”

The debate over whether violent video games links to violent behavior has long been disputable. In a report published Aug. 13, the American Psychological Association (APA) reviewed more than 100 studies on violent video game use published between 2005 and 2013. The APA concluded that playing violent video games may increase aggressive behavior; however, there’s insufficient evidence to suggest that they are linked to criminal behavior.

Closely related, a recent study in the Journal of Sex Research challenged claims substantiated by feminist theorist, Catharine A. MacKinnon, that people who watch pornography are more likely to hold negative views of women. Their findings?

According to the study conducted by the University of Western Ontario, “The results… suggest that pornography use may not be associated with gender nonegalitarian attitudes in a manner that is consistent with radical feminist theory.”

These studies tell us something important. Our intuition between correlation and causation may not always be correct. Claiming the presence of these six-inch dolls promotes gender-based violence isn’t true simply because the statement is felt, rather than said. Without evidence, how can weighty statements such as those attributed to the dolls be claimed?

The question then becomes: if playing video games doesn’t lead to criminal violence and viewing pornography cannot be proven to create misogynistic notions in the mind of the user, and correlation never proves causation, what can the real danger of these dolls be?

These sorts of stories sell. Consumed easily, spit out quickly as they arrive, they sell chiefly due to their simplicity, and the internet loves nothing more than simplicity. As Aldous Huxley prophesied in Brave New World Revisited, we must “take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” And to preoccupy yourself with Huxley’s use of “man” instead of a more gender-inclusive word misses the point just like attending to these dolls does.

People like to create narratives that support their adopted cause. These narratives garner more attention than genuine cases of oppression, hardship, and inequality.
Atrocities such as female genital mutilation, dowry murders, public rapes, and beheadings for adultery occur across the world. These issues are complex, entrenched in many years of tradition and culture. These issues are less often talked about and surely don’t entertain.

Is the “inflate-a-doll” scandal anything more than an exercise in triviality?

Dimitri Kandilanaftis is a third-year student majoring in communications with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at DK838967@wcupa.edu​.

6 thoughts on “Inflate-a-date doll scandal blown out of proportion”
  1. Perhaps you’ve heard of the term “microaggressions.” A quick google definition is: “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” This doll is, in a physical form, a microaggression. It promotes problems that you yourself claim are serious issues women face–domestic violence, abuse, sexism–by claiming they’re “humourous” and blends such images into an everyday environment. (There is no way to argue that this doll, as you claim, could be satire when no evidence exists of it being that. Just because something is meant to be “funny” does not diminish its impact.)

    This doll reinforces stereotypes and its inclusion means we accept an environment where women are made fun of for their very being, where “the perfect woman” is white, thin, doesn’t talk, and is easily–in the sense of the doll, required to be–punched. It doesn’t matter if it’s funny, it doesn’t matter if someone could see it as satire. That is what it is.

    Also: to argue that such a microaggression doesn’t matter because “hey, look at the big picture” is akin to telling marginalized people that their feelings in response to microaggressions don’t matter because “hey, someone over there might have it worse than you.”

    1. Does the male doll have a place in your argument? Y’know, the one that sold out? In the google definition of microaggressions that you provided, it states that these negative messages are meant to target those who are marginalized. So, just because men aren’t marginalized, is it okay to have a male doll which is advertised in the same way as the female doll? They are both advertised as “perfect specimens, disposable and reusable, self-inflating, non-talking.” The only difference is the female is advertised as not causing headaches, and the male is advertised as not being “smelly.”

      Both these descriptions promote identical treatment and stereotypical ideas regardless of gender. Why is this an issue of misogyny? By choosing to focus exclusively on the female doll, to the point of removing the male version from the story, you present an issue as misogynistic when it is being equally disparaging to both men and women. You are willfully ignoring an integral piece of this story in order to create controversy and crying misogyny where none exists.

      As the article points out, by choosing to cry wolf whenever you see fit you devalue the arguments and points addressing actual issues of misogyny present in society.

