The Anarchy of the Anecdote

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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.

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