We Are All Short Now

Reihan Salam writes on short men’s failure to collectively reject heightism, and it’s a piece so good I found myself highlighting more than half of it for potential excerpt here. Rather than do that, let’s see if I can get to the meat of it.

First, a good description of the problem:

As I go through life, I will occasionally say, “well, as a short person …” before making some observation. And I’ve found that my interlocutor will often interject something to the effect of, “Hey, you’re not that short,” as if to reassure me. But why would this be reassuring if there were nothing wrong with being short?

And there’s not, of course. One thing I particularly like about Salam’s take is his acceptance that the preference for taller men in certain areas, such as in women’s choice of a mate, is a totally understandable, if regrettable, vestige of our biology. There’s no point in tying one’s guts in knots over an instinctive preference, which, thanks to civilization, can be overcome. (My wife is a bit taller than me and she likes me just fine.)

But there’s no reason to extrapolate that archaic preference into presumed height-based superiority. Being short is not an affliction, and it’s not a modern-world physical disadvantage. (Salam addresses the societal disadvantages, which of course all spring from these erroneous perceptions.) There’s nothing “better” about being tall. But we all behave – really, almost all of us – as though being short is bad, something to be ashamed of, and indeed, something to fudge.

And that’s the problem Salam wants to tackle here. Heightism is aided and abetted by short men themselves. They perpetuate the false idea that being short is a bad thing by doing things like rounding up their heights, or making fun of men who are shorter than they are. This must not stand, says Salam:

To be sure, rounding up is not the worst thing in the world. I’ll tell you what is the worst thing in the world. It is that short men who have internalized heightist attitudes are more likely to stand by as those shorter than them are casually mistreated. In our culture, men who are 5-foot–8 don’t see men who are 5-foot–1 as comrades. They treat their shorter brothers as strangers, or perhaps even as objects of pity or contempt. … To the short men among you, I’d like to ask: Have you ever poked fun at someone for their size? Have you done so to delight your taller friends, and to establish that you are truly one of them? If so, I’d like you to think hard about the place in hell that is reserved for your ilk.

Like many other accidents of biology such as skin color or sexual orientation, the stigmatization of shortness is arbitrary and baseless, and humans would do well to discard it right along with all of its other stupid prejudices. Of course, this particular stigma is not nearly comparable in severity to those based on race or sexual orientation (no one tries to ban short people from marrying each other, or from marrying tall people for that matter). But that only makes a call for short men to back each other up all the more compelling and sensible: Relative to other struggles, it’s just so damn easy. All we need to do is not buy into the myths and prejudices about height, and reject them out loud when we hear them, and things could change. We could start to make a lot of people’s lives easier and less filled with shame about something for which none should be felt.

For the record, I used to say I was 5-foot–6, when technically I measure 5 feet and 5 and a half inches. I rounded up. (My feelings about my height are a major focus of one of my songs as well.) But many years ago I decided it was absurd to try and eke out an additional half-inch for…well, for what? I’m 5-foot–5, and while there are many, many things wrong with me, that is not one of them.

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