Trigger Warning: This is a conversation I had with a fellow subscriber on the Reddit forum for short people called “r/short”. I didn’t want to publish her username and so I just call her a “Reddit Subscriber”. My thoughts are preceded by “TSC”. So, this conversation is especially interesting because the person whom I’m debating starts to use heightism to justify heightism. And notice how subtly it happens. She doesn’t even realize that anything is happening.
Also, there is a lot of talk about racism here and a little talk about male and female attraction and beauty norms. These topics always have the possibility of being offensive, and so if you’re easily offended, skip this topic.
So, I take the position that human romantic attraction does not mix with social justice. In other words, it’s not racist to have racial preferences or requirements when it comes to dating and it’s not heightist to have height preferences or requirements when it comes to dating. My debate opponent takes a different view, but in the process she tries to differentiate racism from heightism by arguing that being a racial minority doesn’t make you inferior to others, but being short DOES make you inferior to others. Of course, that argument cannot abide and I begin to rip it apart.
The most interesting thing is that she is merely articulating what most people believe.
Also, for those of you who don’t know, I’m a person of color (African American).
Reddit Subscriber: Heightism is definitely steeped in social constructs, yes, I totally get that, but are we really going to deny that evolution has no bearing on what people find attractive any-more simply because we live in ‘modern times’?
I’m really not surprised that a lot of women if they had to choose between a short man and a tall man, would go for the tall man. Men fulfilled the protective role in a relationship and tend to be physically stronger and larger than the women. That’s just how it was, and still is. Yes, shorter men can be stronger than tall men, yes being strong at all is hardly a necessity in the modern age, but still, attraction to that trait is still very hardwired into us, just like being unattractive to unsymmetrical facial features which indicates a strong immune system, despite modern medicine making us reliant on that indicator redundant.
Heightism is definitely a problem, and society certainly has a part in that, and it can be addressed. I just find it weird how some of you are so baffled by this particular prevelency in attraction to taller men. It’s evolutionary. Obviously. Being blind isn’t going to change that, having dwarfism isn’t going to change that.
TSC: Don’t conflate heightism and beauty. Heightism refers to a social prejudice…if you’re talking about dating, you’re probably referring to beauty norms.
Also, just from my personal point of view, it’s probably more likely that the evolutionary component of attraction says that women are attracted to male dominance. And height is a cultural signifier of male dominance. Money can also be a signifier of male dominance…or muscles…..or “confidence”….or whatever else. I don’t think there is anything intrinsic about height even in the dating realm. For instance, if a woman was born into a mythical society in which shorter people were perceived as dominant over taller people, she would be more attracted to short men. The “evolutionary component” to attraction is “male dominance” and “tallness” is just a cultural marker for that.
Reddit Subscriber: Um it’s pretty well known that ‘beauty norms’ are very much a part of systematic prejudices. It’s actually a surprisingly huge part of it. Like the idea that non-white people are objectively less attractive than white people, as European dominance in colonial times encouraged the idealization of white traits as the pinnical of beauty. Whiteness and anything related to it became very desireable, and it is still a big problem today, with eyelid surgery and skin-whitening products being a big thing in asia, and the middle east. That is part of systematic prejudice, the idea that other races are objectively less attractive than others is part of racism.
If beauty norms favour taller men that is no coincidence. Beauty norms are a social construct as well.
"That is part of systematic prejudice, the idea that other races are objectively less attractive than others is part of racism."
I don’t think so. I think that systemic prejudices can influence attraction, but attraction isn’t an example of social prejudice. So here, racism influences the beauty norm, but the beauty norm itself is not part of the social construct that is racism.
Think about it. Otherwise, you’re saying that it’s racist for someone not to be attracted to certain races. That doesn’t work for a number of reasons.
Reddit Subscriber: Could you explain to me how that doesn’t work? How writing off millions of very different and (visually) diverse people as unattractive simply due to their race is not racist?
TSC: That’s easy. Racism is a prejudice which we can rightly criticize as immoral or socially unacceptable. That is, one of the key elements of racism today (even if this isn’t explicitly expressed) is that “racism is bad”. Well, if this is the case, then it cannot apply to dating or attraction.
