Jourdan Vian

Jourdan Vian

Scott Adams, author of the long-running “Dilbert” comic strip, is under the impression that sexism takes the form of v-neck sweaters.

Adams wrote a blog entry Thursday detailing how sexist it is that women control men through buying them sweaters, specifically those with a v-neck (the verdict on crew neck sweater gifts is still out).

“You’re laughing because you know it’s true,” Adams wrote.

I beg to differ. I’m laughing because it’s ridiculous.

Adams said this realization hit him after watching a Cascade dishwashing detergent ad in which where a man in a v-neck sweater is humiliated by his wife for buying the wrong brand and forced to return to the store to buy the right one, presumably Cascade.

To give Adams credit, he writes one of the maybe two comic strips the Tribune runs that are actually funny. (Sorry, comic aficionados, I know you exist, but I’m just not among you.) “Dilbert” is fun, particularly Dogbert, who might be the only sane member of the whole cast.

And he’s not wrong about the inherent sexism in the “men as children” advertising campaigns that revolve around the assumption that men are too dumb to understand housework. Anytime you imply an entire gender can’t quite understand how dish soap works, you’re going to be in the wrong. Men are perfectly reasonable human beings who can clean as well as the next person, should they want to.

However, while pretending husbands are their spouses’ children is insulting to men, it is something men do to themselves. Studies have shown that in 2008, less than four percent of advertising agencies’ creative directors were women. In 2016, that number went up to 11 percent, but the numbers show that the people coming up with those “Men are dumb” campaigns are men. If Adams wants to be mad at someone for them, he should look to those men, not the women thoughtful enough to buy him a gift.

He might also want to give some side-eye to his fellow men who play dumb as a tactic to leave women stuck with the housework. If I had a dollar for every time my brother pretended not to know how to do something so I’d have to do it, I would never have to worry about the wage gap.

However, he takes a sharp turn to ridiculous when he starts talking about how he’s thrown away 25 sweaters he’s been given as gifts because of the “persistent humiliation” he experiences “simply for being male,” which he says is much worse than anything women deal with.

I think the confusion here is that Adams is confusing the humiliation he feels when people rightly ridicule his silly ideas for humiliation associated with being male. Sure, it’d be sexist to make fun of anyone for being a man, but that’s not what happened here. It is not sexist to make fun of a specific man for viewing sweaters as a symbol of oppression — because they are not and the idea that they are is silly. If you don’t like v-neck sweaters, say so and also don’t wear them. No one is forcing sweaters on men like they did Liberte Chan, the Los Angeles meteorologist who last month was literally forced to put on a sweater during a live broadcast because a couple viewers decided her shoulders were unsightly.

Which brings me back to his “this humiliation is worse than anything women face” thing.

“STOP TELLING ME IN YOUR MIND THAT WOMEN HAVE IT WORSE IN THIS COUNTRY THAN MEN!” Adams wrote, in all caps like all reasonable arguments are made. “I’m sure women do have it worse than men in this country in lots of ways. But it isn’t a competition.”

Adams misses the point here. Suffering is never a competition, but by equating embarrassment about someone buying you a sweater with actual oppression, he is insulting people who are harmed by systemic sexism. His one example of sexism that’s real arguably benefits men more than women, assuming you believe that being thought to be dumb is better than spending half an hour washing dishes. (Anecdotal evidence suggests this is a trade off many men are willing to make.)

Women, on the other hand, are still consistently paid less than men in similar positions, punished for the same traits men are celebrated for and constantly judged by their appearance in ways that men just aren’t.

It’s not a competition, but if it were, men would lose.

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Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering local government and city issues for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218.

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