“He’s nice but he’s, like, two inches shorter than me.”
Heard that before, either from a friend or your own mouth? I am a feminist, but as a heterosexual woman I prefer to date guys who are taller than me. I’m not the only one. I’ve automatically dismissed many a potential date because he was shorter than me. Various studies say women in general prefer tall guys, and attribute it to evolutionary preference for big, healthy, protective mates.
It’s a dilemma. I don’t believe in any of that patriarchal “he-man” protector crap. I’m an independent woman and I support myself. I certainly don’t need some six-foot muscular hunk to protect me from bears.
A big part of my height preference is, of course, what I’ve unconsciously absorbed from society. I grew up with the standard Disney princess model of relationships. Disney princesses do not marry the short guy. Hetero couples where the man is shorter often get mocked. I’m ashamed that the thought “If I marry a short guy, I can’t wear heels on my wedding day” has actually gone through my mind. I don’t even plan on getting married.
Part of it is that I’m a tall, broad-shouldered person. Standing at 5’7 in my socks, I am a fearsome sight to behold when I wear heels. I’m a few inches above average for the American woman, but I’m not even that tall.
I think it’s inseparable from the narrative about how tall women are constantly made to feel insecure about their femininity (and short men made to feel insecure about their masculinity). I have heard many a tall ladyfriend say that she doesn’t like feeling “big” around a man she’s dating.
I get hit on plenty by shorter guys, so I never thought about whether men are intimidated by my size. But maybe my issue with shorter guys is that I’ve internalized the idea that I am threatening. Friedman said:
Women who are tall enough to look men square in the eye (or look down on them) are gender transgressors by their very stature. Here’s a fact that tall women learn very early in life: Men don’t like being looked down on by a woman. This reaction–men feeling threatened by my height–seems rooted in the fact that I do not fit neatly into what they think of as “woman.”
I prefer petite woman [sic] to tall ones. My dad was 5’6″ and remarried to a 6’1″ tower of horror.
I’ve only recently started to ease my romantic height requirement. The last few guys I’ve dated have actually been a tad shorter than me. I’m not being any more progressive, though. I still try to correct for the difference by wearing flats and slouching. I was actually a little pleased with this Jezebel post on “meels”, heels for men. I don’t think any of the guys in my Montana hometown are going to start wearing stilettos, but maybe this trend will trickle down until mens’ shoes in the mall will have a little extra lift, which would solve a lot of my problems.
But at what point do we draw the line between our political/social views and what we prefer sexually? Lesbian separatist feminists, like ’70s DC collective The Furies, used to argue that just being heterosexual was perpetuating the patriarchy.
And I haven’t even gotten into gay and lesbian height preferences. I only have conflicting anecdotal evidence for that–I know some gay people who prefer tall partners and some gay people who just don’t care.
I also want to make clear that no matter a man’s height, it’s still most important to me that he be smart, progressive and interesting. As they say, the brain is the biggest sex organ.
What say you, dear readers? Do you have a height requirement? And do you feel bad about it?
TSC: Singer/Songwriter Randy Newman was featured on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” (5/8/13) to talk about his recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. During that interview, Mr. Newman get’s a question about his most infamous song, Short People, which seemed to have thrown him off guard and left him scrambling for a non-apology.
For those of you that don’t know, Randy Newman penned and released a song in the 1970’s which probably represents one of the most noxious and offensive examples of naked heightism in modern popular media. In it, the song’s main character asserts that short people “have no reason to live”. You can listen to the entire song here:
Needless to say, most people would never purchase a song with the lyric “Gay People have no reason to live” or “Black People have no reason to live”, or even “Fat People have no reason to live”. But here, people justify their enjoyment of the song by saying that the tune is merely a parody on other types of prejudice and it’s not supposed to be taken literally. They assert that the song is really about racism and how stupid it is to hate people for reasons beyond their control. (Of course, this interpretation of the song doesn’t explain how one can use one form of prejudice to lampoon another).
However, in this excerpt from NPR, Randy Newman completely debunks the “parody interpretation” of the song. Apparently, the song is to be taken literally - except that the song’s protagonist is supposedly a crazy person.
So, the song has nothing to do with racism. Mr. Newman admits that his album needed an “up [beat]” song and that this bit of bigotry was the first thing that popped into his head. So, he thought that it would be a good idea to make a song about it.