For there to be any concept of “right” or “wrong”, there must be freedom. Not “Free Will” as in “Determinism” (philosophical term), but the type of freedom in which “ought implies can”. That is, something can only be “right” or “wrong” if we are free to choose between at least two different actions. If we have no freedom in the matter, then we have made no moral action.
Racism is a moral action.
And so before we can get to that, we have to get to freedom.
So, freedom is where all forms of ethics or morality flows. Therefore it would be unethical to apply racism to physical attraction because that would take away a person’s physical autonomy. The most basic element of “freedom” is physical autonomy (the right to control your own body), and attraction and intimacy is the highest expression of that right.
Simply, you can’t apply racism to intimacy because racism is a matter of ethics and intimacy is a matter of freedom (personal autonomy). Ethics is a non-question when it comes to physical attraction. You can’t control your attractions, and even if you could….it involves your physical autonomy, which is the basis for the freedom you would need to make a moral action in the first place. Deny that freedom (physical autonomy) and there is no longer a moral choice. So again, racism doesn’t apply.
There is one way around this catch-22. Declare that racism is not a moral choice. That racism is neither good nor bad. But we don’t want to think of racism like that - do we?
Reddit Subscriber: I think we should stop thinking of racism as always being this extreme action or prejudice that automatically makes someone a bad person.
Yes, of course racism is bad, but pretty much everyone is racist in some small way due to how insidious racist values can be when they are constantly perpetuated in our society. I am racist, my friends are racist, my family is racist, we are a product of our environment and our environment is full of double standards and prejudices. And I think it’s our moral obligation to unlearn these prejudices and catch ourselves.
And I believe having this racist attitude when it comes to who people find attractive comes under this insidious form of systematic prejudice. Most men find women with unshaven armpits and pubic hair gross. But that is a completely socially enforced norm that is not substantiated by evolution. It’s more hygienic for both men and women to have under arm hair as it ventilates sweat, but ever since a very effective marketing scheme in the mid 20th century, it is now seen as unhygienic and unpleasant for women to have unshaven underarms and can cause a pretty strong reaction of revulsion in some men. A revulsion that I believe is actually controllable, as it is simply the result of conforming to beauty norms, and in more simple terms, it’s just plain ignorance.
I believe people who write off whole races as unattractive fall under this same category. They are ignorant to the diversity of other races, and they conform to what they see in media and what their peers also think, and today’s society still strongly values whiteness as more attractive. They probably don’t actually find every single member of a race unattractive if they were actually critical about their own school of thought.
"I believe people who write off whole races as unattractive fall under this same category. They are ignorant to the diversity of other races, and they conform to what they see in media and what their peers also think, and today’s society still strongly values whiteness as more attractive."
Well then how is this different than height? If you gathered 1,000 5’6” men in a room, you’d see a huge diversity of people in terms of body types, personalities, looks, races, etc. So how can you say that attraction based on height is based in evolution while saying that attraction based on race is a social construct?
Reddit Subscriber: Because race has no indication of health, strength, and capability to protect.
TSC: This is bullshit. Height has no indication of any of this either. No more so than race. Also, racism is a product of human evolution as well. You can’t say that it’s wrong for people to make dating decisions based on race but right for them to make it on height. They are either both unacceptable or both acceptable. I come down on the side that they are both acceptable because of a person’s right to self-autonomy.
Let’s look at an example. A man is 5’6”. That is all you know. What inferences can you draw about an individual person from this information?
None. No more than the inferences you can draw from the information “a man is Black”.
Reddit Subscriber: I guess all those diseases that stunt growth were just a figment of my imagination.
A short stature doesn’t necessarily mean anything, yes, but it can be an indicator of many things. it’s not a coincidence that so many health problems also have an effect of shortening height, not lengthening it. There are a myriad of factors that contribute to your final height, and being notably short can be a pretty reliable indicator that there is something off with even the most insignificant compound in your body, like cartilage, or ossification.
Remember I am talking about this in evolutionary terms, when our species was still new and the smallest health problem could mean life or death.
