House of Commons Speaker John Bercow asks if heightism is acceptable
7 July 2014 Last updated at 23:59 BST
David Cameron made a joke that referred to the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow as one of the Seven Dwarfs.
Mr Bercow, who is 5ft 6in tall, has questioned why it is somehow acceptable to criticise people over their height, when attacking someone for their skin colour or sexuality is widely accepted as wrong.
TSC: This time, the BBC proves that heightism is one of the last celebrated forms of widespread bigotry left in the world. The broadcast doesn’t take the issue seriously until the part about tall people facing social stigma. Whenever the issue of heightism was brought up otherwise, one can hear Randy Newman’s offensive ballad “Short People” playing in the background.
Then, for no reason, the piece claims that shorter people are less intelligent than taller people and that smarter people tend to mate with tall people. So, instead of addressing the social prejudice, the BBC chooses to partake in it and cite out-of-context studies to justify height bigotry.
And, in the final analysis, the BBC implies that height bigotry is morally acceptable because height is not a protected class under UK law. One wonders if homophobia and bigotry against gays was also morally acceptable when it was perfectly legal to discriminate against gay people in the United Kingdom?
TSC: This blogger does a great job analyzing this video by a popular Japanese pop group called “Hello! Project”. I’m going to re-blog a lot of it here, but please follow the link and read it over at “It’s Crazy”. This blogger did an AMAZING job. It’s quite brilliant.
… Case in point: “Rock Erotic”, one half of the latest single by Berryz Kobo which features a music video that strives to live up to the song’s title. With corset dresses, lyrics that reference “magic fingers”, and even some of the members taking on male roles and wardrobes to accentuate the eroticness of the dance routines, many Berryz fans–and even some non-fans–were certainly abuzz with excitement. Me being me, however, I couldn’t help but obsess over the video for a bit of an unexpected reason: particularly focusing on how the male roles just so happened to get assigned to the taller members of the group…
… At the same time, though, a part of me just wanted to dwell on the fact that the male roles seemingly automatically went to the three tallest members of the group! Initially it was just about simply focusing on a missed opportunity for novelty: could you imagine Momochi of all people attempting an “ikemen” character for this video? Or perhaps swapping Saki Shimizu for Yurina, playing on both Saki’s history as the group’s resident tomboy back in the day and the jarring image of a short playboy successfully working his game on a statuesque beauty…it definitely would have made this music video a lot more interesting than it already is.
So what’s up with all this focus on height and gender? Well, beyond my hang-ups regarding missed opportunities for novelty and switching things up, “Rock Erotic” also reignited my long-running thoughts on certain aspects of gender expectations and the issues and consequences that arise when said expectations are defied: in this particular case, there’s the issue of height and size, and how strongly it’s tied to gender identity. It’s an understandable link, since in the real world men are on average naturally taller and bigger than women, so for many people this is how things should be without a second thought–but that has still always intrigued me, how strongly society and popular culture reinforces this link through discussions and portrayals of the male/female dynamic, and in particular how it plays into continued double standards when it comes to playing with, inverting, and defying traditional gender roles (both in fiction and real life).
For instance, upon sharing my Saki/Yurina role swap idea in a chatroom one person laughed it off, framing it as Saki becoming a little boy trying to play with grown women rather than entertaining the thought of her becoming a short adult man who knows how to charm taller ladies. It was as if to say such a notion is downright inconceivable, and while I can’t really blame the chatgoer for thinking that way due to the natural order of things, it still struck me on how it focused on a man being too short rather than a woman being too tall, that the problem lied on a male infringing on what may be perceived as a “feminine domain” in shortness rather than there being any issue of a female encroaching a “masculine domain” with tallness. Yes, folks, heightism actually is a real thing, even if it’s not exactly the most pressing of issues, and while it can affect both genders, it’s the guys who invariably suffer from it more due to societal pressures and double standards.
As far as the notion of shortness being exclusive to the feminine domain is concerned, I’d be remiss to not bring up Mini Moni, founded by the ultra-petite Mari Yaguchi that centered on the gimmick of being small. Granted, the group was mostly marketed towards children (only one single leaned towards a “mature” image and sound) and their enduring popularity mainly had basis in the crazy antics of the Tsuji/Kago duo, but would the smallness gimmick have even been considered had Morning Musume been a boy band? Even the Koreans have invoked this trope with the recent advent of K-pop quartet Tiny-G, who follows in the footsteps of Mini Moni (even down to the token foreign member) but with a more serious edge; the group’s first two singles placed a positive emphasis on their small statures, with one music video even showing them shrunk down to toy size. Again, could you imagine LOEN or SM creating a male group with the same gimmick? They’d probably laugh at the idea–in fact, I can hear all of you readers laughing right now at such a suggestion.
