12.29.2020-FEMST essay I'm reasonably sure saved my grade
ORIGINAL TITLE: 5’7” and Undateable: An Analysis of Height Prejudice and Relations to White Patriarchy
On December 7th, 2020, a Twitter account titled “dudes who are down bad” began posting screenshots of harsh rejections men received from women, aggregated from various social media and communication platforms. The account, @downbadpatrol, quickly became viral, gaining over two hundred thousand followers within a week. In reading the tweets, a disturbing trend can be noted wherein these men are being rejected for being too short, and the comments reveal that these are not one-off incidents. This is a salient example of a socially inherited script on sexual desirability and value. The prejudice against men shorter than average height, informally known as ‘heightism,’ manifests as the normative idea that tall men are more desirable to cishet women, that short men are materially disadvantaged as a result, and that women are not subject to this height requirement in the same way. Online discourse juxtaposes these standards for men to the weight standards for women, and at its worst, pits men against women in the dating arena. However, social constructions exist in relation to other structures, and assuming an intersectional framework reveals nuances of heightism that connect to race and gender in ways which challenge this basic script. Beyond affecting cishet men of short stature, height plays out in interesting ways on the marginalized body, with some of those most affected being those who are not white and those who are not cisgender. This association of height with dating capital uses the white body as a marker that the bodies of people of color, trans people, and disabled people are constantly compared with, thus having deleterious effects for more than just men. The scope of this essay will be in deconstructing the elements of heightism, finding its connections to the white supremacist ideals the United States was founded on, and proposing alternative scripts to follow given this outlook.
Being of the mindset that the best height for a partner would be a man that is shorter than me or a woman that is taller than me, I was quite surprised to discover that many of my peers did not hold the same opinion. In this way, I also discovered the fluid nature of human sexuality, easily influenced by our loved ones, our consumed media, and our societies at large. Preferences for height in dating is one such learnable component of our sexualities; a script that people internalize in various ways. As previously stated, the core tenets of this script are that tall men, conventionally defined in the West as those between 5’11” and 6’3”, are more attractive to women; that short men typically have harder times finding dates; and that women do not face the same pressure to measure up, literally speaking (Ideal Male Height). During non-pandemic times, height assessments are made in person. In the digital spaces of online dating, a different practice is necessitated, and thus height preference is codified into existence by women asking men their heights. @downbadpatrol’s Twitter posts show several instances where women inquire during conversations as to the man’s height, and are then implied to lose romantic interest once the man self-reports as being shorter than 5’11”. It is also encoded in mainstream knowledge through dating apps, where there are options for listing one’s height or the common practice of stating one’s height in profile. In this fashion, the script holds together well. Height is demonstrably an important consideration to many people when it comes to finding a potential partner, effectively rendering it as a social identity label. Because images do not always provide an accurate representation of a person, the height label serves a practical function, but it also reveals the collective belief in labeling oneself in association with the terms “tall” or “short.” Those who are considered tall can find pride in this trait, linking height to higher value and attractiveness. It is a practice more common towards taller cishet men, signalling that this is a component of their identities as a man, and that they experience benefits when listing their heights.
Height preference and discriminatory practices are learned through various means, heavily relying on the passing of knowledge and ideas through words. The discourse of this script includes phrases such as “short king,” which has positive, albeit humorous, connotations, or “manlet,” on the other hand with negative implications. These invented words tell us that it is occasionally acceptable to be short, but shortness on its own is a mockable trait for men. “Short king” is often used in a patronizing manner as well, and serves as a double edged sword. Similarly, I learned of the preference for tall men when I inquired about my friends’ tastes in partners, finding that a general rule of thumb is for a man to be taller than the given woman’s height. In one instance, a friend who was 5’0” tall stated she would prefer to date men at least 6’0” in stature. As a non-normative value, my own opinions on height stood in stark contrast. In all these examples, while shortness is not always treated in a derogatory manner, it can be seen that shortness is an undesired trait for men and that women actively strive to be the shorter partner. It is considered normal for women to want to be shorter than their partners. Unspoken yet obvious is the assumption that shortness is natural to femininity and tallness is required for ideal masculinity. Shortness feminizes men because that is the role for women to play, be it through not wearing heels around a man or through seeking a taller boyfriend. Not only is shortness a feminine trait, it is also the weaker trait. Power and conceptions of what is powerful are reflected in height prejudice. Stature is associated with respectability, when shortness is denigrated and tallness wanted. This is where the script for heightism begins to fall apart, since the establishment of height as gender roles to be achieved creates people of all genders that fail at the proper height, not just cishet men. In the eyes of Western society, short men fail at masculinity and tall women fail at femininity.
