Dizzy over at Dizzy Does It got a letter published by an advice column in Salon regarding a problem she had with a classmate that broke her nose and was entirely unapologetic about it. Part of the question is whether or not she should have immediately gone to the cops. The consensus was that she should have, but Bob mad a very good point:

The above-the-law link features some commenters who are presumably very self-assured about their ability to do the right thing even in context. Furthermore, they can’t believe that anyone without these these skills must be lying.

Think about this in a relationship context though. If you have been in a relationship for any length of time, you have done some truly horrific-sounding things to your partner, and vice versa. However, in the context of being in the relationship, these horrific-sounding things may be very minor even though girlfriend-less armchair critics proclaim they would dump someone right there for doing that to them.

While discussing the media sexism issue with Clancy I found myself getting on my high horse about what I would definitely do if a woman did to me what was being done to the guys on the shows. Not only does my track record completely contradict my high horseriding pose, but I can’t say that it would have been any different had I met someone with less integrity and honesty than my lovely wife and if she’d jerked me around, too. The more I thought about it, if confronted with the situation in the here-and-now with the Not Clancy standing right in front of me, the surrounding circumstances would matter a great deal.

The reason for all of this is that it is really scary to take a stand. And like many scary things it is scary for a reason. If you had the perfect relationship would you throw it away because of some mistake he or she made in St. Louis in a moment of weakness? If you found out that there was a time when they weren’t sure that the two of you were going to make it and they drifted, temporarily, into the arms of another that everything you’ve done is entirely worthless? It depends on if everything else you’ve done together is worthless. Of course, once something unacceptable starts happening more than once or with more than one person, you’ve got what can be considered a more systemic problem rather than an isolated one.

And as Bob points out the same is true when it comes to calling the cops. Sometimes it can really cause more problems than it solves. Sometimes the actual punishment doled out is just enough to piss them off but not enough to really deter them. Maybe there are institutional problems in your surroundings wherein by stepping forward the social cost to you would be much higher than it would be to the person you’d be turning in. Of course, unlike a relationship the morally right and morally wrong is a little more clear, but in many cases so are the consequences!

So all of this is the long way around to agreeing with Bob that it’s really easy to say what you would and would not put up with. It’s another thing entirely to actually be in the situation and step forward and say “this is unacceptable and I will say so at great personal cost!”

Addendum: Another great example of the armchair moralizer came up last night. Though Clancy’s residency made a good faith effort to adhere to the 80-hour workweek, a lot of other residencies are not acting in such good faith and implicitly apply sanctions on employees that don’t “voluntarily” stay after they’re clocked out. The most obvious thing that these residents need to do is contact the residency board and turn their program in. But to do so, however, puts one’s career at great risk and it’s easy for those of us who wouldn’t suffer the consequences of stepping forward to tell those that would that it’s a price worth paying. We’re willing to risk their livelihood in the name of all that is good and right, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we would risk our own if it were our livelihood on the line.


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7 Responses to “Girlfriend-less Armchair Critics”

  1. Peter says:

    All good points, but Dizzy’s case is special because she’s in her last year of law school and will be out of there in a matter of weeks. Even if summoning the police lead to complete social ostracism, it wouldn’t matter all that much as that phase of her life is coming to an end regardless.

  2. trumwill says:

    I am under the impression that law is very much a who-you-know field. If so, ostracization could have some very negative effects down the road. And the bad publicity could hurt her relationship with the school’s administration, which if it’s anything like the medical profession, could also sting pretty badly. In any case, Dizzy knows the costs of stepping forward better than either of us.

  3. Spungen says:

    One thing that came out later that no one mentioned on any blogs was that the guy who did it was black.

    I don’t know if this factored into Dizzy’s decisions, but I’ll admit it would have probably factored into mine and made me less likely to get authorities involved. Number one, because I don’t want people thinking I’m treating a guy differently or being extra uptight because he’s black. There are people who will make accusations about that. Number two, because some people really do treat black people worse, and I’d be worried about exposing the black person to that.

    I’m not saying that’s how it should be, I’m saying that’s how it sometimes is.

  4. Bob V says:

    There’s also still the problem that the situation was somewhere in this continuum between horsing around and all-out assualt. The guy said he was trying to show something and was apologetic thereafter. While his action was intentional, the result of the broken nose may not have been. On that post you linked to, Spungen did a good job of explaining why it is assault and battery. However, in context, I could see why it would be hard to determine. In some ways, I think Peter was right that it was the way the guy handled the situation in the days and weeks afterward that really made it an issue.

  5. trumwill says:

    I’ll admit it would have probably factored into mine and made me less likely to get authorities involved. Number one, because I don’t want people thinking I’m treating a guy differently or being extra uptight because he’s black.

    This is sort of an aside, but I had a set of circumstances a while back where I was unusually hard on a black guy that in retrospect I wonder if he thought race might have had something to do with it. In reality the problem was that the girl I dug really dug him and not me.

  6. trumwill says:

    The guy said he was trying to show something and was apologetic thereafter. While his action was intentional, the result of the broken nose may not have been.

    I may be way off-base here, but I thought that the thing that he wanted to show he was something along the lines of “This won’t break your nose!”… “Oops!” with her asking him to stop repeatedly somewhere in between. If that’s the case, it’s much closer to the assault side than the horseplaying side. My initial reading of it (before finding that out) was akin to him throwing an elbow while horseplaying until that was clarified.

  7. Peter says:

    One thing that came out later that no one mentioned on any blogs was that the guy who did it was black.
    I don’t know if this factored into Dizzy’s decisions, but I’ll admit it would have probably factored into mine and made me less likely to get authorities involved.

    Isn’t Dizzy herself Hispanic? I sort of recall her saying something to that effect. Maybe I’m confusing her with someone else.

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