Heightism - The Last Bastion of Discrimination
by Joe Mangano
May 2002


Table of Contents

Introduction
1: Causes of Height Discrimination
2: Location of Height Discrimination
3: Language
4: The Media
5: The Street Situation
6: The Job Market
7: The Love Market
8: Denial
9: One Writer's Opinion
10: Do's and Don'ts for Short People
11: Solution to the Discrimination Problem

Introduction

"My you're growing fast! Why you'll be as tall as your father before you're 13!
Eat all your vegetables; don't you want to grow up to be big and strong like your brother?"

We've all heard expressions like these. Whether they were told to us individually as youngsters, or to someone else, we can all identify with these words of wisdom, can't we? After all, who wants to be short?

There are all types of discrimination, all types of prejudices. Some of the more common of these are: race, ethnic background and nationality. Even overweight individuals have appeared on talk shows and have started organizations to assist those like them to combat discrimination. So where are the organizations to combat height discrimination? Why don't they exist? Why is no one (or at least so it appears) interested in helping short people?

Let's analyze the situation a little more closely. Discrimination is about differences. The `majority´ always has an advantage over any minority. Black people, Jews, women, the disabled, American Indians, etc. are all viewed as legitimate groups. They've all demanded their rights. They've all been discriminated against at one time or another. These groups all share certain physical or genetic traits in common. Now, even overweight people have come forward to demand their right not to be victims of discrimination. But short people? It seems they are the only group that has no identity as a group, even though they share a common physical trait that others in society can, and have used as a reason to keep them in a place that other identifiable groups would not tolerate.

This particular prejudice has no legal restraints to prevent people from engaging in behavior that Blacks, Jews, Women, and disabled people and other groups would never tolerate. NEVER. It's all a laughing matter. HA! HA! HA! You're being harassed because you're short? HA! HA! HA! You're being discriminated against because of your height? HEE! HEE HEE! The poor boy. I'm glad I'm normal height.

People can say virtually anything negative that they want about an individuals' height. They can use derogatory words like elf, shrimp, runt, munchkin, etc. They can get away with making light of a person who possesses a physical trait that is virtually totally out of the control of the individual. If that person (usually a male) protests in any way, a typical response might be, "He's sooo sensitive!" As was stated above, no member of any ethnic, racial, disabled, or women's group would tolerate such things.

I was reading a piece on a Web site recently, My Favorite Star Webmagazine. The article was titled, THE INCREDIBLY SHRINKING MOVIE STARS, by Joyce Marcel. Ms. Marcel pulls no punches in her wonderment about the new breed of short actors. She states, "So in an age when people are growing to almost twice the height they reached 100 years ago*, why are Tom Cruise, Al Pacino, Denzel Washington, Dustin Hoffman, Richard Dreyfuss and so many other male movie stars now so shrimp-like?" She goes on to state, "So if I have to put up with little elves for male movie stars, they'd better be glamorous, light-hearted, sexy little elves. Then I'll let them be." This is a prime example of the general attitude toward the short male. What she's really saying is that she does not like short male actors playing the role of a `real man´. She can tolerate them only as light-hearted `little´ playthings and nothing more. She can use any type of derogatory terms that she wishes without any fear of appearing prejudiced. She knows she can get away with it. I wonder what would happen if she compared black people to monkeys the way she freely compares short men to `shrimps´? I do believe she'd be out of a job and her statements would be well publicized.**

* I guess the average height of men in 1900 was 2' 11"

** Not only would her statements get her fired, she would open My Favorite Star Webmagazine to legal actions, and she would probably be forever marked.

1: Causes of Height Discrimination

All species of insects and animals begin small. Helplessness and weakness are associated with being small or short. A baby begins short, and grows. He doesn't start out tall and then shrink. Isn't it only natural to associate lack of size or height with weakness and vulnerability? I would say that virtually everyone makes these associations; but they are not just associations, they are physical realities. Along with greater height comes greater weight, greater muscle mass, denser bones, a reach advantage and a power advantage in striking. The bottom line is this: The greater the height advantage (all other things being equal) a person has over another, the more likely that person will be physically able to hurt the shorter or smaller person in a one on one physical confrontation.