During some portions of the interview, you can almost hear some regret in his voice (like when he sighs at the wedding story). But ultimately, he defends the song by saying that he didn’t know that it was a “sensitive topic” at the time (TSC:cop out). He goes on to say that he can understand why a child may be hurt by the song if his classmates taunted him/her when the song was popular.
Ultimately, it’s clear that he doesn’t like talking about the song, and the interviewer mercifully moves on. Listen to the interview excerpt here:
Just discovered the anti-heightism movement on Tumblr/the internet as a whole, and working out whether it’s an MRA parallel to feminism’s fat acceptance movement. I can’t tell yet. Much of the heightism stuff looks really resentment-fuelled with massive undercurrents of “all women are evil bitches…
TSC: This is a serious problem. I’m not really clear on how the heightism issue became associated with MRA, but it has nothing to do with it. Heightism is a social prejudice which is based in gender norms, but it isn’t about resentment - it’s about tolerance. And, the focus of our efforts should not be on physical attraction, but on social justice and challenging a systemic cultural prejudice which ultimately demeans people of all heights. When the majority of a populace believes that height affects the intrinsic worth of human beings, there is a problem. And that problem is especially bad when everyone recognizes the prejudice on some level, but it is so normalized that challenging it produces an unsettling feeling because it’s disruptive to the social order.
Notice how defensive people get when they are first introduced to the idea that it is wrong to stigmatize people based on their height.
TSC: What is it about car advertisements and height?
So here is a new European Volkswagen ad that uses height as its primary theme. It’s somewhat similar to the infamous Honda CRV ad from ten years ago because the premise of this ad also relies on the idea that a woman must not date a shorter man. Or that tall women must find a taller man at any cost (even though its like “looking for a needle in a haystack”, as the background music asserts). It seems that the grand take-away from this ad is that a tall woman should attach herself to the first taller guy that comes along - even when he happens to drive a horribly ugly Volkswagen.
Ultimately, large corporations which try to profit off of corrosive gender norms should be discouraged from doing so in the future. Dating necessarily involves personal choices. But popular culture influences our choices and when large corporations promote ideas about what couples “should look like”, it can take us down a troubling slippery slope. For instance, here Volkswagen is casting the Male-Taller-Norm as a social virtue, thereby perpetuating it as a hallmark of cultural cohesion. One could argue that this sort of message is bad for supposedly egalitarian societies such as ours - societies which strive to maximize our freedom to choose what makes us happy without being widely shamed for those choices.
But, I’ll at least say that this ad is MUCH less offensive than the Honda CRV ad, even though it relies on the same theme. Here, like in the CRV ad, the woman is disappointed to see shorter men potentially expressing romantic interest in her. But at least in this ad, the short men aren’t made to look like immature idiots or mere hollow props for the narrative. The short men in this ad seem like actual people - like real human beings. Which is more than what can be said for the Honda CRV ad.
And here is an old critique I did of the Honda CRV ad. The real point of this video was to test some of the animation I was doing for this blog at the time, but it’s still fairly entertaining and so I’m posting it for giggles.
Increasing maternal age at childbirth is associated with a more favourable phenotype (taller stature and reduced abdominal fat) in their children, as well as improved insulin sensitivity in girls.
TSC: I recently stumbled across this interesting (if meaningless) study about childhood nutrition relative to maternal age. The study found that mothers who have their child later in life (after 35) tend to have thinner and taller children. But, they only studied 277 healthy pre-pubertal children and found that the kids from the older moms were (on average) 1.5cm taller than the kids from the younger moms.
For those of you who are Americans like myself, 1.5cm is about 1/2 inch. So, I’m not sure if this tells us anything, but I suspect that it tells us nothing except that it’s hard to predict the height of your offspring using the height of ones parents. The paper says:
“Importantly, our finding of taller stature with increasing maternal age was present after correction for genetic height, the most important determinant of childhood height”
One can only assume that the authors of this study assumed that the statistical analysis available to predict the genetic height of children based on their parent’s height is accurate to 1.5cm. But, I’m pretty sure that this assumption is mistaken.
Additionally, I have read studies which say that short women tend to find mates and have offspring much sooner than taller women. Therefore, it’s probably the case that older moms tend to be taller moms. So that could explain the result as well (assuming that the “correcting for genetic height” analysis didn’t account for that variable).
But none of that is the most interesting piece in all of this. What’s most interesting is the way the authors framed a cultural norm as if it were a scientific advantage.