Heightism’s impacts are spread across different communities in striking ways that delegitimize the idea of height prejudice as a men-specific problem. The discourse on height discrimination has some legitimacy through biological experience, with the trend of boys growing taller than girls in puberty and with strength related to a larger, taller body. This embodied experience for some boys growing up does place pressure on men to be “big” and “strong,” related to height. In an article originally published by The Economist, studies found that the preference for statistically taller heights holds out across multiple nations, in career status, and even in presidential elections (Rauch). The preferential treatment for tall men is not only in the dating arena, as it shows up as material advantages in the larger socio-political sphere. Height and stature result in more money earned, with a figure in the hundreds of thousands (Smith). Yet, despite these shocking statistics, there is a nuance these articles on height fail to acknowledge, and that is the confluence of race, gender, and ability. A common sentiment women have expressed is their fear of being taller than their partners. Women might not wear certain shoes if it renders them the taller person in their relationship, and there are pop cultural references to tall women as seeming unattractive. The movie, Tall Girl (2019), centers around a teenage girl who is bullied for her height. In this way, one can see that discourse surrounding height negatively impacts women as well. Additionally, one noted drawback of shortness is the inability to find a date. Consider how this reflects on the racialized body. Asian men in particular are seen as one of the least desirable demographics, a perception influenced by decades of propaganda emasculating and de-sexualizing their bodies (Brown). Not only are Asian men hurt by societal portrayals, they experience disempowerment in the stereotypes about their heights. The flip-side of this stereotype is that Black women are also seen as one of the least desirable demographics in the dating world (Brown). Black women experience a masculinization of their bodies, a well-documented phenomena dating back to slavery-era caricatures. They are perceived as larger, more intimidating, and taller than their actual sizes in ways that dehumanize them. Tall white women get to become models, but tall Black women are seen as a threat.
An additional nuance of height and race is the various genders people have, creating a multitude of experiences with height dysphoria. We see how race can influence society’s perception of one’s gender, but there is also the personal experience of not fitting into the limiting categories of binary gender. Tall cis women face some pressure to be smaller in order to fit into heteronormative relationship structures, and this body dysphoria is only intensified when trans women are considered. Height is a largely immutable component of the human body, and there are no genuinely safe ways to transition to a different size in this aspect (Giotikas). Because height is perceived as gendered, trans people experience greater tangible harm when they fail to conform. A tall trans woman is not only limited in the dating realm the way short men are, they also experience violent transphobia for nonconformity to these impossible standards. Trans women are pressured to be smaller and can feel excluded from circles of cis women. Trans men experience a more subtle transphobia when it comes to height. With masculine traits and appearances being more acceptable in society, transmasculine people are normalized in ways that transfeminine people are not. Being a ‘tomboy’ is fine, and wearing clothing coded as ‘masculine’ is acceptable in many places in the US. Despite this, transmasculine people do have a hard time passing because oftentimes their height marks them as different from cis men. Short trans men may not even pass into maleness because their bodies have been so marked by supposed femininity.
Height discrimination is nonetheless internalized in people as an automatic script. Autopilot responses are inherited from human history, and there is a logical assumption that tall, big men would inspire fear or attraction in people. Height and size are linked to health, and people do generally want healthy partners to mate with in order to pass down positive genetic traits. Humans also prefer living in societies, with other people, and the pressure of not fitting in also inspires a sort of fear. Fear, in return, contributes to this autopilot system of the brain, preventing conscious thought. The autonomic hook that continues to the legacy of height discrimination is that tall people receive positive attention for their height, and there are learned emotional responses to being tall that are reinforced by society. The script of preferring tall men reinforces traditional gender roles for men and women. It both supports women having choice in their sexual relations, but also promotes shaming women for following norms. It makes automatic the association of height with prestige, and associates natural proportions with undesirability. Because it relies on an autonomic process of human inheritance, the practice of height discrimination allows for uncritical expression of harmful ideas and concepts.