If you don't think that the taller man derives his confidence based on that fact, think again. There is even a saying in boxing; A good big man will beat a good small man. This serves the larger or taller man well. The man is the protector and provider of his family. In times gone by height was a real advantage. Women felt safer with bigger men. Unfortunately many of them still do. But we don't live in the Old West anymore you say. We don't need to fight to stay alive anymore, to hunt food, to fight Indians, etc. But the ancient drives die hard. People can still be attacked on the street. Altercations happen after motor vehicle accidents. Drunks still insult women. Gangs still roam the streets and attack people. Wouldn't a woman prefer a taller man to a shorter one - all other things being equal? Aren't children still bullied in school? The shorter a child is, the more likely he or she will be bullied by other children. Why don't clubs and bars hire 5' 7" 140lb. 5th degree black belts as bouncers? Because no one would be intimidated by them. People are intimidated by size. People are intimidated by men who are tall, and either very heavy or muscular or both. The first thing troublemakers would say to themselves about the 5' 7" black belt bouncer is "I can take that guy." Better to have some 6' 5" 300lb. monster with a bald head and tattoos. This primitive physical advantage of taller people is the basis for the negative feelings and outright discrimination and abuse of shorter people, not to mention the fact that shorter people are also in the minority.

Greater Height makes us feel greater, better, and superior. That's true whether you're a homeless person with no money, or a $2 million/year corporate executive. Go stand on a chair. Now get on your knees. Which feels better? I heard a three year old girl once say to her mother; "Mommy, why are other daddies bigger than daddy?" I also remember when I was six years old and heard another six year old say, "My dad is bigger than anyone." It is natural. It is also natural for the short child/man/woman to feel lesser and inferior to the taller child/man/woman if for no other reason than the fact that he or she is at a physical disadvantage. And short men, we ARE at a physical disadvantage. It doesn't mean the short person is inherently inferior, but it is inevitable to have some feelings of inferiority. If those natural feelings aren't enough, society will make sure the short person knows he is inferior through subtle and sometimes not so subtle cues. But the short person is in the minority as well. If most children were short, and there were an occasional tall child that would be another matter. There are few like him or her. That makes the problem a little more difficult to deal with and solve. Up to this point in time there have been no solutions.

Growth disorders are treated with growth hormones. Genentech, Inc. is a pioneer in this effort. Back in 1985, the FDA approved the first recombinant Human Growth Hormone (rHGH), manufactured by Genentech, Inc. There must be some disadvantage to being short (as seen by companies who promote HGH) otherwise why would a large pharmaceutical company devote its time and effort to finding a drug to make people grow taller?

HGH is not a panacea however. It cannot make six-footers out of five-footers, and it cannot cure genetic defects that cause extreme short stature. There may also be side effects. With the advent of the 21st Century and the breaking of the genetic code, you can bet there will be a medical answer sooner or later to the `problem´ of short stature. It may even involve genetic engineering while in the womb. This makes me wonder. If being short is such a disadvantage that hormones are being used to make short children grow, shouldn't short people be viewed as a disabled minority group? Shouldn't we receive state aid? Shouldn't short people who are discriminated against have the ability to file a complaint or take some sort of legal action against the discriminator? At this point in time there are no public funds that are allocated to short people who can't find a job because society discriminates against them and literally locks them out of many professions. Why are we teased as children, harassed as adults, ignored and not taken seriously by others, spurned by our families, discriminated against in the job market, rejected by women, closed out of many professions, and we just have to sit there with a smile and say, "Oh well, that's life!"?

2: Location of Height Discrimination

EVERYWHERE.

The Western Hemisphere. The Eastern Hemisphere. Europe. Asia. Australia. North America. South America. Africa. (Yes, even Antarctica - explorers tend to be taller than average)

The taller a society, the more it stigmatizes and discriminates against short people. Even societies that are shorter than we here in the United States have height discrimination. This writer has not personally been around the world. But look at even the shorter societies like those in South America or the Orient for example. Go look at the CEO's in these countries large companies. Look at the politicians. Look at the Presidents. They are among the tallest people in these populations. As a matter of fact, The Straits Times Interactive reported this year that a Chinese graduate in Beijing is suing China's central bank for discrimination after it advertised career opportunities that were open only to applicants who met its minimum height requirements. According to the article, "The action against the People's Bank of China is said to be the first ever against an organization or individual for violating a constitutional guarantee for equal rights." This is in Communist China and someone seems to be actually suing for equal rights for short people! Now that takes guts. What should we short people being doing about discrimination here in the `cradle´ of democracy?