(interesting side note: Yaguchi used to list herself at 145cm tall, but in recent years has taken to listing her height at 144.5, apparently feeling the need to shave off a fraction of a centimeter to further remind everyone that yes, she is indeed tiny–as if marrying and subsequently sleeping around with ridiculously tall guys wasn’t enough)
Realistically, I understand the logic behind “big = tough = manly” and “small = cute = girly”…I can see where the people of 2ch come from with their concerns that Riho Sayashi might have been becoming too tall to be an effective Momusu ace (nevermind that mid-sized Maki Goto managed to achieve superstardom as the group’s ace, or that C-ute is fronted by its two tallest members and still continues to rise in popularity). I’ve even bought into it myself many times, having came from the hypermasculine and often misogynistic realms of hip-hop and sports and video games, and especially with my favorite all-time H!P member being Ai Takahashi, whose own petiteness has been a major factor in her attractiveness. Still, when you consider her rejection from Takarazuka, the all-female performance troupe that requires cast members to take on both male and female roles, one has to wonder about the reinforcement of height expectations as well as the uneven toleration of each gender’s exploration into the other’s realms.
So why is a guy being shorter than a girl every now and then an automatic cause for ridicule or hostility instead of simple novelty? Why are tall women and women who wear men’s clothing occasionally yet openly fetishized by those sexually oriented towards females, yet the reverse has never reached the same level or quantity of fetishization by those oriented towards males? Why does Marvel Comics character The Wasp, a shrinking superheroine often portrayed kicking ass while tiny, benefit from stronger characterization and popularity while her male counterpart, Hank Pym, rarely gets treated seriously unless he’s adopting his Giant-Man persona? If male elements are the ideal things to strive for, if being bigger truly is better, one has to consider what it might say about how we see women when we celebrate them embracing “inferior” attributes but scoff at the idea of men exploring those things…or perhaps it’s about seeing women as so special that they should be allowed to enjoy certain things that men cannot, which in turn implies that men are the inferior sex. Hell, the whole premise of idol “worship” already kind of raises the question of whether the female is being celebrated or exploited, which I’m sure has been already addressed many times by others.
TSC: This is apparently a piece of concept art for Pixar’s upcoming film, “Inside Out”, about an 11-year-old girl’s mind and the emotions which live therein. The characters portrayed are metaphors for “Anger”, “Disgust”, “Fear”, “Joy”, and “Sadness”. Can you guess which one is supposed to represent “Anger”?
Also notice that “Joy” is the tallest of the characters. So, this is another example of cultural ideas about what “it means” to be short or tall being presented to our children without critical thought. It’s this type of cultural indoctrination which will cause these children, once they enter adulthood, to make snap judgements about others based on their height. We saw a similar motif in Dreamworks “Shrek”, over ten years ago, with the diminutive and abusive character “Lord Farquaad”.
And, to be clear, I’m not singling Pixar out as a particularly noxious offender when it comes to the proliferation of height stereotypes and heightism. They just represent one aspect of a culture in which heightism is firmly rooted and unquestioned. Children today are bombarded with media impressions which suggest (or outright state) that “tall is good” and “short is bad”. These media impressions sometimes even go so far as to present the message in terms of gender, i.e. “short men (specifically) are bad”. This isn’t to say that our society celebrates short women - it does not. But because heightism is a gender based prejudice, our popular culture often singles out males for the most aggressive shaming. Presumably because being short is seen as a type of physical gender nonconformity when observed in a body that is otherwise viewed as “masculine”.
While large movie studios have made progress over the years in curtailing their role in spreading gender based stereotypes, it seems that they have made no effort to address heightism. Of course, how can we blame them? It’s profitable, and (as of now) most short people don’t seem to mind being degraded, shamed, or stereotyped for the amusement and satisfaction of others.
TSC: We need your help gathering background information on this ad campaign. We’re in the process of starting an e-mail campaign against Mars Inc., (parent company of Snickers) to pursade them to remove advertisements which celebrate heightism as a joke to promote their snacks. So far, we have identified at least three places where the tagline “Smaller Size With No Inferiority Complex” has appeared in Mars advertising. Maxim Magazine, Rolling Stone Magazine, and Facebook.
HAS ANYONE ELSE SEEN THIS AD IN PRINT OR ON THE WEB?
Please write in and let us know. Also, I’m looking for the marketing firm that created this ad. When did this advertising campaign start? Which marketing firm created it? How widespread is it? Is it only targeted at young men or is it found in magazines which are targeted towards women too? The answers to all of these questions will help us fight this.