With this in mind, heightism is not the same as other theories on society, and does not hold the same weight as those of racism, classism, and misogyny because it lacks a history of violence and the way height preference manifests fails to be distinct compared to these other theories. For example, short men financially suffer compared to tall men, but this is nothing compared to the wage gap between women and men, especially on a global level. Women in the global South make pennies compared to the American man’s dollar. People with disabilities face even harsher rejections of their sexuality and base humanity, alongside a myriad of laws that prevent their acquisition of wealth. Height is not a discriminatory factor that endangers short mens’ lives for the most part. Women can be very cruel to short men, but this gendered sexual competitiveness is merely part of a larger set of rules and expectations between genders. The fact that the main priority of heightism is datability and sex life as opposed to the material conditions of short men does also reinforce the idea of women as sexual commodities, deserving shame if they want to choose partners of a certain height. Succinctly expressed in the song, Short Kings Anthem by blackbear and TMG, the elevation of the short man is for “getting [them] laid.” Ergo, heightism is not important on a progressive agenda.
Not all is grim for the short men and dating-disadvantaged, because humans are capable of shifting social conventions and trends. While classical height norms are being currently perpetuated, participants have the agency to work within the confines of height discrimination to change the norm. There are opportunities to create alternative scripts regarding bodies, as well as the opportunity to exercise free will in order to promote personal sovereignty when it comes to romance. The existence of trans people continually calls into question cisgender and heteronormative standards, and the celebration of trans identity is a powerful exercise in adopting alternative ideas on embodying gender. Additionally, the body positivity movement could adopt height positivity under its mantle as well. There exists persons of short stature, medically diagnosed with dwarfism, and their lived experiences at the intersection of height discrimination and ableism serve as powerful reminders that height discourse can always be more inclusive of experiences outside of norms. Shifting the paradigm of heightism, I propose an alternative script. Instead of accepting shame for one’s height, or shaming others for failing to measure enough, we could work to create a culture that relies less on first hand assessments of appearance. A more compassionate approach to dating that does not judge people based on appearance, but on the mettle of one’s character is possible.
While shorter men do face struggles in the dating arena and in other aspects of life due to their height, this script has many more covert components to it that require a closer look. The script dictates that taller men are more appealing as partners, and it has a basis in evolutionary science. Taller height is associated with prestige, financial stability, political power, and physical strength. Yet, tallness is only a benefit for the white man, as tall women, people of color, and other marginalized bodies experience an intersection of their marginal identity with their height. Tall women are masculinized and are seen as less appealing, with the exception of tall women that can be hyperfeminine models. Asian men and Black women encounter white supremacist ideals of the body relating to their heights that make them the least datable demographics of people, seen in current dating trends. The solution to this script of exclusion will lie in our ability to create a future of acceptance and compassion for others.
Brown, Ashley. “'Least Desirable'? How Racial Discrimination Plays Out In Online Dating.” NPR, NPR, 9 Jan. 2018, www.npr.org/2018/01/09/575352051/least-desirable-how-racial-discrimination-plays-out-in-online-dating.
Giotikas, Dimitrios. “Height Dysphoria.” Athens BJR, Athens Bone and Joint Reconstruction Center, www.athensbjr.com/height-dysphoria/.
“Ideal Male Height - The Evidence.” HeightDB, www.heightdb.com/blog/ideal-male-height.
Rauch, Jonathan. “Short Guys Finish Last.” Articles by Jonathan Rauch, The Economist, 23 Dec. 1995, www.jonathanrauch.com/jrauch_articles/height_discrimination_short_guys_finish_last/index.html.
Smith, Dustin M. “Heightism: Why Being Short Could Cost You $100K.” Propensity for Curiosity, 4 Jan. 2010, propensityforcuriosity.com/heightism-why-being-short-could-cost-you-100k/.