No where am i saying that short men cannot be stronger than tall men, or more healthy, I am saying it can be an indicator and in that area it is certainly more reliable than race. Pretty sure there aren’t any debilitating medical conditions that slowly turn you Japanese.
"You can’t say that it’s wrong for people to make dating decisions based on race but right for them to make it on height"
I’m not. Nowhere am i justifying making dating decisions on height or race. I think writing off people just for their height is silly and shallow. heck my boyfriend is achondroplastic and is 4’1” tall. I am simply pointing out why preferences for taller men are so common and prevalent.
"I guess all those diseases that stunt growth were just a figment of my imagination."
You seem like an intelligent person…so I assume that you know the difference between cause and effect. Just because diseases can stunt growth does not mean that people who are short of stature are unhealthy or diseased.
"A short stature doesn’t necessarily mean anything, yes, but it can be an indicator of many things. it’s not a coincidence that so many health problems also have an effect of shortening height, not lengthening it. There are a myriad of factors that contribute to your final height, and being notably short can be a pretty reliable indicator that there is something off with even the most insignificant compound in your body, like cartilage, or ossification."
Again; causation fallacy. There are many diseases which can make one shorter. But being shorter is no indication of a disease.
"Remember I am talking about this in evolutionary terms, when our species was still new and the smallest health problem could mean life or death."
Remember, evolution can also be used to explain why racism exists today.
"No where am i saying that short men cannot be stronger than tall men, or more healthy, I am saying it can be an indicator and in that area it is certainly more reliable than race."
No it’s not. Statistically, African Americans are more likely to be impoverished and have a child out of wedlock. So does that mean that being black is an indication that he might be a deadbeat dad and so it should factor into attraction? Of course not. There is no statistical trend which can tell you anything about an individual person. And what goes for height must also apply to race.
"I’m not. Nowhere am i justifying making dating decisions on height or race. I think writing off people just for their height is silly and shallow. heck my boyfriend is achondroplastic and is 4’1” tall. I am simply pointing out why preferences for taller men are so common and prevalent."
It’s no more common than racial preferences. In fact, the statistics for interracial marriages in the United States are very similar to the statistics for coupes containing a taller women and shorter men. 5.0% of marriages in the United States are between taller women and shorter men (2008). And 2.9% of marriages in the U.S. are interracial (2000).
Reddit Subscriber: I need to stress this again; I am speaking in evolutionary terms. Do you think natural selection gives a shit about cause and effect or causation fallacy? No, it’s simply a way to describe how species change through what genes are passed on. Even though I already said this it seems to need repeating: of course being short does not mean the person is unhealthy or diseased, but if female homo-sapiens grew to avoid smaller males, that would mean they would avoid a lot of unhealthy and diseased males. And this is something that would have evolved millions of years ago before anything remotely resembling humans existed, since ‘runt of the litter’ smallness often equating with unhealthyness or lack of strength has been something in animals since there were animals.
Sure, there are plenty of small males are are healthy and are not diseased, and actually perfectly fine. But in our species, females get the pick, with usually a surplus of potential mates trying to get her attention.
Also because I am speakaing in evolutionary terms your African American statistic means nothing here. Race is no indicator of that whatsoever, ‘african american’ is not even a race, it is a smaller fraction of a race, a population which didn’t even exist before the 16th century, which is absurdly recent to have any effect in any evolutionary way.
I also don’t see your point with the marriage statistics, I don’t care about how common it is? And I’m not arguing about how common or not common either interracial, tall woman/short man marriages are, it is not part of any point I am making. Using statistics from today (from the US no less) about race is not a reliable study whatsoever, for the reason I previously stated. It has no indication of evolutionary grounds.
"Using statistics from today (from the US no less) about race is not a reliable study whatsoever, for the reason I previously stated. It has no indication of evolutionary grounds."
Of course you’re wrong. The reason I provided the statistical data was to counteract your implication that a behavior must have evolutionary roots if the behavior is widespread. So, what I am saying is that the evolutionary factors which apply to height also apply to race.
Let me explain further. There was an evolutionary advantage for women to associate with people who were most similar to themselves in terms of physical characteristics. That is because those who are most closely related to you are more likely to provide protection. This advantage becomes encoded in our behavior over multiple generations so that there is a proportionate natural distrust for other humans who do not look like members of our family or close tribe. This is the evolutionary origins of racism.
