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: 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.
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.
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: I have to give credit to supportfortheshort.org for sparking my curiosity as to a disturbing trope which often arise within our popular culture with regards to heightism. An article recently appeared on Fortune online about the rise of Women in the United States in terms of economic and political power. The article is essentially a book review for Hanna Rosin’s novel, The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, which is described as “an exploration of the modern career woman and her effect on the economy, gender norms, and masculine self-worth”. In it, Rosin interviews real people in order to support her thesis that changing gender norms within our society are the result of changing economic circumstances. And here we have an example of life imitating art.
With a cocktail in hand at a Yale Business School party, Sabrina chats about her likes (red wine, Lady Gaga, and Angela Merkel) and her dislikes (short men, FDBs — financial douche bags — and immature texts from scorned exes). The green-eyed beauty could easily roll with Carrie Bradshaw’s posse. She’s single, poised, successful, and attractive — “one of a kind” is how an old flame describes her.
Whether Sabrina is a real person or a conglomeration of characteristics of many different women is irrelevant to the discussion because attitudes like this have become quite common. Here we have an ivy educated woman in her early 30s, who we also latter discover is a banker, casually professing her hate for a group of people without apparent shame - as if her disdain were completely rational and obvious. Sabrina perfectly demonstrates that lumping bad behavior, professional rudeness, and short men into the same category is completely appropriate in mixed company or even when talking to a journalist. Now, all of this begs the question, “does Sabrina’s demeanor in relation to heightism remind you of anything?”
Sex and the City (1998-2004) has been hailed among critics as a groundbreaking work of entertainment which has spawned several copycat shows and has had an indomitable impact on our popular culture. One could also argue that the show represented a sort of post feminist ethic of the modern heroine. On the one hand, this post feminist modern heroine is celebrated for her economic power and social independence, but on the other hand, this same power and social independence is conflated with a culture of excessive consumerism; where femininity is defined by the clothes one wears, the men one associates herself with, and the parties one attends. And of course, such a vapid and consumerist ethic (where image matters more than substance) does not bode well for short men who live in a heightist society. We can see this during several episodes in which short men were openly ridiculed or shunned for being short, presumably because short men were intended to represent the antithesis of the “fabulousness" depicted by the show’s lead characters who were, in turn, meant to be aspirational role-models for their young audiences.
Take, for example, an episode from Season 6 entitled “Splat!”. All you have to watch is the first two minutes to get the idea. It doesn’t even require a set up. And after that, you also may want to see (08:20-8:40) for a very subtle cautionary message to the viewer that old women lose their fabulousness with age and so you may want to find a partner quickly - lest you end up with a short man.
And please do not assume that the attitudes expressed in popular culture in regards to the post feminist heroine are regulated to dating. The attitudes about feminism and short male inferiority are widespread and appear in several episodes of the series and its progeny. The problem is not about attraction, or lack thereof, but about attitudes which are normalized and spread into the real world through entertainment such as this. It represents a dangerous aesthetic which further encourages a type of intolerance which is rarely criticized.
Other shows following the Sex and the City model of the post feminist heroine include:
To be completely honest, I’ve never actually watched “lipstick jungle”, but I’ve read enough synopsizes about the show to confidently place it within the Sex and the City genre. But I have direct knowledge that the other shows listed here make negative comments about short men throughout their respective series. In fact, if memory serves, a character in “Cashmere Mafia” had something bad to say about short men in Episode ONE, Season ONE of the show (though I couldn’t find the clip on youtube).
For some of you, this may seem trivial. You might think, “what’s the harm” and “everyone has their own opinions and biases”. Well, why that may be true, we have to consider the social consequences which arise from a cultural paradigm in which the open disdain for short men is considered a function of female empowerment. Remember that “Sabrina” from Hanna Rosin’s book is a Yale educated banker. Would I, as a proud short man, want to be sitting across the table from Sabrina, my bank’s loan officer, trying to negotiate a rate on my home mortgage or a business loan? Should I be concerned if Sabrina, my stock broker, suggests a great investing strategy to me when she knows that I am a short man? How many Sabrina’s are there in the professional world? What is their impact on our broad social goals to make our world more equitable for anyone willing to work hard and play by the rules?
TSC: So, to add more fuel to the fire, I submit for your approval this research paper from scientists at the London School of Economics. The learned readers of this blog have long known that heightism is a social construct. But these researchers go even further and hypothesize that even the Male-Taller-Norm is a fairly recent social construct which arose out of the industrial revolution when communities transitioned from being concentrated and highly cooperative to being dispersed and self-reliant due to an increase in the relative number of “strangers”.
(To be honest, when I first read this paper years ago, I thought “there must be some mistake”. We live in a modern society which is so awash in heightism that I couldn’t even imagine a society in which short men are not regarded as automatically inferior. Notice the fact that most people have never heard of this research or anything like it.)
You can click on the link here to see more information, or you can Download(138KB) the PDF in order to read the entire paper. Here is the abstract.
