Unconscious Bias Against Short Men?

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Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary. Ozy can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter as @ozyfrantz. Writing is presently Ozy's primary means of support, so to tip the blogger, click here.

Comments

  1. Caitlin says:

    You’ve got it a bit backwards. No short women do not get that treatment because women are supposed to be pocket-sized and in need of protection from the big strong men. It’s the tall women who feel it. Tall only belongs on the runway, in the real world it is far from an appealing attribute. Afterall, don’t men believe heels are sexy as long as they’re still short enough to not suggest power? Patriarchal conventions are working both ways here. No one is benefiting from it.

    • Look at ads in the personals sometime.

      How many men say they are looking for a short woman?

      How many women say they are looking for a tall man?

      Example:
      “Looking for a single man who has a real job, tall, sense of humor, kind, generous, enjoy travelling, 5-10 years older and loves chubby girls…and most important looking for a serious relationship that leads to marriage soon.”

      “After all, don’t men believe heels are sexy as long as they’re still short enough to not suggest power?”

      IMO, heels are sexy as long as they’re still short enough to not constantly have to pick you up off the floor. I prefer that they be short enough that you can still run in them, which for most women seems to mean hardly any heels at all, but maybe that’s just me.

      • Eh, not to make this all about me, but I’m pretty tall and have been told by men countless times that this makes me undateable or unattractive. And in the personal ads I’ve seen, many men say they’re looking for “petite” women. I think most of us are influenced to some degree by a culture that says attractive men with are tall and strong while attractive women are small and delicate.

        • I’m pretty sure when men say they’re looking for “petite” women it means they’re looking for women that aren’t fat.

          • Really? I thought it was a synonym for small, that is, short (or at least, not tall) and thin. I’m pretty skinny but have only ever been called petite as a joke!

    • Meerschaum says:

      I’ve seen a lot of guys attacted to tall women. I’m among them, although it’s not a mandatory thing. In my case, I just like to be able to look a woman in the eyes without leaning way over (I’m 6’4″).

      You do see it from time-to-time in pop culture, usually when focus is placed on women’s legs.

    • Chris Morton says:

      That explains why so many short men (and even tall men) go for shoe lifts nowadays. My cousin had an interview last week and when I asked if he was ready, he answered me “Well yes, I’ve got my shoe lifts yesterday”. He got his shoe lifts online from http://www.liftheightinsoles.com and I’m really not sure if wearing shoe lifts for interview is a good idea. Any thoughts?

    • Truthteller says:

      Ehhh…no. Men do that because of women’s bias. One came before the other. It’s not chicken and egg. Even women that are 5’1″ and 5’2″ are out saying 6′ and over. Unless you’re walking on a ladder…it doesn’t matter.

  2. Perhaps it’s genetic? Not saying that it is, just that this is one of those things that you can’t blame on either culture or inherent human nature without a lot of evidence backing up your claim. Otherwise, you can only note that it exists, decide whether it’s a real problem, and then figure out if anything can or should be done about it.

    Personally, I’m not too fond of tall people, men or women. I prefer those who are about my size or shorter. Feels less threatening. I also have a strong rebellious streak against authority figures who appear threatening. Harmless-seeming ones? Your wish is my command. (Unless your wish is clearly insane, in which case I will ignore you.) That’s more likely to happen if they’re average height at most. But I’m probably weird that way.

    • In many species height/size is an “honest signal” of mate genetic quality. Large individuals must not only have the genetic predisposition to height, but also the foraging/hunting efficiency to reach that height, which therefore implies good genes for foraging/hunting. Testosterone also plays a role, and also works as an “honest signal” – because testosterone is an immunosupressor, only males with strong immune systems can afford to crank it out at high levels consistently and thus develop the associated secondary sex characteristics most strongly.

      Of course, this is all based on animal studies and ignores culture, but there’s a very real tension. In almost all biological ways, humans are fairly typical animals, and the systems above are very robust aspects of animal behavior, so it would be surprising if humans didn’t display them. However, we are the only animal with such a high level of complex cognition and culture. It’s not intellectually honest to ignore either cultural aspects or biological background, and a lot of work needs to be done to disentangle the two.

      • wellokaythen says:

        There’s probably something to this argument about genetic selection. But, there are also some significant problems with that as an explanation, even if we leave out cultural issues. (And if we assume genetic and cultural factors are totally separate categories.) Being taller does not only confer some survival advantages; it also confers some disadvantages as well. More compact bodies lose less heat and may even be more efficient at consuming calories, no small difference when it comes to living outdoors and foraging. A stocky male physique might be more optimal than a tall physique. Larger men consume more food calories, even when they are not doing anything to produce food. In fact, having large men in your society is probably as much a luxury as a necessity.

