The Anarchy of the Anecdote


We’ve all got one. A tale that ties us to the topic of discussion. We share them, often excitedly, with friends, colleagues, family and strangers (I personally love a stranger-delivered anecdote. Rarely substantiated or requested, but always delivered with fervor). But when these tasty morsels that people wait to desperately share find an audience on social media, and begin to be held up as reasons to question topical issues – well, that’s where the fun ends.

Take, for example, the debate on feminism and equality. Women’s rights, the gender disparity in the workforce, domestic violence against women – these are important social issues that are currently in the spotlight, and for good reason. Powerful pieces of writing and debate have been posted on personal blogs, news outlets and social media. Thought-provoking, exploratory long-form that hope to insight debate and encourage reform.

Unfortunately, within minutes of these pieces hitting the interwebs, in swarm the ol’ anecdotes. If you glance at the growing number of comments, any hope of intelligent debate all too often boils down to a game of “swap the anecdote”.

“I have two sisters and they have had the same opportunities as me and they chose to be stay-at-home mums”

“I have two sons and they respect women and I’ve always taught them to be considerate”

“My husband is the most amazing man in the world AND he cooks sometimes!”

Wow! That instantly negates everything I know about equality. That one guy cooks! Bugger it, maybe we should just give up this whole struggle! He makes PASTA guys!!

It’s important to understand these acecdotes exactly as they are: A singular personal story that, although holds meaning and power to the sharer, doesn’t actually lend itself to continuing or enriching an argument.

My particular fave is the constant, incessant, shouty stories coming from the #notallmen brigade, in defense of any issue that cites men as the majority in any crime or outcome. Clem Ford has them thrown at every piece she writes. Every issue, every statistic. It must be so damn tiring.

“But what about this woman on TV who also made a pass at some guy?! What about HER!!!?”

OMG, that’s awkward! How unprofessional – I hope someone worded her up on that. Thank you for giving me somewhere to hang my sexist hat and ignore the glaringly obvious cultural disparity and statistics around sexual harrassment in the workplace. If that one lady can do it – it must be happening EVERYWHERE. So. You know. Equality.

Yeah, Nah.

This is NOT the discussion we should be having. Your anecdote does not add to the debate. It distracts. It minimalises. It reduces. It does nothing to solve the issue.

Which is, when looking at the  statistics, glaringly obvious. For example, when it comes to assaults in family and domestic violence, there are:

  • Four times as many female victims (4,534) as male victims (1,157) in South Australia;
  • Four times as many female victims (3,482) as male victims (807) in the Northern Territory;
  • Three times as many female victims (10,648) as male victims (3,860) in Western Australia;
  • Three times as many female victims (465) as male victims (145) in Australian Capital Territory; and
  • Twice as many female victims (19,488) as male victims (9,261) in New South Wales.

That the ratio of female to male victims is only two to one in NSW might be surprising at first glance. But of those 9,261 male victims of assault, only 3,305 incidents involved a partner or an ex.*

But the expectation that with one story, we should sweep aside these horrific numbers and agree with “this guy”, shows pure ignorance.

So let’s all put our righteous anecdotes aside and look at these statistics, look at the research and findings from people that are qualified to present them, and figure out how to solve this problem together. Let’s not bicker or get distracted by one story that represents the small minority, and hold that up as an example. Let’s not get on our personal high-horse keyboard and yell our story to the masses. Understand that your story is part of a bigger picture that needs to be re-drawn, and pick up a pencil.



*Stats taken from the Business Insider 2015.

Give Peace A Chance

Breastfeeding in public is not a war zone.

Dear new mothers and expectant new mothers,

By now, you have probably been bombarded by the ‘breastfeeding in public’ debate. Facebook and their clever (evil?) algorithms will ensure you see these arguments because you are their target audience. You’re going to witness an online shit-fight (complete with staged ‘candid video evidence’) between well-meaning folk who want to EMPOWER you to breastfeed in public, and ignorant folk who want you to HAVE SOME DECORUM. It’s going to get messy. The ideologies, the flawed logic (“hot boobs are OK”) and the spelling may confound and possibly amuse you. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the 21st Century is a surprisingly hostile place to breastfeed. You’d be forgiven for thinking that to breastfeed in public is a political statement; an act of civil disobedience. Which is peculiar because it’s been a woman’s legal right to breastfeed publicly in Australia for over 30 years. Your mother may have actually breastfed you publicly. THAT’S how post-war we are on this topic. Maybe feeling like a rebel floats your boat and if so – rage on warrior, and all power to you, this post is not for you. But maybe (and I suspect this is many of us) you’re not a fan of conflict or political statements or disobedience. Particularly where your kids are concerned. Maybe seeing this online shit-fight will make you anxious or even refrain entirely from breastfeeding in public. I know it scared me and significantly hindered my experience in the early days.

So here’s a little nugget of truth for you.

Brace yourself.

Deep breath.

Here it is:

An overwhelming majority of people don’t care or even notice you breastfeeding in public. You’d be lucky if they look up from their smartphones or see you at all. There’s a moment at the beginning of a feed when, depending on your attire or posture, you may feel exposed because you are literally ‘exposed’ and if someone catches a glimpse of nipple in that moment, they generally look away or comically avoid eye contact. I breastfed both my babies in public, in all kinds of places, and these were the only three responses I ever got, in order of most common:

1. Didn’t even look/notice/register what I was doing.
2. Saw me breastfeeding, registered I was breastfeeding and did nothing to indicate whether they were for or against the situation.
3. Copped an eyeful and a) looked away embarrassed or b) smiled at me. Option b) were women who ‘knew’. Option a) were prudes and dudes.

The three things that never happened to me:

1. I was never asked by wait staff to breastfeed in the toilet.
2. I was never stared at with disgust.
3. I was never approached by a stranger and told that what I was doing was wrong or disgusting.

Do I think that vilifying public breastfeeding doesn’t exist at all? Hell no. There are douchecanoes hiding in all corners of the globe. But the truth is that these people are statistically insignificant cowards, afraid to say anything to your face and, chances are, they won’t. I’m not trying to minimise the real-life stories of women who have been personally shamed, but please know that these stories represent an incredibly tiny minority of the overall public breastfeeding experience. Don’t let the Facebook echo chamber hinder your efforts in those fragile early days of new motherhood.

Forget the fight exists, because in the real world it doesn’t. Don’t waste your energy thinking about it and definitely don’t be afraid of encountering detractors because it’s highly unlikely that you will. The boob-haters are far more comfortable airing their views on Facebook. Facebook is not where you are breastfeeding in public.

If you’re so inclined, get your tits out and don’t be scared. The overwhelmingly likely outcome is that nobody will notice, but those who notice won’t care, those who care won’t complain and those who complain are morons.


Images courtesy of What Does Breastfeeding Look Like? An incredible Tumblr project by photographer Suzie Blake.