Speaking about our country, The United States is exceptionally hostile to the shorter man. Being the greatest country in the world, I guess we expect our people to be taller. I guess the more advanced a society is, the taller will be its population and the less use that taller population will have for shorter people. I've read the studies that have been done in Nature magazine, Psychology Today, Scientific American, etc. These are prestigious magazines and journals. The conclusions of these studies seem to say: The taller you are the better your chances of succeeding at mostly anything, from advancing in the workplace to finding a wife. Let me emphasize however, that that is not because being taller is better.

There is a term that I would like to introduce here. The term is, `unconscious discrimination´. The term unconscious discrimination has been used by some Black leaders. I think it is only appropriate that it be used here because it applies to short people as well. What is unconscious discrimination or prejudice? It is a feeling, a belief, a notion, that short people are inferior. It is not expressed verbally, either to another or even inside a person's own head. It is understood between two taller people or a group of taller people, (or even among short people in denial) without the need to verbalize it or the realization even that it exists. Although given the right situation it can be verbalized. After all, a short person can still be derided with a derogatory name like `shrimp´. Not many people would call a black man `nigger´ in the presence of a group of people. But they would mock a short individual without compunction. A large man can vent his anger, and people stand there in respect. When a short man does exactly the same thing, the collective psychological forces of the `group´ seem to coalesce in invisible unison against him.

3: Language

Practically everything in our language is geared to putting down anything that is small or short. "He has a very SMALL mind." "How dare that LITTLE man!" "This is the long and the SHORT of it". (The short meaning the dirty end of the stick.) "They were SHORT-changed." Puny. Measly. Miniscule. Tiny. All of these words are used a great deal more in the negative than the positive. There are many more as well: "shortcomings", "short temper", "put down", "looking down on someone", "talking down to", etc. Use the adjective `little´ with respect to another person and it is understood that that person has been demeaned in some way.

It works in reverse too, to the benefit of the tall that is. Here are some more: "Standing high and proud", "Put on a pedestal" (a pedestal tends to make one higher), "making it up in the world", "higher up in the company", "standing head and shoulders above the rest", "a high flyer", "above the rest", etc. There is currently a billboard on a New York City highway in remembrance of September 11th that features a silhouette of the skyline of New York City where two beams of light point straight up with the statement, "Stand Tall".

4: The Media

I think it can be said that the media has been very helpful in the cause of helping other minorities. Blacks, Women, Disabled, Congenitally deformed. Even Homosexuals. But the short person or short man? It would appear that now that all these other groups are not fair game anymore, who can we beat up on? Oh sure! We still have short people. Little shrimps. Who cares about them?

Hey, why don't we put a serious drama on TV about the interrelationships of doctors in an emergency room and all the many trials and tribulations both they and the poor people that need emergency care have to endure and call it ER? Why, that's a great idea. To make the series even more interesting, let's make the Chief of ER a no good bastard. A doctor that has an over-blown ego. A man that is uncaring. A man that is selfish and cunning and vents his hostility on everyone. Let's also make him SHORT. Not Black - we might be accused of profiling Black Folks. God knows, they've endured enough. Not Jewish. We might negatively stereotype Jews. Not one-armed or blind - that would be very cruel to disabled people. Not a woman, remember the women's groups. Not homosexual, they have a right to live the way they want. Let's make him a little shrimp and distort the camera angles to make him appear even shorter. HA, HA, HA, HA, HA! That's it! No one will come forward to do anything. What the Hell can they do?

Hey! Let's turn on the TV and watch professional wrestling. Do you notice weight divisions in the WWF? The answer is no. Professional Boxing has weight divisions from flyweight (112lbs) to heavyweight (over approximately 180lbs). Amateur (college and high school) wrestling has similar weight divisions as well. Of course, most people believe that the professional wrestling we see on TV is just staged entertainment. What a sport like professional wrestling does is put very large men on display. ALL the wrestlers are MUCH, MUCH bigger than the average man. The same is true of the women wrestlers. (I'm not including midget wrestling here, even though it exists, it's more humorous than anything else if you judge it by the reactions of the spectators viewing it). The selection of super-big men is no accident. Having no weight divisions and only large men competing is by design. The people who run professional wrestling know people are fascinated, and awed by large size, whether it's men or machines. Although some consider professional wrestling a form of entertainment, this fascination with tall and large contributes to the problems short people face from society. These `big men´ exhibit behavior that is childish, unprofessional, and violent. The exhibition of this type of physical power, where spectators are sometimes attacked (and they're almost always much smaller than the wrestler) influences children and adults to view smaller or shorter people in a negative light, and it doesn't matter whether or not it is staged. Children try to emulate what they see, especially if it's `big men´ they're emulating. That fascination and emulation results in bullying. Short or small children can and are often the victims.