        • Your first objection is actually called Allen’s rule – for warm-blooded animals, as climate gets colder, appendages get shorter, in order to conserve heat. However, Bergmann’s rule also applies – warm-blooded animals get bigger as climate gets colder, because simple increase in size also reduces surface area to volume ratio. Both have been found to apply to humans. Also, remember that size makes it cheaper to move a given distance (as measured in calories above baseline per meter), and metabolic rate scales to and exponent of 0.75, meaning that larger species/individuals require absolutely more calories but less calories per kg (doubling your mass only increases your caloric needs by 68%).

          In reality, any selection will have numerous complicating factors – developmental limitations, tradeoffs with other traits, unusual life history traits, etc. For instance, in many birds, where increased size would complicate flight, red coloration is the “honest signal” (you can tell a male cardinal’s parasite load just by looking at how red it is). Conversely, even traits that are deleterious can be retained if doing so signals the individual’s ability to survive and thrive even with a hindrance (“costly signals”) – think of a peacock’s tail.

          Unfortunately, the best way of untangling this would be experiments that are clearly unethical (raising kids in standardized conditions, etc.)

  3. And it turns out that there is a wage gap when it comes to eight. An US studu from 2004 have stated that it amounts to about USD789 per inch* (which would make it linear) while a German study found that it was nonlinear. The German study** also stated this:

    The maximal effect for men is evidently above the mean of the male height while the analogous maximal value for women is below the average female height. The preference for tall people is partially due to endowment and partially due to discrimination or unobserved productivity effects
    which differ between small and tall workers. For males the endowment effect is more important while for females we observe the opposite. In both cases discrimination seems to be effective. We find employer discrimination and less obviously customer discrimination.

    That seem to support Cailtlin that tall women are punished, but the effect is larger for men than for women, hence when it comes to wages height have a larger impact on men’s wages than it has on women”s wages.

    And then we have a study from 2006 by Princeton economists Anne Case and Christina Paxson*** who found that taller people earn more money than shorter people because they are smarter (I am not tall so I wasn’t properly motivated to search for a direct link to the complete study :) )

    * http://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug04/standing.aspx
    ** http://ftp.iza.org/dp2394.pdf
    *** http://edition.cnn.com/2007/US/Careers/02/02/cb.tall.people/index.html

    • These studies aren’t actually that surprising – brains and bodies are tremendously expensive, requiring large amounts of fat and protein, respectively. Individuals who haven’t had access to sufficient nutrition early in life may therefore have less of each left over for growth after basic metabolic maintenance cost. We know that children growing up in poverty can have serious, life-long consequences as a result of this, which is the rationale behind many early-childhood nutrition assistance programs.

      • Height seem to be about 60-80% hereditary based on several twin studies (see wikipedia on human height). And the result of the German study is surprising in light of your insufficient nutrition theory since the study found that “…maximal value for women is below the average female height.” therefore suggesting that something else is at play also. I doubt malnutrition is a large factor in developed countries.

  4. As the token macrophile and giant fetishist, I feel like I should be saying something long-winded here, but… I can’t think of anything. Well, other than that I agree, and it’s a pretty shitty thing. And yes, while tall women do get treated similarly (I’m not even that tall–5’8″–and I’ve felt it)? It’s not nearly to the extent that short men get discriminated against.

    Short women get to be pixies while short men are, I dunno… imps.

    • Short men are leprechauns!

    • If only all short men really were Tyrion Lannister.

      Actually I’m not sure if the world could live with that high a level of witty quipping.

      • Tyrion is a great example of this phenomenon actually. Look what Tyrion requires to (even partially) compensate for his short stature:

        -Smarter than literally everyone he comes across with the exception of Varys and Littlefinger
        -Richer than everyone he comes across with the exception of his father (considering his status as heir to Casterly Rock)
        -Of higher social status than almost everyone he comes across (Member of a “great house” with close ties to the throne)

        All that together and he is still defined by his short stature, and suffers for it.

  5. This is purely anecdotal, but I’ve heard similar stories from a lot of other short people, especially short women. People expect me to be tall. Sometimes even people who’ve known me for a while will suddenly realized they’re looking at the top of my head and say, “I thought you were taller than me!” I’m a noisy, emphatic, slightly aggressive person (I hope I usually direct this tendency in a useful way), and I was also very tall for a very short period of my life. Women in my family usually do all their growing and puberty stuff between the ages of nine and eleven, and a really tall fifth grader makes for a miniature adult. My mother and I have derived a theory–a purely anecdotal, food for thoughtish theory that might be interesting for some social scientist someday, maybe my little sister once she gets that degree. Being tall for a while, at a particular time, seems to have convinced us that we ARE tall, and maybe having personality traits generally associated with power, and therefore masculinity, either comes of that or causes that or… I don’t know. Either way, I’m a bit of a munchkin, and the same people who only get to find out what color my eyes are when I wear big shoes were apparently under the impression that I towered over them.

  6. Eric M. says:

    “It’s also important to note that these biases are all subconscious.”

    How is that possible when many women openly profess a preference for men who aren’t (in their estimation) short? Their bias is no more subconscious than certain men’s bias against small breasted women.

