Recently, I read an article about how heightism is a social construct based on gender norms in which the author asks the reader to answer a number of questions regarding the following picture:
1. Do one of these men seem “assertive” while the other seems “submissive” or “pushy”? To me, the man on the left seems very assertive, while the man on the right seems to be bugging the woman.
2. What would you imagine the woman is thinking in each of these images? On either side, it appears the woman is simply listening to the man’s idea.
3. How would you rate the social esteem of each of these men? On the left, the man certainly seems self assured and valued by his peers, while the one on the right seems as if he lacks the woman’s full attention, and is instead annoying her.
4. Which one seems to have the most business acumen? The man on the left.
5. The most leadership potential? The man on the left.
6. Which man would you rate as more attractive? I’m 6’0 tall so I value height a lot, and compared to the woman on his side, the man on the left appears quite tall.
7. What do you think these two people are talking about in each image? It almost seems as if the man on the left is talking down to a subordinate who may have not completed a task to her boss’s standard. The image on the right looks as if the man is asking the woman something (whereas the man on the right is TELLING her.)
8. Does your perception of what is happening in the conversation change from image to image? Yes, unfortunately. I know height should not have anything to do with rank or position, but I (unfortunately) evaluated the characters as if it did.
The author of the post, Geoffrey Arnold, claims that the way I answered the eight questions he presented qualifies me as a heightist, or one who places value on height to the extent that they automatically assume those who are tall possess power (because tall=masculinity=power), and others who may be shorter must be lesser in rank (because short=femininity=submission). Arnold notes that
- Being a masculine woman is probably NOT considered as negative in our society as being a feminine man. In other words, our society values masculinity more than femininity and so it is more important for a male to be masculine, but much less important for a female to be feminine.
- Additional height (or “tallness”) is considered a masculine trait and so more important for a male to have than it would be detrimental for a female.
- Tallness (for some reason) is not considered masculine on a female. Body mass (weight) is considered more of a “masculine” trait on a female than pure height.
He also qualifies these evaluations by saying it is possible that “the negative cultural perceptions that apply to “masculine women” also apply to “tall females” and the positive cultural perceptions that apply to “feminine females” also apply to “short females”? I do not know. However, I have my doubts that it works this way for females.”
I think this part is absolutely true. As a tall woman, I am constantly told that people were scared of me before they met me because they thought I was aggressive, assertive, and powerful. Though those three adjectives are not necessarily a bad thing, the fact that I am feared for simply being tall is unsettling. I also do not find very men who are instantly attracted to me. Instead, they are intimidated. One of my best friends is a foot shorter than me, at exactly 5’0. She says she finds herself being looked down upon (no pun intended!) and is ALWAYS the object of the male gaze. When we attend parties, men instantly come up to her and try to dance, leaving me, 6’3 in my heels, alone. Mind you, these parties have the lights off, so these men cannot see our faces, leaving me to believe the only attraction factor is height. With lights on, I have also found men shorter than me seem intimidated or emasculated. I think these anecdotes provide more than enough evidence to counter Arnold’s three points above.