      There are real acts of violence being committed against women every day which stem from actual misogyny. Let’s focus on preventing their abuse rather than discussing how a novelty joke item is “offensive.”

      1. I, and everyone else involved in these discussions, brought up the male version of the doll. In the Quad article by Casey Tobias, the male doll is discussed in comparison to the female doll. At the protest, the male doll was a large topic of conversation. Multiple newspapers wrote articles quoting us discussing the male doll. We constantly discussed the male doll and how it was also inappropriate, how it should also not be sold at a campus bookstore. How can you say anyone is ignoring it when almost every place this issue is discussed, we also have discussed the male doll? No one has removed the male doll from the story.

        But to act like women and men are both treated equally in situations of oppression and violence is to pretend that power dynamics don’t favor men in our society. And bringing it back to “but the big picture!” is a further derailment of the conversation. This isn’t JUST about a doll, it is about a society that allows sexism and power-based violence to be made a joke.

    2. “to argue that such a microaggression doesn’t matter because “hey, look at the big picture” is akin to telling marginalized people that their feelings in response to microaggressions don’t matter because “hey, someone over there might have it worse than you.”

      Micro-aggressions only illicit micro-complaints. You’re basically arguing that your micro-complains are being devalued when compared to the actual issues you claim to stand for. And, apparently, that your feelings in response to an doll are equivalent to the feelings of women who actually suffer from those very real issues of rape, abuse, and domestic violence (not just imagined symbols of these issues that they see everywhere like in some John Nashian conspiracy). To me, this is the stance many modern, third-wave feminists take and it’s wildly egocentric and only winds up devaluing their credibility and hurting their self-proclaimed causes.

      What I want to know, Irissa, is how much of your personal time and money is donated to the local women’s shelters in your area (and if you even know where these shelters are or what they’re called). How many of the members of To Plan Action Against Misogyny have devoted their time towards these shelters? Or worked with charities that raise awareness about sex trafficking/provide aid and support to sex workers? Sex trafficking is one of the greatest issues women face in this country and I never hear ANYONE talking about it. If you truly care about women’s issues, I implore you to stop talking about frivolous things and start doing actual work towards the things that matter.

      https://www.womenshelters.org/cit/pa-west_chester
      http://women.westchestergov.com/domestic-violence/safety-tips/help-for-abused-women

      1. I’m honestly not going to expend my time and energy “proving” my devotion to women’s issues to you. The whole discussion around the doll was not about me or my “credentials” (as determined by strangers) nor is it just about a doll — it never has been. It is about raising awareness to an instance of misogyny on campus, arguing for school accountability to items which marginalize students on campus, and demanding anti-oppression work on behalf of the administration. I’m not going to continue to be involved in any conversation which makes this about me and not the issues at hand.

        1. I think that this entire argument you’re trying to make is about you. The way you choose to interpret things and the offense you choose to take. The doll means nothing in itself, it only gains meaning through subjective interpretation. And because that interpretation is subjective, then by nature, no person’s opinion about the doll is more correct than another.

          Furthermore, there is no statistical evidence to prove the claim that the doll (or things like it) actually causes or contributes to misogyny – the same way it wasn’t proven that porn contributes to the objectification of women. It seems you want to argue that the act of making jokes at anything’s expense is an allowance for violence towards that thing. And if we banned joking about something, any violence towards it would stop. This has never proven to be true in any case that I’m aware of. It also seems to create the excuse for violence in itself, by claiming that people’s behavior could be so highly influenced by material things. You may as well be saying that women dressing provocatively also promotes objectification and rape.

          I personally think this discussion only raises awareness to the discussion in itself. It doesn’t actually serve to do anything about the larger issues you claim the doll represents. In order to actually do something about those issues, that involves time, energy, and money people simply don’t want to spend. Acting like some dolls mean something and then getting rid of the dolls is so much more easy and satisfying to our instant-gratification generation. That’s why I linked to those shelters. Forget trying to prove something to me. I’m just asking that people actually practice what they preach and actively work towards making a real difference rather than making a big show of changing nothing.

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