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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com
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.
As I wrote recently in an article on the happiest person in America, taller people generally lead better lives than shorter people. How much better? Here are two charts showing the typical levels of well-being in 2010 for men of various heights, and then for women of various heights:
As you can see, there’s a pretty steady relationship between well-being and height for men. The taller men are, generally speaking, the happier they are. (Remember, as always, correlation is not causation.)
On the other hand, the connection between height and happiness is less predictable for women. Well-being levels for the very tallest women are higher than they are for the very shortest women, but well-being levels bounce around quite a lot in between, and actually seem to trend downward beyond a certain height.
I’ll let the sociobiologists among you out there theorize about why.
Again, we have more proof that heightism is a social construct based in Gender Norms. Clearly, the reason for the discrepancy between the male and female graphs comes from the fact that our society stigmatizes short males to a degree far beyond other height/gender combinations. Of course, one would have to assume that a greater amount of social discrimination would lesson ones score on the “Well-Being index” for the theory to work.
Some photographers try to stage their shots in ways that reduce height differences between people. In some cases, the photographer is merely “framing the shot” so that every person’s head is within the photograph. But other times, a photographer will stage a photo in a way that obscures the height of his subjects or even misleads the eye in order to maintain the gender norm that a man cannot be shorter than a woman. Other times, the photographer uses techniques to create the illusion of height in order to present a subject in the most “aesthetically pleasing” way possible.
Of course, even aesthetics are culturally informed and so this too can be thought of in terms of morality.
In order to examine the morality of this practice, we must first acknowledge that heightism (the concept that height should inform a person’s worth) is a widespread and accepted social paradigm. Then we must acknowledge that good people have a moral duty to resist heightism because all irrational biases which curtail human potential are wrong, and wrongs should be resisted by good people. Ergo, if a photographer asks you (a good person) to comply with a request which would affirm heightism - then you have a moral duty to resist such a request.
But is being asked to bend at the knees (as a tall person) or being asked to stand on a riser (as a short person) an instance of heightism?
Is it ethical for a short person (or tall person) to comply with a photographer’s request to stand on a riser (or squat at the knees) for a photograph if the purpose of the request constitutes subterfuge or satisfying gender stereotypes?