How universal are human mate choices?: size doesn’t matter when Hadza foragers are choosing a mate
It has been argued that size matters on the human mate market: both stated preferences and mate choices have been found to be non-random with respect to height and weight. But how universal are these patterns? Most of the literature on human mating patterns is based on post-industrial societies. Much less is known about mating behaviour in more traditional societies. Here we investigate mate choice by analysing whether there is any evidence for non-random mating with respect to size and strength in a forager community, the Hadza of Tanzania. We test whether couples assort for height, weight, BMI, percent fat and grip strength. We test whether there is a male-taller norm. Finally, we test for an association between anthropometric variables and number of marriages. Our results show no evidence for assortative mating for height, weight, BMI or percent fat; no evidence for a male-taller norm; and no evidence that number of marriages is associated with our size variables. Hadza couples may assort positively for grip strength, but grip strength does not affect the number of marriages. Overall we conclude that, in contrast to post-industrial societies, mating appears to be random with respect to size in the Hadza.
TSC: Clearly, heightism is a social construct which is heavily influenced by culture. Case in point - the Jung Yong Hwa"height controversy".
Jung Yong Hwa is a famous South Korean singer and performer who, as it turns out, may have been faking his height as 5’10”, even though he is really much shorter (maybe 5’7”?). Apparently, the controversy broke when the singer spontaneously went on stage during an awards ceremony to great a friend who had just won an award. In doing so, he passed by the MC (Lee Hwi Jae) who is also listed at 5’10”. So both of these guys are supposedly 5’10”, but look at the screen grab that is going around the net via K-Pop enthusiasts.
Jung Yong Hwa is the shorter one and the guy standing next to him (within the red circle) is the 5’10” MC. So even though camera angles can play tricks, it’s pretty clear that JYH is not actually 5’10”.
But here is where it get’s interesting. Check out most of the coverage of this topic. Most of the comments about this from South Koreans are in defense of Jung Yong Hwa. it’s amazing to see how many people (both men and women) are saying things like “height doesn’t matter” and “who cares if he lied about his height” and “this guy is so talented, he could be 1 foot tall and I wouldn’t care”. Clearly, there is a cultural element involved in this. If this were an American singer caught doing this, the comments would be much less forgiving. And there would be a lot more general short-man-bashing as well.
So once again, more proof that heightism is a social construct.
TSC: In continuation of a theme, we have this bit of information about lying in online dating profiles. A great blog by OKCupid compiled a lot of data from its users to determine which lies people most often tell on their profile. And of course, the first thing they list is…
"I’m 6 feet tall."
REALITY: People are two inches shorter in real life.
This whole post was inspired by an amusing graph we stumbled across while trying to answer the question Do taller guys have more sex? The answer, to a degree, is yes, and I’ll expand on that in a little bit. But in this case what was more interesting than the sex was the (supposed) tallness of the guys.
The male heights on OkCupid very nearly follow the expected normal distribution—except the whole thing is shifted to the right of where it should be. You can see it better when we overlay the implied best fit below (pardon the technical language):
Almost universally guys like to add a couple inches. You can also see a more subtle vanity at work: starting at roughly 5’ 8”, the top of the dotted curve tilts even further rightward. This means that guys as they get closer to six feet round up a bit more than usual, stretching for that coveted psychological benchmark.
When we looked into the data for women, we were surprised to see height exaggeration was just as widespread, though without the lurch towards a benchmark height:
On a somewhat humbling personal note, I just went back and looked at my own profile, and apparently I list myself at 5’ 11”. Really, I’m a touch under 5’ 10”. Hmmm.
As for whether it even makes sense for people to make such an obvious and easily disproved exaggeration, the jury is out. We’ve found that taller people, up to a point, have more sex:
But as far as messages go, shorter women actually seem to get more attention:
These are the average weekly unsolicited message totals by height; you can think of these as the number of times a person is “hit on” out of the blue each week on OkCupid. The genders are plotted on different scales because of the eternal fact that men almost always make the first move, so women get many more unsolicited messages.
It’s plain from these two charts that women six feet or taller are either less attractive to men or are considered too intimidating to message. The data also raises the interesting possibility that these tall women are much more likely to sleep with a man who does approach them. Compare the 6’ 0” woman to her 5’ 4” counterpart: the taller woman gets hit on about two-thirds as much, yet has had slightly more sex partners.
TSC: This picture (amazingly titled “How Love Works”) is another example of how we are indoctrinated into social norms which marginalize short men. Why does the short man have his hands up like he is being robbed? What is this supposed to represent? Also notice how the tall female is put in the male position in her frame with the short male. In all of the other frames, the male is positioned on the left and the female on the right. In the “tall girl + short guy” frame, their roles have been reversed.
This is despicable.
Edit to add: I just noticed something else. Notice how the tall woman in the “tall girl + short guy” frame is hyper-sexualized. All of the other female characters look more like little girls (complete with pig-tails) than grown women. But the female character in the upper-right panel has feminine looking eyes and painted lips.