Increasing maternal age at childbirth is associated with a more favourable phenotype (taller stature and reduced abdominal fat) in their children
What do the authors mean by “a more favorable phenotype”? It almost seems like they are making a social value judgment instead of a scientifically verifiable statement. “Taller stature” is a more favorable phenotype than average height? By what measure? The authors of this study even seem to think that this applies to girls as well as boys.
Again, it sounds like the authors were talking about the social advantages conveyed to taller people in most societies - which are the direct result of heightism. A cultural phenomenon.
Could someone with more Science knowledge tell me whether or not I’m off-base here? The description seems pretty inaccurate and even downright biased. Imagine a study which suggests that younger siblings are more likely to have blue eyes than their older brothers/sisters when their mothers have blue eyes. Would it then make sense for the researchers to say:
Younger siblings are associated with a more favourable phenotype (blue eyes) when their mothers have blue eyes.
As in the height example, one could argue that there are social advantages to having blue eyes. But what are the objective scientific advantages which would make it “a more favorable phenotype”? I don’t think most researchers would phrase a conclusion in this way. But it seems acceptable when applied to height, for some reason.
TSC: So, as you may or may not know, I am a fan of AMC’s hit television show, “Mad Men”. I watch the show religiously and I’m always impressed with their character development and obsessive attention to detail. And, as the newest season is being aired in the United States, I am going back to previous seasons and re-watching them on Netflix.
If you’re a fan of the show as well, then you know that each of the characters have personality traits which have pretty much defined them from Episode One of Season One. Don Draper, the silent and mysterious protagonist; Pete Campbell, the entitled and ambitious junior executive; Peggy Olson, the seemingly naive young woman making her mark in the Big City; etc.
And of course, one of the most beloved characters on the show has to be that of Roger Sterling - a silver haired playboy from a privileged background whose father founded the advertising agency around which the show is based. As the series runs on, we learn that Sterling’s suave and confident demeanor hides a vulnerable and insecure psyche - molded by the fires of high expectations set by his father and family.
So, if you’re a fan of the series, check out Season One, Episode Four entitled “New Amsterdam”. At about the 35 minute mark, you’ll see the start of a scene where Don Draper (6’1”) and Roger Sterling (6’0”) are about to see Bert Cooper at his office. Now, if you know the series, you already know that Cooper doesn’t allow people to wear shoes in his office. So, both Don and Roger take their shoes off before entering. That’s when we discover that Roger Sterling has been wearing shoe lifts this entire time and he is really only about 5’10”.
As I’ve said before, nothing in “Mad Men” is an accident. I think the writers were trying to give us an early glimpse into Sterling’s psyche and mindset by allowing us to gleam that brief piece of personal information. It happens so quickly that I didn’t even notice it when I watched the episode live back in 2007.
TSC: I just found a video on YouTube which shows a taller guy speaking about his thoughts and feelings about heightism. It’s clear that he is thinking out loud about the issue for the first time and hasn’t generally given it much thought. However, I’m impressed that he at least tries to learn about it with an open mind.
I’m not sure what his thoughts say about the issue of heightism though. First of all, he focuses primarily on heightism as it applies to dating and romantic attraction - coming to the conclusion that height doesn’t matter in his community because a short guy once dated a woman who rejected him. This reasoning is problematic on multiple levels, but I think it reveals something about how we view social privileges which may apply to us. That is, we deny them.
If you listen to his arguments closely, he doesn’t completely reject heightism as a possibility. He merely rejects the idea that he is benefited by being tall. He does this through anecdotal evidence, identifying himself with a social “out group”, and even blame shifting - near the end, he claims that short men “hate” tall men.
So, this simplest analysis of this video yields a rather naive taller guy who foolishly rejects his own obvious social privilege as a defense mechanism to protect his self-image. However, one can also come to a different but valid conclusion about heightism after watching this layperson’s account of the prejudice. That is, he makes the claim that Hispanic women do not really care about the height of Hispanic male suitors. While I suspect that this is an exaggeration, there is probably truth to the idea that heightism is more pervasive within some cultures than others.
TSC: There are no words. Just watch this Leg-Lengthening commercial featuring some kid who got the surgery and is now “loving life”. Also, is that his mother in the background? What mother lets her son get serious and painful cosmetic surgery like this?
TSC: And look at the Doctor. Doesn’t he remind you of someone?