TSC: So, I was discussing the topic of heightism with a fellow short man on reddit. He was of the opinion that short stature is an inherent flaw and so the disparate social treatment short people face is justified. In opposition to this idea, I tried to explain how heightism is a social construct and that short stature is a neutral physical feature that has value imputed to it based on subjective social norms.
However, our confused friend would not buy the argument. Instead, he tried to disassociate some widely stigmatized traits from others. For instance, he tried to argue that things like racism and sexism are prejudices which are social constructs, but “our” aversion to short stature is “instinctual”.
Of course, yours truly has heard this tired argument before. The truth is that prejudices that are a product of socialization feel completely “natural” and innate to ones self. A good example of this can be found in a scene from the recent Tarantino remake of the film “Inglorious Bastards”. In it, a Nazi argues that his people have an innate dislike for Jews as humans have an innate dislike of rats. Of course, one of the points of the speech is to get the audience to question the difference between innate and learned behaviors, and whether there is really even such a thing as innate behaviors.
In any event, if our friend was born at another time and another place, he might be arguing that Anti-Semitism is “instinctual” instead of Heightism.
TSC: We are all products of our environment. And as heightism is a prejudice that is part of a pervasive social construct which says that shorter people are inherently inferior to taller people - we all start off subscribing to this cultural myth. When I was very young, I too assumed that shorter people were “not as good as” or “less than” taller people, and I simply accepted this in my thoughts and actions. It wasn’t something that bothered me, even though I was a short boy, because I regarded it as natural and I never framed it as a type of prejudice. Looking back, I was sometimes ignored or treated differently than taller people, but I wasn’t troubled by this fact - I would simply defer to taller kids even though I understood (on some level) that I was limited (if even slightly) because of my height. But again, I didn’t understand the concepts of socialization or stigmatization because they never taught things like that at my High School.
However, later I went to college (an intellectually rigorous liberal arts school) and was introduced to a lot of “new” ideas and ways of looking at the world. It was then that I first started looking back on my life and questioning things about height and society that I had taken for granted. Also, thanks to the internet, I was introduced to the concept of “heightism” for the first time.
But though a lot of things happened which confirmed my suspicions about heightism, I didn’t really fully “get it” until I was about to leave University. And ironically, it took a couple of tall guys to make me realize how limiting and degrading heightism could be.
Characteristics Usually Passed Down From the Mother
By Michelle Blessing, eHow Contributor
Maternal genes are responsible for passing on many traits to offspring. Over 60 disorders and traits come from mitochondrial DNA, which originates solely from a mother’s egg. These traits may be seen immediately after birth, or you may not notice them for many years into a child’s life.
Color blindness is the inability to distinguish certain colors or the perception of colors in an odd way. The most common form of color blindness is the inability to distinguish red from green. Another form is the inability to distinguish blue from yellow. Almost one in 10 men suffer from some form of color blindness, which is a recessive trait passed on from mother to son.
Autism-spectrum disorders or mental retardation are two of the most common developmental delays that can be passed from mother to child. Fragile X syndrome, in which the FMR1 gene is altered, is the syndrome most often responsible for these conditions. The defect in this gene creates a lack of protein needed for proper brain functioning. Other characteristics include hyperactivity, speech/language delays, flat feet and a large forehead with prominent jaw features.
Hearing loss is commonly linked to a mitochondrial DNA disorder. This can include slight problems with one or both ears, or total and complete deafness. Hearing loss or problems is more likely if the mother has hearing issues herself or in her family lineage.
Short stature, like hearing loss, is another of the 60 or so disorders linked to mitochondrial DNA mutations. Short stature in children is again more likely if the mother or her family lineage is also small in size.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy is caused by a recessive gene disorder; it is always passed on by the mother’s X chromosome. Symptoms of this disorder vary with the severity of the condition but can include the following: mental retardation, drooling and difficulty with gross and fine motor skills. The disorder can sometimes be seen in early infancy and is almost always diagnosed by age 6. Duchenne muscular dystrophy degenerates the body quickly and most children are in a wheelchair by their teenage years. There is no cure for this disorder.
TSC: Which one of these things is not like the other ones? Which one of these things don’t belong? Huuuum?
Also, as physical stature is a bell curve and there will always be shorter people and taller people, wouldn’t it also be the case that “tall stature” is a disorder which is passed through the mother as well? But could anyone imagine them publishing something that looks like this?:
Tall stature, like hearing loss, is another of the 60 or so disorders linked to mitochondrial DNA mutations. Tall stature in children is again more likely if the mother or her family lineage is also large in size.
