Ah, Dilbert. For so long, you have lingered there on the comics page, always ready to barrel-shoot the inanity of office culture with your humorously-coiffed characters and beleaguered engineers, locked forever in a corporate development hell that your humor at first mocked, and then later resembled.

Mostly, though, I haven't really paid attention to you at all, at least until today, when the internet discovered a post where Dilbert creator Scott Adams gave us all a piece of his mind in a post (since deleted) about men's rights, and the fact that he thinks men suffer a level of social injustice equal to women.

After all, women might get paid less than men in our society, but men die earlier, teen boys have to pay higher car insurance, and sometimes women want men to open doors for them, so it all comes out in the wash, right? I'm not making those examples up, either; those are his examples.

And then there's this:

The reality is that women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently. It's just easier this way for everyone. You don't argue with a four-year old about why he shouldn't eat candy for dinner. You don't punch a mentally handicapped guy even if he punches you first. And you don't argue when a women tells you she's only making 80 cents to your dollar. It's the path of least resistance. You save your energy for more important battles. -Scott Adams

Wow. Just wow. To recap: He's comparing women asking for equal pay to the selfishness and unreasonableness of children asking for candy, or mentally handicapped people lashing out violently. He's saying that women's concern for pay equity is a petty desire levied by an irrational group of people, and he's also suggesting a very specific strategy for the men in the audience: Remember not to care.

If the above block of text reminds you of Dave Sim at all, that's because this rhetoric does exactly the same thing as Sim's in terms of infantilizing women and casting them as primarily emotional and irrational beings that men can only deal with by ignoring them most of the time, or sighing bitterly while turning up the volume on their sports game.

Women, amirite? To his credit, he recognizes that this is basically an insane comparison to make, but then not to his credit, makes it anyway. (Note: Saying something and then saying that you're not saying it doesn't magically unsay it.) He continues:

I realize I might take some heat for lumping women, children and the mentally handicapped in the same group. So I want to be perfectly clear. I'm not saying women are similar to either group. I'm saying that a man's best strategy for dealing with each group is disturbingly similar. If he's smart, he takes the path of least resistance most of the time, which involves considering the emotional realities of other people. A man only digs in for a good fight on the few issues that matter to him, and for which he has some chance of winning. This is a strategy that men are uniquely suited for because, on average, we genuinely don't care about 90% of what is happening around us.

I'm gonna come out and rep for the boys here, because I think that this caricature of men as henpecked, apathetic, and disinterested in life is just as bullsh*t as the caricature he creates of women. I also think there are problems and societal expectations that are unique to men -- like prison sentencing, parental rights, and narrow societal definitions of masculinity -- that are real issues worth talking about, but he manages to trivialize those as well.

I find it all wildly offensive, not only because these descriptions don't remotely resemble the vast majority of the people I know and care about from either gender, but also because dealing with men and women through the lens of tired, insulting stereotypes diminishes us all. And even worse, it reinforces the idea that this is how men and women should be. Since he paints us as apathetic and shrewish respectively, I'd like to think we can all agree that these are not gender roles worth encouraging.

Then Adams does something that is rhetorically really interesting. He addresses the men -- and really, he's only been addressing men the whole time -- and tells them that despite the many injustices they suffer, they just have to suck it up.

He creates two lists of things -- stuff that's unfair to men and stuff that's unfair to women -- declares them equal, then specifically tells men to cowboy up about their problems. But what he's really doing is creating a false sense of equivalency, and putting women on the hook to stop being "p*ssies" about their supposedly equivalent injustices.

Except that he's comparing things like men getting served after women in restaurants to the fact that women get paid less for the same work as men. And first of all, I did not know that suffering injustice was a pissing contest; again, there are some legitimate issues men face in society as well. Second, those two lists of things might both be unfair, but they also have virtually no relationship to each other.

I guess you could do that with anything, right? Here, try it yourself. You can make your own Scott Adams Mad Lib:

[Group of People 1] suffer [Injustice 1]. [Group of People 2] suffer [Injustice 2]. These are totally equal and comparable forms of injustice, and because life is unfair, we must simply accept them! Suck it up, p*ssies!

The problem is that "life's not fair" isn't actually a justification, it's just a more didactic version of throwing up your hands and saying, "what can you do?" It imposes not only a sense that injustice exists in the world, but also that we are helpless to address it -- the feeling that we can't win, and therefore shouldn't try.

And while there are moments in life when all of us are forced to accept some very sad and terrible realities, the problem with adopting that sort of resignation -- and particularly imposing that kind of resignation -- as a general outlook on life is that a lot of the time, there are a lot of things you can do, especially about societal injustices. And the only time change happens is when people are willing to care, and willing to work towards solutions and fight for something better rather than simply accepting the status quo.

This view of the world does us all a disservice, not only because it describes men and women as such grotesque caricatures, but because it insists that the dimmest, most limiting version of men, and women, and the world is both who we are, and worse, all we can ever be.

UPDATE: Scott Adams (or someone posting under his name, but at this point it seems pretty reasonable to think it's him) has responded to the backlash against his post by showing up on a feminist website and telling the commenters there that they are simply too emotional to understand what he was saying, and lack the reading comprehension skills of his regular readers -- the ones who originally asked him to support men's rights, remember? Those commenters, by contrast, are "pretty far along the bell curve toward rational thought, and relatively immune to emotional distortion." I swear to God.

Keep digging!

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