    Some people would say that it’s a preference for tall rather than a bias against short. That would mean that some men have a preference for large breasted rather than a bias against small breasted.

    • wellokaythen says:

      I was thinking something similar about the subconscious part. I don’t think height discrimination is always subconscious. It’s pretty overt a lot of the time.

  7. I’m a woman and I’m under five feet tall. Yes, being profiled as childlike and thus unworthy of respect or authority all my life has been just wonderful. How likely do you think it is that someone my size will climb the corporate ladder to upper management? The “larger dating pool” someone mentioned consists of men who want a subordinate, victim, or jailbait type, unless the guys are also short (my preference is for short men, so that part is nice). On the plus side, I’m rarely sexually harassed because men don’t consider me threatening enough to need to be “put in my place.”

    At the age of 41 I’m hardly a pixie anymore, but I remember those days. The fact is, guys are self-conscious about what their friends think of who they date, and don’t want to be seen with a “freak,” so I didn’t find it terribly helpful. Other women talk down to me a lot, and female bullies have been a problem.

    • coffee_queen says:

      I hear you so much on this post!
      I too am a small woman, perhaps 5 feet even, if that, and skinny/athletic. Dealing with people who patronize me and treat me like a little kid got old looooooong ago. Mostly it’s kindly old ladies at my church, but still, I cringe when they pat me on the head and talk to me in a baby voice. I am 24 and graduated with highest honors from university last year, yet they treat me like I am in elementary school. They do not speak to the female high school student this way, maybe because she is almost 5’8. Annoying to say the least…

      The “larger dating pool” someone mentioned consists of men who want a subordinate, victim, or jailbait type, unless the guys are also short (my preference is for short men, so that part is nice). ” Oh god this is so true! I don’t know how many tall guys thought I would swoon for them or be attracted to them because if they loomed over me and made a point of contrasting their hugeness with my smallness. No. Many of them have gone on to sexually harass me and not take “no” for an answer, which I can’t help but chalk up to me being small and them incapable of accepting that, despite these characteristics, I am NOT easy to control.

      I’m seriously attracted to shorter men because they can’t loom over me and try to control me with the size difference, but so far no luck. All the short guys I know already have partners.

      But yeah, there is a definite height bias. My best friend in the world refuses to date anyone who isn’t taller than her. She wants to “feel like a girl.” Not withstanding the problems in that idea, she also can’t understand why I want to date a short man. The other day I was telling her about a crush I have on a guy at my gym, and when I described him as being “only a little bit taller than me,” meaning “not able to loom and cast me in his shadow,” she immediately caught onto the word “taller” and said ‘GOOD!” as though the extra couple of inches above my 5 feet was all that mattered. :\

      I’d love to date someone 5’3 or under…I just can’t seem to find any single guys that short who are also interested in me.

      So here’s a few questions to any short men out there: have you met with consistent height discrimination in dating? If so, do you ever just wanted to say “fuck this shit” and give up? Do short queer men also experience this heightist dynamic?

  8. I’m also under five feet like Layo and people are sometimes pretty patronizing toward me. LIke Layo said, not worthy of respect or authority and treated more childlike and undermined often. That is until I open my mouth. I actually think it’s one reason why I can be pretty vocal and strong in that resolve because it’s hard to get people to take you seriously unless you demand it when your petite. People always feel like they get to ask you how tall you are and how “cute” you are and make other condsending comments. Sure, being called “cute” doesn’t sound condsending intially but when you add context and tone of voice, it changes the perceptiion. It’s sometimes hard to get people, even my own peers, to treat me like an equal. Short guys don’t seem to have much interest in me (perhaps they don’t want short kids) and tall guys either love my body type or don’t. But either way, my size always seems to be important either way. However, due to other conversations with people I have found that no matter your body type, people always got something to say or judge you by. It’s not just short people. I talked with one young woman who is very athletic and had thick muslced thighs and people would even make disparging comments to her about that. It seems that for most humans, no matter your body type, you’re going to get a judgement made. Unless you are conformed to the top limited percent of people that tend to be tall and good looking. But even for good looking women, negative stereotypes about their intelligence or spirits are still made. Ultimately, I think it’s what you do with what you got and how you act that will deteremine how people treat you. People dont’ give me respect right away and sometimes they never do but often they are surprised to find out I’m not as easy to push around as they may have thought. Or as nearly childlike as they thought. Just because people hold negative stereotypes of you based on your looks, doesn’t mean you can’t succeed and push through that.

  9. Doug S. says:

    Height is also a proxy for age. When you’re a child, people who are taller than you are also either adults or older children, and not deferring to them is a good way to get into trouble. On the other hand, anyone shorter is fair game. The “short person = child” instinct probably doesn’t go away just because someone isn’t actually a child, either…

    • Height becomes less of a proxy for age when other traits are taken into account, though. For example while I am short, I am consistently judged to be older than my actual age because I am balding (male pattern baldness, not shaved head) and bearded, and this overestimation of age has been consistent since I was 17.

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