Some Small Sense

Shopping experiences and store reviews by a very petite woman. Indeed, it sucks. 4'10", 87 pounds, and full grown - is it a surprise I have trouble finding clothes?

June 14, 2006

Short Discrimination is Alive and Well

While it is commonly acknowledged that short people often get the short end of the stick in regards to jobs, respect, dating, and other parts of life, it is not generally acknowledged that this type of discrimination constitutes a real problem that needs to be addressed. It is most definitely acknowledged as an inconvience, but it somehow falls into a zone of inattention and apathy amongst the population at large.

It is discriminatory to use a handicap, age, or marital status against individuals with regard to employment or opportunities. These categories are protected by law because it is generally acknowledged and understood that a negative bias is used against them. Even discrimination against overweight individuals has been acknowledged (most notably against several airlines for firing heavier flight attendants), as these lawsuits illustrate. These traits have nothing to do with a person's qualifications for most jobs - and neither does height. While discrimination against height is allowed in most locations, a few jurisdictions officially have anti-heightism laws - Ontario, Michigan, San Francisco, Victoria (Australia), and Santa Cruz.

The glass ceiling is real, and not just for women and minorities. Is it a coincidence that most corporate executives and public officials are taller than average? A full 30% of men are 5'7" or under but only represent 3% of the executives at Fortune 500 companies. Short people also earn about $800/inch less per year than taller workers and fare poorer for job interviews. (sources here)

The media outlets contribute to the problem of heightism with nary a thought. For example, as I was reading through The New Yorker this week (June 19, 2006), Hilton Als offers both a generous tribute to Gregg Toland and a non sequitur shout-out to Toland's height in The Cameraman. "A wispy, laconic man of five feet one, Toland was born in...." There is no other mention of this anywhere else, no any explanation offered for what relevance it has to the topic at all. Was it difficult being shorter as a cameraman? How does this relate to Toland's work or life? We are left in the dark, with only a budding suspicion that the author was surprised to find that a short person could actually contribute something of worth to the evolution of filmcraft.

There are definitely practical and understandable difficulties that crop up from being short, just like for lefties (Yes, I am that too), that does not constitute discrimination. To reach some of my cabinets that are above my head, I often climb onto my kitchen counter (think nothing of the terror of almost falling sometimes). Chairs are often too deep and are too tall for me to comfortably sit in. Clothes are obviously a pain. Luggage and shopping bags are too big or long and drag or bang painfully into my legs. I am at armpit level on the subway or large crowds, and have even once seriously feared suffication at a crowded college party. At a parade, gathering, or meeting, I often can't see anything because anyone in front of me is in my line of vision. These are understandable and somewhat immutable problems that aren't a product of discrimination so much as a regression towards the average (taller) height.

As a female, I've been shielded from some of the indignities that short men must suffer through. I've never been stuffed in a locker or mocked by potential dates. For men, height is much more the measure of his worth and success, and the degree of respect he is given is most definitely dependant on it.

Still don't buy it? Ask women whether their gender contributed to being passed up for raises or promotions. Ask minorities if they're looked at funny or queried if they know English. When I balk at the derogatory short comments, I'm ridiculed for being "overly sensitive" or "ridiculous." Let's stop pretending heightism doesn't exist and realize that it is a problem that should be discussed with sincerity instead of snickering.



Anonymous Anonymous said...


June 16, 2006 7:20 AM  
Anonymous Anderkoo said...

Although I'm no fan, George W. Bush is the first President in some time to beat the height difference -- he is 5'11" to Kerry's 6'5" and Gore's 6'1".

The New Yorker article you cite is hardly an egregious case; if anything, it's a vast improvement over the usual, "despite his short stature..." statements. A good way to catch bias is to substitute race or gender and see if it still reads OK. Imagine the furor if newspapers published something like "Despite being black, John Brown is still a smart man."

It really would be great if someone tracked all of these media transgressions. And I didn't know anything about the anti-discrimination laws that you posted about.

June 18, 2006 2:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been personally asked on several occasions, "how short are you?", as well as being asked by many prospective employers just how old I was several times over.
As if my passport or other numerous forms of id were not enough to convince them that I wasn't actually a 13 year old with makeup on.

February 21, 2007 1:30 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Unlike heightism, age discrimination is, in fact, prohibited by law. So I do hope that your prospective employers were not actually seriously asking that! Just another reason why being a short female can be difficult - people always assume you're younger.

February 21, 2007 2:33 AM  
Anonymous Mimi Black said...

Thank you for this article, the height discrimination in every day life is debilitating and no one that doesn't have to deal with it takes it seriously, that just shows how bad it is. I volunteer to track the media btw, just the other day TMZ that paparazzi show was making fun of the singer Fergie in a horrible way, I hope she sues the crap out of them. People GET THEIR ROCKS OFF feeling superior to those smaller than they are. I guess it's the only time they feel important.

December 05, 2008 4:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you! How can we get through to these otherwise intelligent and considerate people?

January 19, 2009 7:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My daughter is 17 and she is only4'7". my husband is 4'9" AND I AM ONLY 5' She has only applied to 3 places but, the last 1 opened my eyes when i noticed through the who;le interview they kept making giddy comments about her height. they even brought out the tallest girl there to stand next to my daughter. needless to say she did not get the job and was told she would face too many limitaions there and now i am starting to get worried she wont be seen for her abilities only her height.

July 30, 2011 12:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes this still goes on. i am 56 years and 4'11''. i was doing clinicals as an ma which shocked me. they had the printer/fax machine almost 5' off the ground and told me to use a stool. never have i seen this done. the height scale was movable on the wall and i was mocked at by someone 5'7'' over 200 lbs. i was told that i would have to pull that down on tall people so get used to it. i had worked in a doctors office for twenty years and was never treated like this before i think it was also that i weigh about a 100 lbs. so it was height as well as weight. we are living in a sad world, if we all looked the same it would be boring. so it is really stupid.

August 10, 2012 5:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in Europe (France), I've found your article because of a simple reason: Feeling discriminated I was searching articles about small people, small men. One of signals in Europe: here a small man spends weeks in shops trying to find clothes for him. Is it possible in 21st century?? We're still quite far from the equality..

December 09, 2012 1:16 PM  

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