5: The Street Situation

Now let's get into a crowded subway car in New York City. The short person's personal zone of space can and is violated by the taller person. ( `personal zone of space´ is a distance that we in this culture have around us that people usually don't get closer than. That is the individuals' `personal zone of space´. It varies from culture to culture) When it is violated by someone of the same culture it is usually an act of hostility. The taller person is the more likely to violate that zone with a shorter person. He violates it because the shorter person's face is in his chest, the shorter person's face is in his shoulder, back etc. So natural. So easy. Get into a crowded elevator. You know what? The same phenomenon occurs. Take a walk on a crowded sidewalk. The shorter or smaller person is the one most likely to get pushed, or shoved. He or she must be the one to move out of the way so the taller person can pass. The shorter person is the one most likely to be shown the lesser respect. Why? Pure PHYSICAL ADVANTAGE. People tend to live down to their lowest impulses. (Please forgive me for using `live down´ and `lowest´, but the language doesn't permit me any other choice.) Is it any wonder that a shorter person might have a little bit more hostility than average? Is it any wonder that a shorter person might be a little bit more aggressive than average? Is it any wonder that a shorter person might be a little bit more defensive?

The `Short Man's Syndrome´ is a phrase that might be used by some to describe a short person exhibiting the above characteristics. What?! You're not familiar with that phrase? It is used to describe a short man who is very angry and hostile because he is short and vents his hostility on others. Some others I've heard are, `height complex´, `short man's complex´ and of course the famous, `Napoleon Complex´. These phrases indicate something negative about the short person and Lord knows the taller population will grasp anything it can in the way of putting down a short person. It's funny though. I see lots more hostile bigger men. No one refers to their hostility as the `hostile big man syndrome´ or the `WWF complex´. Why? Because others are afraid to. That's why. Might makes right. Of course, they can get away with a little aggression. When you're big an' tall it's your right to be a little hostile isn't it? You've got the strength. You've got the size. It's your right to be tough. Big men are supposed to be that way. They believe it's their right and so does a taller population. I call it `The Tall Man's Theory of Natural Selection´.

6: The Job Market

If two men or women are competing for a job, and their qualifications are equal in every way, the taller person will get the job. Studies have shown this to be the case. Unless of course, the employer is looking for someone to push around, then the shorter person will be chosen which is quite an advantage for the short man isn't it? I've read about women facing a Glass Ceiling. Short people, especially short men, face a REAL glass ceiling in more ways than one. I've seen it time and time again. Their competency is questioned. Their ability is underestimated. They are overlooked or ignored. It's so natural, people don't even think about it. I believe in most instances short people don't live up to their abilities. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Their confidence (self-esteem) is shaken both by direct and indirect means
  2. They are prevented from succeeding by the prejudice and discrimination they face from a taller society.
  3. Short people are not viewed as a group, either by themselves or society, and therefore have no legal or political power or voice,
  4. There are no legal means for justice at this time.

7: The Love Market

We are now in the age of the computer. People use computers to do many things these days. They use computers to find a job, to buy a car, to look up information they would previously have had to go to the library for. Nowadays, people can use the Internet, even to find a mate. Go to any dating Web site. Take a look at the ads of women. Notice their listed heights. Read what they look for in a mate. Usually this expressed preference is several inches taller. A man, however, cannot express an interest in a woman taller than he is, or even the same height, and expect to gather much interest. There are but few exceptions to this cardinal rule. Naturally this decreases the short man's number of possible mates significantly. Ergo a prime reason shorter men marry less often and have fewer children. Many short men are in denial. They unrealistically believe a taller woman will have an interest in them. By and large the taller women don't. As a matter of fact, taller women look down (no pun intended) on short men. All the studies seem to support this. That is, what few studies that have been done. There is a phrase that has been used to describe ideal males from the female perspective. The phrase is, "Tall, dark, and handsome." You'll notice that the word tall comes first.

8: Denial

Denial is defined by Freudian psychoanalysts as a defense mechanism. It protects the ego against painful realizations that might undermine that ego and the personality that it is contained in. The individual denies to himself that he is short. He identifies with the aggressor - that is the taller man or society in which he lives. This is another Freudian defense mechanism. This has been necessary because up to now there has been no avenue of redress for the short person. When a person is shunned by family, discriminated against by society in general, and there are no legal means for justice, is there any other alternative? Sooner or later in time however, a pioneer, or a few pioneers come along. This has happened elsewhere. The same thing can occur here as well.

