Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: The Missing Stair and the Necessary Bastard

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  • Deborah,

    Great post, Emma.

    A point of clarification, because I think I’ve got the Missing Stair concept right, but I’m not quite sure. I’ve come across people who from time to time say nasty sexist racist homophobic classist body policing things (sometimes all in one utterance which is a very impressive feat) as a (really not very funny at all) joke, because they know it’s offensive and horrid, and that it will upset me, and I’ve come across people who from time to time say nasty racist homophobic classist body policing things because they really, really believe them. (This latter type I’ve only ever come across in social groups not of my choosing.) Do both sorts of arseholes fit into the Missing Stair concept, or is one of them kind of just a pretender, like those wicked half steps onto a deck or something like that?

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1447 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    third-wave sex-pos feministy sexy blogs

    I didn't even finish the first sentance before my head started to hurt!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Deborah,

    I’ve come across people who from time to time say nasty sexist racist homophobic classist body policing things (sometimes all in one utterance which is a very impressive feat) as a (really not very funny at all) joke, because they know it’s offensive and horrid, and that it will upset me, and I’ve come across people who from time to time say nasty racist homophobic classist body policing things because they really, really believe them.

    Very roughly (because there are always borderline cases and stuf) the former are always missing stairs, the latter sometimes are. There are people who believe those things who never are, because, say, they wouldn't say something incredibly sexist and demeaning TO a woman. But if they will, there's already an element of not caring how you feel about it going on. A Missing Stair will never back down from an argument, they'll keep pushing. They won't accept polite deflection. And the same situations will arise over and over.

    My brother is genuinely racist. (For those of you who know one of my brothers, not that one.) He's also a Missing Stair. OTOH, there was a woman I had to deal with through school, who... I stood next to her once and heard her say to a newly-arrived Egyptian woman, "Well I'm sure it's lovely, it's just not what we would wear." A bunch of stuff like that. I didn't really start thinking of her as a Missing Stair until she wouldn't stop badgering me trying to get me to sign a petition to repeal prostitution law reform. My partner had to bodily remove her from the house.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • TracyMac,

    I tend to think of both of them as Missing Stairs, because if they’re not the “educable” kind of ignorant, the effect on you and the tedious adjustments you have to make around their idiocies/bigotries are the same.

    Admittedly, I get angrier with the “doing it for effect” kind quicker. But whether it takes me 6 or 60 minutes to want to rip my hair out, I’m never keen to repeat the experience.

    Canberra, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 701 posts Report Reply

  • TracyMac,

    ... yes, it's the "continually banging their drum" elegant (in the face of patent non-interest or outright disagreement) that qualifies it.

    Canberra, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 701 posts Report Reply

  • andin,

    change the entirety of human socialisation

    A few changes in this country are long overdue

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1891 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    I don’t think I was ever a missing stair as such but I have certainly been that person you didn’t want in a social group. Because I’d learnt from my family that no statment should ever be allowed to be stand without argument – even if that meant I had to argue a point of view with which I totally disagreed. It made me very unpleasant to be around. I figured it out after the first two flats.

    We have slightly broken stairs though in our family group. It can make for very awkward silences after a particularly bad utterance. I used to let them go unchallenged, but now I just call them on bollocks. They know I won’t accept such statements when we socialise. It also helps that the family is now much more diverse.

    But they aren’t completely broken and over the years I’ve seen quite dramatic changes. Hence I don’t think they really qualify anymore.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to TracyMac,

    I get angrier with the “doing it for effect” kind quicker.

    This kind of thing pisses me off. I always have the suspicion that they really do hold those views but frame it as a "joke" if they get challenged. They get the pleasure of stating their repugnant views but can't be admonished because they use the humour defense.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    I always have the suspicion that they really do hold those views but frame it as a “joke” if they get challenged. They get the pleasure of stating their repugnant views but can’t be admonished because they use the humour defense.

    In the most genuinely puzzled tone you can manage, "I don't understand. Why is that funny?" Try to push them to explain the basis for the humour in the joke, which of course is some kind of repulsive stereotype. You're not 'failing to take a joke', you just don't get it, and please could they help you out.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    This kind of thing pisses me off. I always have the suspicion that they really do hold those views but frame it as a “joke” if they get challenged.

    I guess that’s why I’m becoming increasingly disinterested in parsing intent when in Necessary Bastard mode. I don’t care why I’m getting triggered to hell by a rape “joke” at a family dinner, it just has to stop or I get the hell out of the room. (Because, at the end of the day, my wellbeing is of more immediate import than facilitating a teachable moment.)

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Marcus Turner,

    You may find some of this useful, in striving to cope with the situation like an adult: http://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/student-life/services-and-resources/health-counselling-services/resources/communication/assertiveness.cfm

    It offers alternatives to the categories already mentioned.

    Since Nov 2006 • 212 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    When people use terms like "Those People" I tend to become speechless with anger, and have to walk away. However my less-flighty sister has shown me how standing and asking, straightfaced, "what do you mean?" and "why do you think that?" is also a good response. Some bigots do actually get embarrassed when they have to explain their views to a politely uncomprehending person.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3894 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Marcus Turner,

    You may find some of this useful, in striving to cope with the situation like an adult:

    One of the most useful concepts I found at Captain Awkward, which does a lot of assertiveness stuff using different language, is “No is a whole sentence.” That was a huge eye-opener for me. You can just say, “No,” to people. You don’t have to try to justify it and offer them openings for argument. You can just say no. Mind, blown.