I stumbled across this clip the other day while watching American Idol clips and was wondering if you have seen it. Of course, it’s heightism related. I don’t know if it is good enough to be discussion material on your blog, but it’s amazing what this woman does to Ryan Seacrest.
TSC: First of all, thank you for this clip James. This is an excellent example of how heightism (the idea that shorter people are intrinsically inferior to taller people) is a widespread and accepted social prejudice. Many people are apparently extremely comfortable espousing the idea that short people (men especially) should be ashamed of their height and should agree that they have less worth than other people. Notice that this idea is so self-evident to some people that they even feel its appropriate to express it directly to a shorter person. Even look at the comment section on YouTube about the clip. Only a few people criticized this woman for what she said directly to Seacrest (mostly on “politeness” grounds, but a few on heightism grounds).
It’s one thing to blurt out “you’re short” to a shorter person. But it’s another thing to denigrate all short men as inferior as this woman goes on to do. And we should give Seacrest credit for trying to calmly deal with these shocking statements, but the humor tactic rarely works when people act like this woman was acting. He starts off the right way (deflect the comment to expose her prejudice) by saying “thank you” and “is that a bad thing?”. But she doesn’t fall for it, dodging the question. But then, Seacrest get’s defensive and starts claiming to be taller than he really is, and outright denying that he is even short. This was a tactical mistake. Always own your shortness because there is nothing wrong with being short and its nothing you should be ashamed of. So instead of making this woman look like an ass; Seacrest ends up looking a bit foolish…going so far as to hug her after receiving a verbal beatdown.
Replace ANY physical characteristic with the word “short” in this woman’s diatribe and try to estimate how many sponsors the show would have lost.
TSC: One of the better discussions I’ve seen about heightism on the net. This website, which is apparently devoted to men issues from a feminist perspective, published a post decrying the acceptance of heightism in our society. The article is far from perfect because some aspects of hegihtism are trivialized in terms of impact and scope, but the opinion is fairly well reasoned. Plus, the comments after the article are excellent. A few people even rightly noticed that the title of the piece was biased in that heightism is hardly a “unconscious bias”. Height bigotry is fairly blatant and accepted.
Sociological Images brings us a video talking about implicit bias against short men. The scientifically valid tool discussed in the video, the Implicit Association Test, measures how biased someone is against a group, even in ways they may not know about: if the test-taker is faster and more accurate at sorting tall men and good things into the same category than tall men and bad things, the test-taker is biased in favor of tall men.
The IATs have shown a systematic bias against short men– in fact, the scientist interviewed in the video compares the magnitude of the effect to that of race or ethnicity. Even more interestingly, this is almost entirely a subconscious bias. After all, outside of dating sites (in which women often request men 6′ or taller, partially so they can wear heels around their partner without feeling like they’re emasculating him, and isn’t that a rat’s nest of kyriarchy), very few people think about height as a gendered axis of oppression at all.
And don’t get me wrong: it is gendered. I would be very, very surprised if short women experienced the same bias that short men do. Height is, after all, a symbol of power: if you loom over someone, if you’re bigger than them, you appear more powerful than them on a very primal level. In Western culture, we associate men with power, women with weakness. A short woman is merely doing what her gender requires (and may actually experience a larger dating pool and less worry about high-heel-induced castration complexes). A short man is, in a certain way, failing as a man.
It’s also important to note that these biases are all subconscious. No one wakes up in the morning and says “fuck, man, short men are idiots and pussies, I fucking hate short men and am going to try to make them drink at their own water fountain.” There are very few anti-short-man hate groups. Even those portions of the Internet which have the primary function of stewing in their own grievances against every person who is not exactly like their readers usually only hate short men casually and in passing.
But for a lot of people, subconsciously, a tall man just seems… more imposing. More attractive. More like he knows what he’s doing. More charismatic. More of a leader. More of a man. All those little, intangible, gut-level things that can make the difference between a hiring or a promotion and a dead-end career or a night shift at Starbucks.
You can be racist, or sexist, or classist, or ableist, or even heightist without knowing it. You can appear to yourself like you don’t have a kyriarchal bone in your body and still perpetrate the kyriarchy without meaning to. The process of unlearning kyriarchal conditioning is just that– a lifelong process. (This, incidentally, is why a lot of people support affirmative action. You’re already getting a leg up from all the subconscious biases people have, you might as well let the rest of us have a chance.)