Annoying Anecdotes


I’m sorry, but the trend of using one anecdote to prove we live in an oppressive patriarchy, that we need socialism, etc, is really getting on my nerves.

What particularly bothers me is when people do not consider alternative explanations for what happened and instead immediately jump to a conclusion – especially when that conclusion is that we need more government intervention in people’s lives. I’m sorry that your neighbor worked hard for decades and still couldn’t afford a nice house or to send his kids to the colleges of their choice, but that doesn’t prove we need more socialism. It actually could be interpreted as evidence that we need more capitalism. That would mean more jobs available, employers could pay higher wages, you could keep more of your own money to spend, and we would continuously get higher quality products at lower prices.

It’s pretty common to see personal anecdotes used to explain why we need feminism. Just googling “I need feminism because” reveals hundreds of hilarious pictures. “I need feminism because I’m tired of being called hysterical and oversensitive” says one sign. Now we don’t know that she’s being called these things because we live in an oppressive patriarchy that needs to be smashed. Has she considered the possibility that she really is hysterical and oversensitive, or at least that she sometimes is? Might she have been hysterical at a time she was called that? Maybe one very mean person called her oversensitive and she’s generalizing from that one instance – we don’t know. But we should know. We should know how feminism is going to stop her from getting her feelings hurt. We should know how feminism is going to help her before we endorse it for that reason. Similarly, how do we know that the girl whose sign says she needs feminism because she was afraid to take the picture without wearing makeup doesn’t just need more self-esteem? How do we know the girl who was offended by a joke her male friend made doesn’t need to lighten up, or perhaps talk with her friend about what’s offensive to her? That’s something really irksome about these personal stories.





Anecdotes are nice, but you need more than just a story about some guy being mean to you once to justify an entire political movement.

But what I also take issue with is the obvious hypocrisy. How would the thousands of people reblogging, for example, a text post on tumblr saying that we obviously live in a cruel male-dominated society because their male friend had double standards for how men and women should behave react to:

“I saw a black person today who didn’t hold the elevator for some elderly guy trying to get on. Wow, black people are such jerks.”

“Today I saw a woman on the subway with her bags on the seat next to her. She was completely oblivious to anyone who might want to sit there. Women are so rude.”

Or what about:

“I need men’s rights because my ex-wife won custody of our kids.”

Of course, anyone saying that should tell us why it was lack of men’s rights that led to him not having custody of his kids; why there is no other explanation. But here’s the problem: people say things with pretty much the same structure as that above sentence, and they’re taken very seriously. “I need a profound social change because one possibly related thing happened to me.”

Then there’s this other problem: for every little story you tell to prove a point, someone could tell a story that proves the opposite point. That’s why you need to explain clearly why your story illustrates your point and why there is no other way of looking at it.

One person could say “Wow, I hate people. Today I saw money fall out of a woman’s pocket! A guy behind her picked it up and put it in his own pocket! There’s no hope for humanity. The world is an awful place.”

But then another could say: “Today I saw money fall out of a woman’s pocket. The guy behind her picked it up and told her she dropped it, when he could have taken it. Have faith in humanity. People are basically good.”

Who do you believe?

Again, anecdotes are helpful. You just need to be able to show how they make whatever you’re trying to prove true.


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