    However. Last year I had some issues with a dear old friend of mine, and his partner. He demanded I apologise to her for being upset that she slut-shamed me. I refused. In conversation with both of them, I was text-book assertive. Firm and polite. Neither of them has spoken to me since. That friendship is gone. That’s the price of the Missing Stair.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Jennifer Duval-Smith,

    I was once at a Rich Lister's house (job related) and had to stand there while a RL's wife drank champagne and complained long and loudly about beneficiaries who 'just take and take and take, they take everything'. My plitely uncomprehending (but career limiting) move was to ask 'So what did they take? ... Because it looks to me like it's all still here".

    Auckland • Since Sep 2011 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Emma Hart,

    One of the most useful concepts I found at Captain Awkward, which does a lot of assertiveness stuff using different language is “No is a whole sentence.” That was a huge eye-opener for me. You can just say, “No,” to people. You don’t have to try to justify it and offer them openings for argument. You can just say no. Mind, blown.

    So much THIS. Another related eye-opener is I am not obliged to educate you.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe,

    Dealing on a daily basis at present with a missing flight of stairs in the wider family, this piece is a much-needed hoot Emma. It might save me from disgracing myself in public. On the other hand, it might open the floodgates to a "I don't give a flying fuck that you are [in this situation] you are an evil fucker'' moment.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2899 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle,

    In April, when we were in Invercargill for my grandfather's funeral, I ended up having kind of an awkward argument about marriage equality while at dinner at some relatives' house. (Spoiler alert: they were not for it.) And what kills me is that earlier that day, while I was searching for their address, I found their names attached to the protect marriage petition, so I *knew* they weren't on my side, and I made brave noises about how I wasn't going to bring it up at all, and I planned to make normal conversation over my mashed potatoes, and then THEY bloody well brought it up and I was forced against my will to say my piece (with, oddly, the vocal support of my 59-year-old heterosexual blokey builder uncle) and it was, generally, a bit awful.

    The thing is, this is not uncommon. And there are a lot of people in my family that I really do, honestly, like very much except sometimes they say the WORST things. What if practically your entire family on both sides has moments of Missing Stairness? Or is that a different phenomenon altogether?

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • Tim Michie,

    "Hmm... let me check with all [insert country/ethnicity/gender/sexuality here] people on if that's true before I get back to you..." works for me. For some, genuinely thinking as they do the veneer of self-loathing so thin as to be transparent, for example elders calling the behaviour of the younger.

    Auckward • Since Nov 2006 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • Marcus Turner, in reply to Danielle,

    Was the argument awkward because of what you thought they might think of you? It sounds as though you're old enough to vote and to have opinions of your own, and they don't have to be shared by anyone. I'm sure most of the people you really care about, and see regularly, will accept and respect you and your opinions.

    Regarding "Missing Stairs" in the family or anywhere else: it's not what they think that makes them "Missing Stairs", but what they do (including what they say and when). You can let them know how what they say/do makes you feel. That doesn't mean you're telling them they're wrong (even though you might think they are wrong); just that what they're saying is hurtful to you, or makes you angry.

    If you told me I made you angry or upset every time I said a certain thing, why would I continue to say/do it?

    (This isn't meant to apply specifically to you: it's what seems to me to be a useful set of thoughts and actions for anyone in this position.)

    Since Nov 2006 • 212 posts Report Reply

  • Moz,

    I sympathise on the mysteriously missing family members front. I have one relative who... ew. I had this nice girlfriend who was very "must be nice" to everyone, but one lunch with relative x and she said "I would prefer not to see him again". Missing stair or missing staircase, you decide.

    I suspect I am a missing stair to many people, because I struggle with the whole "be nice to rude people" thing. I'll either argue or more often, just leave. I can make fairly cutting remarks if pushed. Experience has shown that I'm not the person to persuade (eg) a smoker that their behaviour is profoundly antisocial, let alone someone who's over-entitled. I'm pretty introverted the idea of leaving a social situation and getting some recovery time is usually inviting. It's a win-win :)

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1233 posts Report Reply

  • Marcus Turner, in reply to Moz,

    It's hard to say, from your description, exactly where the "Missing Stair" was. Maybe relative x unintentionally said or did something that hurt. "I would prefer not to see him again" is an expression of preference: it wasn't actually directing anyone to do anything.

    Cutting remarks do achieve things. The problem is colateral damage: they can lead to undesireable effects for the person who made them, as well as for others.

    Learning how to get what you want without colateral damage isn't something we were born with. Some people seem to have a greater natural aptitude for it. But, like gaining a musical ear, it's a skill set that CAN be LEARNED (with very, very few exceptions).

    Since Nov 2006 • 212 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle, in reply to Marcus Turner,

    Was the argument awkward because of what you thought they might think of you?

    No, it was awkward because a) I was in their house, eating their food; b) they are older; c) one of them was going to be the MC at my grandfather's funeral the next day, at which I was also speaking, and I wasn't sure if they were going to be snotty about it forever or let it lie. Context is everything. :)

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • Heather Gaye, in reply to Jennifer Duval-Smith,

    'So what did they take? ... Because it looks to me like it's all still here".

    OH I WANNA HIGH-FIVE THAT SO BAD

    Morningside • Since Nov 2006 • 533 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Heather Gaye,

    OH I WANNA HIGH-FIVE THAT SO BAD

    Me too. Awe :)

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Max Rose,

    I'm profoundly lucky that I don't have many Missing Stairs in my life, since my family are either good people or ignorable, my workplace tends towards the liberal, and a bigot wouldn't last long in my circle of friends.

    But there is the occasional person who causes problems, who often goes out of their way to snark and concern-troll and make sure that if they're miserable, everyone else had to as well. On the other hand, they're a good person when they're happy, and such a core part of that group for so long. The consequences of not inviting them would be such a shitstorm of recriminations and subtweets that it's hard to face being brutally honest with them. But when people start quietly but nervously asking "Will X be there on Friday?", they become a Missing Stair.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2011 • 83 posts Report Reply

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