Hey kids, what time is it? That’s right it’s kerfuffle time again!
In case you hadn’t heard Dilbert creator Scott Adams stuck his foot in it yesterday with this blog post about the issue of “men’s rights.” In his post he made the following basic points:
1. It’s possible to make the case that men are treated unfairly by some aspects of society.
2. This is a stupid thing to argue about, and if you make this your battle cry you’re wasting your time.
3. Being a man is pretty okay anyway, even if you accept that there are some injustices.
Sounds pretty harmless right? Except somewhere around the second point Adams said 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.
So why am I talking about this? Because I believe I am the perfect person to come to Adams defense here.
I can already see the steam shooting out of your ears. You’re wishing you could punch me out for being such a horrible misogynist. So before we go any further, let me make one thing crystal clear: I believe Scott Adams was incredibly stupid to say what he said in the way that he said it.
I get why he said what he said. It is because he is stupid. I know this because I suffer from the same kind of unique stupidity. Scott Adams and I both have a disease I’d like to call specificitis.
People with specificitis believe that what has been said matters, and only what has been said. Let me give you an example from my life.
It really grinds my gears when a customer comes up to my counter and says, “Fishing license.” I want to ask them, “What about a fishing license? Are you asking for information about a fishing license? Do you want to buy a fishing license? Has some strange and bizzare sequence of events led you to believe that my name is Fishing License? Tell me what you want!”
This is, of course, stupid. It’s obvious that the customer standing at the counter next to the fishing license computer with their previous fishing license in their hand almost certainly wants to buy a replacement for said fishing license. They should not need to actually say the words, “I would like to purchase a new fishing license,” for me to understand what they want. The context is clear.
But context does not matter to people with specificitis. That’s why Scott Adams thought it was perfectly okay to hit the “publish” button for his blog. Because he actually didn’t say “women are like children and mentally handicapped people.” What he said was, fighting with women about men’s rights is as effective as fighting with a child about cereal or hitting back at a mentally handicapped adult. His point was, “You may be technically in the right, but no one cares.”
But it doesn’t matter as much what he said as how he said it. I don’t believe Scott Adams meant to compare women to children and the mentally handicapped. In fact he outright states this wasn’t his intention.
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.
Which, when you get right down to it, is like saying, “No offense, but you’re ugly.”
Because context matters. Proximity matters. And all anyone is ever going to remember about this post is the context.
Which is kind of a shame. Scott Adams could have easily made the same basic point without seeming so insensitive. The message, “Life isn’t fair, so get over it,” ain’t exactly new. And Adams raises the excellent point that some of the observed inequality between the sexes can be attributed to the psychological and differences between the average male and the average female.
He could have sparked an interesting discussion about gender inequality, but instead he made himself look like a misogynist. For the record, I don’t believe he is one.
I just think he’s stupid. The same kind of stupid as me.