My name is Jane Webb, and I’m a graduate student at the University of Kansas. I’m a 6’3” woman, and I think that my height has meant something in my life and I’d like to hear how it has meant something in others’ lives. For my dissertation, I am interviewing women who are shorter than 5’2” OR taller than 5’10” and men who are shorter than 5’7” OR taller than 6’2” (18 years or older). These are the height parameters for membership in stature-based organizations. The interviews last about one hour and focus on the interviewees’ experience of height throughout their lives.
I would appreciate it if you could inform your readers about my project by posting the attached flyer image to encourage your readers to participate in my study. If participants live outside of the Kansas City area, I can conduct phone and Skype interviews with them. If you or your readers would like to volunteer to participate in this study or want more information, please contact me at email@example.com or 816.343.8249. If you would like to talk more about this project, please feel free to contact me. I would be happy to interview you as well!
Thank you for your time,
Jane M. Webb Doctoral Candidate Department of Sociology University of Kansas 816.343.8249 firstname.lastname@example.org
TSC: Take a look at this photograph which was just posted on Sociological Images as an example of urinals and sinks which objectify women. Of course, building bathroom equipment to look like women’s body parts is problematic. But there is another problem with this picture.
What is the FAIL about? What about this picture signifies a FAIL? So I posed the question in the comment section.
geoffreyarnold: What does the “fail” notation in the last photograph represent? I don’t understand why what is depicted here is considered an internet meme “FAIL”. Can someone help me on this?
MarkRSchulz: I guess he is too short to reach the vital spot?
TSC: There was a very interesting piece published at Sociological Images yesterday about Hegemonic Masculinity in Super Bowl Commercials. Hegemonic Masculinity “refers to the dominant form of masculinity that exists within a particular culture. Relative to this ever changing, idealized form of masculinity are different subordinated masculinities – those within a culture that do not live up to the so-called masculine gold standard. Put simply, there are “real men” and then there are all other men.”
What was especially interesting was the analysis applied to a Fiat commercial in which a tall attractive woman dominates a shorter male who does not embody our notions of Hegemonic Masculinity because of his stature and seeming lack of assertiveness.
In contrast to Beckham, other males were presented in this year’s Super Bowl commercials, who represent a marginal masculinity, meaning they would love to hold hegemonic masculine status and are pursuing such an identity, but for any number of reasons are unable to achieve it. You could say these are the “wannabe real men”. A good example of marginal masculinity is presented in the following commercial for FIAT:
In contrast to the commercial with Beckham, the male in this commercial lacks qualities that would otherwise provide him with a sense of hegemonic masculinity. Although he appears to be employed (wearing business attire), he is relatively short in comparison to the woman in the ad, cast as nerdy and lacking confidence. Given the fantasy he has with the female actor, we can see he desires hegemonic masculine status. But because he lacks a kind of physical prowess, he is marginalized.
TSC: What follows is a comment from the article and my reply:
Love the masculinity analysis.
You missed the most important part of how the FIAT commercial guy fails the hegemonic masculinity test, though - he is not confident, and is intimidated easily. You could cast the same short actor as a hegemonic version of the everyman if he stood up straight and controlled his situation. The height differences emphasizes the effect, no doubt, but the confidence and dominance relationship is everything. The hegemonic man may not need to dominate women - but he *cannot* be dominated by them.
Very interesting statement. I think you are technically right, but most companies wouldn’t chance casting a relatively shorter male for an ad in which he is supposed to embody hegemonic masculinity. People do not associate short males with “real dominance”, only an “unfulfillable desire to dominate”.
However, as I said, I think that you are right. If they wanted to, they could portray a super confident and wealthy short man who seduces or holds the attention of a taller attractive woman. So, if she appeared genuinely infatuated with this character in the ad (instead of just sexually dominating him), their height difference would actually help to increase his perceived status as a dominant male.
TSC:Click the link to read one man’s personal perspective on height bigotry. And while the article’s substantive content is anti-heightist, its comedic delivery leaves much to be desired. Short people rarely discuss instances of individual height bigotry or even systemic heightism without masking the outrage with humor in an attempt to avoid the inevitable recrimination that comes with attacking a prejudice which is so beloved by our culture. So excuse much of the self-deprecating nonsense in the article and focus on the substance of what the author is saying.
I have found that many of the cultural inequities we traditionally assume are gender-based might have just as much to do with size as the seemingly inexcusable lack of a penis.
I spent my young life being told that our pediatrician estimated I’d end up making it to 5’6”, maybe 5’8” if I was lucky, which was still short, but not comically so. But it turned out that quack was way off and I stopped gaining inches not long after my 13th birthday. It was Grade Eight and I had permanently reached my lifelong summit of 5’2” — just three inches above the official medical classification of dwarf or little person.