9: One Writer's Opinion

As a short adult man, I know first hand discrimination, hostility, prejudice, and just basic human cruelty; that is, the desire to hurt someone else because he or she is at a physical or psychological disadvantage. I don't think any short person should continue to take a soft line on this. It is a time for anger. Nothing will be accomplished without the willingness to FIGHT. You short people who will read these essays who want society to treat you as an equal must be willing to FIGHT. Look back at all those marches and riots involving black people and you'll know what I mean. I don't mean to say now that we should go wild in the streets. (Although it might not be a bad idea, if we had enough numbers). But short men should consider these points:

People sometimes think that justice comes along all by itself. It's natural to believe that. If you claim that people discriminate against you because you are short, you will probably be completely correct but few will listen. If you try to sue another party or entity in a civil matter for height discrimination and no attorney wants to represent you because your `problem´ is not yet `recognized´ by society you won't even get to court. Just because you are right does not necessarily mean that you will triumph. If you attempt to take the matter into a courtroom you probably won't get very far at this point in time. But there will be a starting point. Other oppressed groups have gone the legal route many times and they've won. But now that the 21st Century has begun, this essay and others like it may form a starting point to influence short people to begin to view themselves as a group, much like Blacks or the disabled. As long as short people stay isolated and alone, society's discrimination will continue unabated. The media will continue to negatively stereotype short people, and society in general will do what they've been doing all along.

10: Do's and Don'ts for Short People

  1. Do believe in yourself
  2. Do fight for your rights
  3. Do use a combination of overt and covert tactics to fight the wrongs that others perpetrate against short people
  4. Do use legal means
  5. Do hold your head high
  6. Do buy clothes that make you look good (as difficult as that may be sometimes)
  7. Do respond to slights (as long as it's not a foolish risk)
  8. Do take the issue of short stature discrimination seriously
  9. Do eat properly
  10. Do workout
  11. Do learn to physically defend yourself
  12. Do relax
  13. Do help other short people
  14. Do make the issue of short stature discrimination known
  15. Do be strong (physically and mentally)
  16. Do remember that there ARE others like you (this writer is one!)
  17. Do live in a place that minimizes stress
  18. Do write about discrimination against short people
  19. Do be prepared for the unexpected
  20. Do guard your dignity
  21. Do discuss your height only with a trusted friend, family member, or a trained, qualified professional that knows that there is real discrimination and dislike of short people
  22. Do attempt to initiate organizations for short people (colleges, schools, communities, etc)
  23. Do make legitimate complaints when needed
  24. Do expose others who attempt to hurt you
  25. Do watch and see how taller others are treated in comparison with you (words, tone of voice, actions, facial expressions, etc.)

  1. Don't be intimidated by larger or taller people
  2. Don't believe a professional psychologist or non-short person (or anyone else for that matter) who tells you the problem is in YOU
  3. Don't convey weakness
  4. Don't kiss A-S-S
  5. Don't hurt yourself with anger
  6. Don't be passive
  7. Don't be caught off guard
  8. Don't be silly or childish (Society loves a valid reason to discriminate against you)
  9. Don't be intimidated by police or people with uniforms
  10. Don't do drugs or alcohol
  11. Don't associate with those who don't respect you or those who treat you improperly - AND THAT INCLUDES EVEN FAMILY (many times the worst perpetrators of injustice to short people are family members)

11: Solution to the Discrimination Problem

Like other groups that have been the victims of unreasonable dislike, prejudice, discrimination, abandonment, ostracism, etc. short individuals must have an organization that works on their behalf. Of course, before that occurs short people must identify themselves AS a group. This may be the most difficult step. Getting short individuals to band together as a group, and getting enough of them, to have any kind of a legal voice will admittedly be a difficult task. The laughs. The jokes. Are you willing and courageous enough to endure that? Do you take others actions seriously enough? Are YOU willing to be serious? Do you enjoy a handicap that is imposed upon you by a taller society? When you protest or attempt to protest (which few if anyone has yet done), society laughs at you or ignores you? Of course you don't. The fact that you're reading this proves that you are no longer in denial. That's an important first step. A step towards reason. A step towards eliminating this silent prejudice. This `short´ essay is but a beginning step toward that goal.

Please direct any comments, questions, or feedback to me at heightdiscrimination@yahoo.com. Your participation will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.