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.