Height discrimination a concern

Many different types of discrimination are given extensive coverage in our educational system and in the media. However, one incredibly common type of discrimination is often ignored: discrimination against short people.

It is ignored to the point where many people are not even aware it exists, and can’t even fathom shortness being a potential serious detriment to one’s success. In economist and sociologist Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, he talks extensively about the psychological bias that exists against short people, primarily in the business world, which can extend to how we basically judge others in social situations.

Shortness is seen, often at a subconscious level, as synonymous with weakness and a lack of confidence and power. In Gladwell’s polling of around half Fortune’s 500 CEOs, a mere ten were 5’6 or less; and while only 14.5 per cent of all American men are six foot or taller, among the 500 CEO’s that number was 58 per cent.

Researchers he cited have found out that a person who is 6”0 will make, on average, over $5500 more per year than someone who is 5”5. While discrimination against short people may not be one of the more overtly harmful forms of discrimination, the lack of attention paid to it makes it one of the most insidiously and subtly harmful.

Many people discriminate against short people without even realizing it: subconsciously thinking of them as a lesser human being because they are less in stature. Shortness can be related subconsciously to a lack of power, and thus our minds can be attuned to automatically judge short people as weaker without even realizing it.

The inverse of this is the concept of the “Napoleon Complex”, which basically implies that if a short person acts assertively or overconfidently, it must be attributed to overcompensation for their shortness.

The most egregious thing the “Napoleon Complex” theory implies is that if a tall person acts in such a cocky manner, it would just be seen as normal behaviour, but if a short person does, it’s automatically an act of overcompensation.

This creates a horrendous double standard in which certain types of behavior are only deemed appropriate if certain people embody them and not others. And in this case, height is the determining factor.  At the very least, our society is well aware of discrimination of race,sexual preference and gender. Thus, people will often stop and ask themselves if they are acting prejudiced in any way.

With discrimination against short people, such mental self-monitoring may not even come into play, given how this particular type of discrimination is often subconscious rather than overtly malicious in nature.

The lack of self-awareness resultant from the subconscious nature of this discrimination is also compounded by the lack of societal attention that is paid towards it. If you’re a short person being discriminated against, it is hard to make your case, because many people don’t even accept that this type of discrimination even exists.

There are no advocacy organizations and no affirmative action policies to help you out — and while I’m opposed to affirmative action as a general concept, the statistics on average income of short versus tall people shows that they perhaps deserve it as much as any of the groups who currently receive it do.

While I don’t want affirmative action for short people, or any kind of “short power” movement that is spiteful toward taller people, I do think this is a type of discrimination that society ignores far too much.

Short people need not adopt a defeatist sense of victimhood, and those among us who are short shouldn’t rush to blame all problems or slights on shortness, but society has a long way to go in even recognizing the existence of this problem, let alone solving it.
letters@thecord.ca

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