In the 23 years that have passed since then, I’ve come to two major conclusions about being a short man in North American society and they are thus: It sucks and no one wants to hear you complain about it.
Because of this I tend to mostly shut up about the subject. It’s hard enough trying to explain to people the realities of height discrimination when you have to also convince them it’s an actual thing in the first place.
“Oh, c’mon!” I’ve heard many, many times. “People don’t treat you any differently because you’re short.”
Every person who has ever said this to me has been at least 5’11”. But I’ve lived the life and know the truth and what I have found is that many of the cultural inequities we traditionally assume are gender-based might have just as much to do with size as the seemingly inexcusable lack of a penis.
Before you take this statement as an affront to the harsh realities of patriarchal oppression and expose my testicles to the flames of your self-righteousness, let me point out several ways I have found where being a short dude and being a woman directly correspond.
Take a look at the list of Fortune 500’s top CEOs and what you’ll find is the classic definition of a sausage party. It’s all men, men, and some more men, with just a smattering of token females to help indicate just how many fucking men there really are. Do you know what the average height of all that money-grubbing manmeat is? 6’0”. And that’s the average, which means a significant amount of those guys are actually taller than that.
It’s no secret that women earn significantly less than men do for performing the same jobs. What people don’t know is that height is also a major factor in wage differences. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Blink,” it is estimated that an inch of height is worth an extra $789 a year in salary. This means that a man who is the same height as the average Fortune 500 CEO will likely earn $7,890 more a year than I would for the same job. Over the course of 40-year career, that amounts to a difference of $315,600.
A common complaint amongst women in the workforce is that instead of being praised for showing the same decisive leadership qualities as their male peers, strong women often end up being classified as “bitches” whose dedication is seen as a form of psychosis rather than that of admirable drive and ambition.
In the case of short men, take the above and replace “bitches” with “little Napoleons”, whose desire to succeed is dismissed by many as evidence of “short man’s syndrome” and a pathetic need to prove themselves more worthy than others.
As a woman, have you ever walked into a room full of men and instantly felt yourself evaluated and dismissed in a matter of seconds?
As a result of this, you have to fight to make yourself heard, which earns you the labels of pushy and annoying. No matter how good your points are, they’re ignored, because it has already been decided you have nothing of worth to contribute amongst such company. Ask most short men if they have ever suffered through this dispiriting experience and chances are you’ll get a buttload of yes.
Actually, this is where the similarities between women and short men sharply diverge. Very few of us smaller guys have to worry about receiving unwanted sexual attention. In fact, getting any sexual attention requires a level of dedication and patience that have earned some folks sainthoods in the past.
The fact is that as a short man you can expect 8 out of 10 women to immediately dismiss you as a potential sexual partner at first sight, before you’ve had time to even so much as shout out a “Hey, pretty lady!” And chances are the remaining 2 out of 10 will only give you a couple of minutes to make your case before similarly blowing you off.
In my experience, women hate to hear this, because it makes their entire gender sound extremely shallow and superficial.
Whenever I’ve talked to female friends about this reality, the following conversation has inevitably occurred:
Me: Women don’t like dating short men.
FF: That’s not true. I bet there are a lot of women out there who love short guys.
Me: Have you ever dated one?
Me: Would you?
FF: (Uncomfortable silence)
According to the mega-bestseller “Freakonomics,” short men are statistically less likely to receive any responses from their online dating profiles than any other demographic group. The fact that I’m averaging one a year on my OkCupid profile is actually me breaking the odds through the force of my tremendous personal charisma.
This is the transcript of a brief conversation I had with a female co-worker today. She was trying to help me remember a lawyer whose name sounded familiar, but whom I couldn't quite place. The conversation is illustrative of how height and gender intersect in ways which sometimes cause cognitive dissonance. And yes, this totally happened today in Real Life.
Me: What was her name again?
Co-Worker: Joanne. You just met her at The Firm Christmas Party, remember? Her "plus one" was that man with the Australian accent.
Me: Ummm? I think I sort of remember her (lie). She was our age, right?
Co-Worker: No. No. This is a much older lady.
Me: Huuum. Oh wait, I know now. Sort of a tall woman with silver hair?
Co-Worker: She had grey hair, but I wouldn't really call her tall.
Me: I mean, I guess she was about 5'9" or so, right?
Co-Worker: Yeah, I guess so. I guess that would be tall for you.
Me: (*paused with confusion*)
Me: What do you mean "for you"? You and I are the same height.