“Is the ‘inflate-a-date’ scandal anything more than an exercise in triviality?”
This is the question Dimitri Kandilanaftis was left wondering at the end of his article published in last week’s issue of The Quad, in which he suggested that the controversy surrounding the inflatable dolls sold at the West Chester University bookstore until just last month was “blown out of proportion.” I write this reply with the desire of resolving any lingering confusion.
Now, to answer Kandalilanaftis’s question in short: Yes. Yes, it is much more than “an exercise in triviality.”
In all honesty, I was hoping that the three previous articles I have written on this subject would have shed some light on why the Sensational Inflatables and how the administration handled the scandal was so problematic. However, it seems that Kandalilanaftis either refrained from reading these or didn’t understand the varying perspectives I gave (men and women, faculty and students, etc.). Hopefully, my own opinion piece will finally offer some clarity.
Kandalinanaftis asks toward the beginning of his article, “Is it possible that, in pursuit of what is right, we can lose track, become misguided, and preoccupy ourselves with illusions?”
Quite frankly, the implication that we have “become misguided” and “preoccupy ourselves with illusions” is degrading and carries sexist undertones. To this day, we live in a patriarchal society that doesn’t often take women seriously. We struggle on a daily basis to have our voices heard, and in this struggle, are too frequently accused of hysteria and exaggeration.
Many of us who have spoken out against the inflatable dolls are majoring in women’s and gender studies or have some background in the subject. Our outrage doesn’t come out of nowhere. So it is seriously insulting when Kandalinanaftis, a communication studies major, proposes that we are merely overreacting. What business does a communication studies major who has male privilege have in assuming he is more educated on misogyny than those of us who experience it every day and are majoring in women’s and gender studies?
Women’s and Gender Studies graduate assistant Irissa Baxter, who has played a large effort in fighting for a proper apology from the administration, was one of many disappointed by Kandalinanaftis’s article.
“It’s unfortunate efforts are being put towards criticizing our protests rather than towards activism against the sexism and violence on campus,” said Baxter.
WCU alumna Stephanie Mechell, who graduated with a degree in criminal justice in 2010, expressed how frustrating it was to see “when people don’t directly feel an oppressive action, they call it overreacting.”
“Anything that promotes punching to activate a silent ‘perfect’ woman is warranted of some outrage,” said Mechell. “I don’t understand how anyone can see that as trivial.”
As someone who works with delinquent juveniles, Mechell also noted that she wanted the young women she worked with “to know they are more than a punching bag” and the young men she worked with “to know they need to see women as more than that.”
One comment on Kandalinanaftis’s article demanded to know how many of the people upset over the inflatable dolls “have devoted their time toward [local women’s] shelters” or “worked with charities that raise awareness about sex trafficking.”
Nicole Kemp, who is a staff member at WCU, believed that the inflatable dolls weren’t something to be simply overlooked.
“Yes, there are lots of issues larger than this doll. Yes, shelters and other groups deserve our time and attention,” said Kemp. “But removing these dolls from the shelves is a proactive way of serving the larger issues. If we allow this culture to exist on our campus but we spend all of our time and energy in shelters, aren’t we really only being reactive?”
Kemp pointed out that the inflatable dolls were a huge issue because they were sold at the campus bookstore, and “items are sold there are a reflection on the institution’s values.”
“People have their own rights to think things are funny and buy these kinds of items, but a university should not sell something so controversial,” said Kemp. “Dr. Maura Cullen made a good point in her presentation a few weeks ago: We do enough damage every day accidentally, so we need to do everything we can to minimize what we’re doing intentionally. An institution should not sell something that could negatively contribute to these larger issues, ever, even if some people see it as a joke.”
In Kandilanaftis’s article, he brings in the opinions of two other male students. First, he quotes a psychology student who asserts that “the objectification of women is a deep seeded idea” and “individuals who purchase the gag gift and take from it that rape is okay… that is not the fault of the doll itself.”
The next student asserts that “as a minority, I understand the sensitivities of a demographic that feels oppressed” and compares the inflatable dolls with violent video games. Not only does the “feels oppressed” part of this quote come across as condescending, but also this student is incapable of truly understanding the marginalization that women face based on their gender.
For some reason, Kandilanaftis then delves further in discussing violent video games and pornography—and completely derails the conversation in the process. He can rattle off as many studies as he likes, but bringing in such irrelevant material detracts from his already misinformed point.
I think psychology student Eric Xavier, also a peer educator for the Women’s Center, gives a great explanation as to why the inflatable dolls are so much more than a simple gag gift. Xavier finds the idea of anyone purchasing the doll “appalling” and says while many men, and women as well, think that just because the doll has been taken off the shelf, the problem has been solved,” that is far from the truth.
“I believe there is a lack of understanding in regards to the underlying culture of rape that the doll perpetuates,” said Xavier. “The doll sends messages to men and women that it is okay to dispose of something (a woman) when you are done using it, and this can belief can affect the way that men treat and consider women. It can also affect the way that women consider themselves. These ideas all play into the bigger picture which is oppressive actions that can potentially lead to the idea that rape is okay because women have become sex objects for men.”
Ultimately, if Kandilanaftis and others cannot identify why the inflatable dolls are representative of misogyny and violence against women, then the problem lies with them, not those of us who are trying to combat such issues. The only last thing I can recommend is perhaps
enrolling in Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies, where you can learn about how microaggressions such as the inflatable doll controversy contributes to sexism.
Casey Tobias is a second-year student majoring in women’s and gender studies. She can be reached at CT822683@wcupa.edu. Her Twitter is @Casey__Tobias.