Ergo, by your own logic, it makes sense that women have a strong preference for men of their own race. They are hardwired to be attracted to that through natural selection. That’s why there are so few interracial relationships today.
See, it’s the exact same argument you’re applying to heightism. They are the same. Heightism is natural, but so is racism. The distinction you are trying to make when it comes to attraction is completely artificial. I suspect the confusion lies in the fact that you were taught that race is an arbitrary social construct while height is an indicator of health. However, evolution doesn’t care about social justice theory. We evolved to distrust people who don’t look like members of our family group. This evolutionary tendency was apparently passed down in the same way the tendency against short stature was (supposedly) passed down.
They are the same.
But just to throw one more fact into the mix: at least one researcher says the the Male-Taller-Norm is not the product of evolution, but of the Industrial Revolution. There are isolated tribes of primitive people in the world today where the women do not select for male height. If height is a sign of evolutionary fitness, how can this be? http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/24375/
TSC: I received this note from an anonymous reader that I’d like to respond to publicly.
I wanted to ask you a quick question about the Anti-Heightism Twitter. You have made a few postings about it and each time I read and check the account to familiarize myself with it. Based upon my observations, it appears that many of the individuals that post negative views and stereotypes about short men are minorities, specifically African-Americans. I do want to be racially insensitive here, but it does stand out. Obviously, the posts on Anti-Heightism Twitter are not a representative sample. Women of every race and ethnicity are represented thereas I scroll down, but I noticed that more of the faces tended to be African-Americans which leads me to believethis is may not be by accident. Do you think or feel that certain races or ethnicities place more of an emphasis on height? I’m sure you have written about this topic before, but I cannot remember what it was and I couldn’t find it. Once again, I do not mean to disparage any race in this question.
(Just kidding. I just wanted to use this graphic)
The short answer to this question is that I do not believe that a person’s race has any bearing on their tendency to accept heightism. What we are seeing here is a confirmation bias triggered by misleading information. Twitter is not a representative sample of our society and so any anecdotal trends that seem to appear would shed no insight onto how society actually operates. In fact, a study was recently done which shows that African-Americans are more likely to use Twitter than whites (“Though African Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 22 percent of Twitter users”). So I suspect that it seems like more African-Americans are tweeting negative things about short men because more African-Americans (as a share of the population) are doing more tweeting generally. Also African-Americans text more often (over the course of a survey, 11 percent of African-American Twitter users used Twitter daily, compared to just 3 percent of whites). By contrast, the article says that African-Americans are way underrepresented on Facebook, so I would bet that you would see these same attacks against short men coming primarily from Caucasians if Facebook was searchable like Twitter.
So basically, the data is bad and so no conclusion can be drawn from it. Twitter is not a representative sample of our society. Plus, even if it were, we would still have to contend with the correlation versus causation issue.
However, as heightism is a social construct based on gender norms, it is possible that different cultures could hold different perspectives as to heightism (as gender norms may vary with culture). But we cannot draw any conclusions about this without better information.
TSC: I need to post this apology for something I posted just a few days ago. On October 25th, I posted a New York Times article entitled, Taller People Are Happier, Especially if They’re Male. I critiqued the substantive meaning of the data and what it means in terms of social discrimination. However, I failed to point out the blatant bias within the article’s tone and language itself.
For those who didn’t see the original post, the article is reprinted (in part) below:
White People Are Happier, Especially if They’re Male
By CATHERINE MAPRELL
As I wrote recently in an article on the happiest person in America, white people generally lead better lives than other ethnic groups. How much better? Here are two charts showing the typical levels of well-being in 2010 for men of various races, and then for women of various races:
As you can see, there’s a pretty steady relationship between well-being and lighter skin tone for men. The whiter men are, generally speaking, the happier they are. (Remember, as always, correlation is not causation.)
I’ll let the sociobiologists among you out there theorize about why.
Oh. Wait. That’s not right. Something’s off.
Oh well. I’ll let the sociobiologists among you out there figure out what’s different.