Sunday, March 06, 2005

salute your local short guy

Spinning on the iStereo here in the RV is "Pablo Picasso" by Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers. Its most memorable lyric: "Well he was only 5'3" / But girls could not resist his stare." In response to which, I suspect, few men harbor the illusion that there was really anything All That Special about his stare. The thing was that it was the stare of Pablo Picasso, and that becoming someone of Pablo Picasso's stature is basically your main hope if you are only 5'3" and aspire to heterosexual romanticosexual irresistibility.

When I was in the throes of my pubertal growth spurt, I remember that each new inch would come as a source of great relief. "There," I would think when I reached 5'4", "at least I don't have to worry about being 5'3" my whole life."

Sources tell me that eHarmony, the online soulmate finding service, allows much flexibility to its matching parameters. By default, it will only search for your soulmate within a given age range, but you can opt to expand the permissible range all the way out to statutory and gerontological limits, if you want. eHarmony, however, has one rule of matching that you cannot, by any means, modify: the service will not match a man with a woman who is even one inch taller than he is.

As things turned out, I happen to be about exactly the average height for an white American male (I'm between 5'9" and 5'10'"). This makes me basically a spectator to the major dramas of height and its consequentiality for men's lives. Even from the bleachers, though, its importance is hard to miss. Being short, I've thought, has to mess with a man's head. Meanwhile, being tall, I've always envisioned, must be like being born with a silver yardstick in your mouth.

Sometimes people say that being short for men is like being fat for women, but, obviously, any analogy HEIGHT:MEN::WEIGHT:WOMEN only goes so far. One difference, of course, is that being overweight is something that is culturally defined as both (1) your fault and (2) something you can change, whereas if you are short past your teens, you are burdened with neither blame nor hope. Another difference, at least in Heterosexual World, is that boys and girls are handed different roadmaps marking out the alternative routes to romantic success. Roughly, at least, the prevailing picture still seems to be that, if you are a woman, you can either (1) Be Attractive or (2) Be Amenable, where (2) can take on a variety of different meanings depending on the socio-cultural-lifecoursical situation. Meanwhile, for men, you can either (1) Be Attractive or (2) Be Accomplished. Moreover, women's (2) is defined clearly as a cultural-consolation-prize to (1), while, for men, (2) can put one on roughly equal footing with (1).

In any case, whatever the specific role of affection-aspiration in why, maleness is so completely bound up with the imperative that being a person of worth means being somebody. My thinking has been that, all else being equal, the shorter a man is, the more urgently the flashing Must Be Somebody sign must blink in his brain. Perhaps I am wrong.

It is interesting that, although I'm roughly in the 50th percentile for height among white American males, it feels like I'm in about the 70th percentile for height among white American male academics at research universities. As I've moved up in the world, from high school to college to graduate school to faculty-hood, I've gotten relatively taller compared to my male peers. I've sometimes wondered whether, if I was six inches shorter, I would be the hardest working man in sociology. And whether, if I was six inches taller, I would work at all.

18 comments:

dorotha said...

so... do you ever get called an asshole? i mean, you aren't short, but you are average. does that keep you in the asshole range?

jeremy said...

Dorotha: Don't you have a pal who lives with a painter? I remember you telling me that the guy is totally driven and paints constantly. Two questions: (1) Does he lead a promiscuous life? and (2) How tall is he?

Happy Cinnamon Roll Being said...

It could be that shorter guys work harder. Or it could be that for some reason, short guys end up in academia, and since academia doesn't promote you based on your looks or your leadership ability (and other things associated culturally and psychologically with height), the short guys stay around. Why do short guys end up in academia? Anxiety is associated with short height, and anxiety is associated with introversion, and introversion is associated with doing well in school. (Short height itself could cause anxiety, but it is also plausible that anxiety can stunt one's growth -- there is so far only a bit of research on this.) Also, taller guys are more likely to be selected into the popular groups of kids where other professions like business are more valued.

Anon said...

It bears mentioning that Napoleon's height was actually pretty average for his time. His height sounds shorter than it is, since 5'2'' or whatever was in French, not English units.

Now and then, perhaps, there is a short person who is especially driven, but is there any reason to attribute that quality to their shortness? Is the proportion of hard-workers or high-achievers really higher among short people? I doubt it.

As the last post suggested, there are probably more short guys in academia, not because they work harder, but because more short guys choose academia, and because the ones that are there are promoted despite their height.

Another theory of drivenness is that gout, which mimics the effect of caffeine intake, has been behind some of the great accomplishments of humankind. Alexander the great and such figures are sometimes said to have this disease. I had a philosophy professor with gout who's written something like 40 serious books.

jeremy said...

Wow, Anon, you sure put me in my place with those observations about Napoleon and about gout. What was I thinking?

Anonymous said...

It's not really relevant to this discussion of vertically challenged men, but check out today's article on feral cats in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Anon said...

I can't tell if that was sarcastic! So just in case it was, I'll clarify. The point about Napoleon is that the "Napoleonic syndrome" idea is where most people get the idea that short people over-compensate by overachieving. If the source of that stereotype was a misunderstanding, it casts at least some doubt on the stereotype.

The reason for mentioning gout is not that I necessarily agree with this theory, but that it seems to me on the same level of pop-history or pop-sociology as height-based theories of heightened drivenness.

Maybe, though, there really is a limited phenomena of short people becoming accomplished in some way, whether by publishing a lot of papers or getting really big muscles, specifically to compensate for the disadvantage of height. But it would be difficult to determine that that was the cause; if everyone assumed it was the cause, the person might start believing that it was the cause as well.

jnsys said...

Personal opinion here: I am likely to go for funny and active over insanely attractive, as attractive fades, but funny/sense-of-humor is worth its weight in gold. As regards the height thing - I am uncomfortable around men who are much taller than me, although if they were funny enough, that probably wouldn't matter :) I think that's because every relationship I have had with a much taller man has quickly disintegrated when I found out how shallow/selfish/egotistical/just-plain-crazy-in-a-very-bad-way each of them.

On the whole, "short-men work harder" thing - Napoleon's reincarnation is very much alive and kicking and working in my department. He also believes he's god's gift to women, but has no idea that the expression on our faces is nausea, not attraction. Any sense of attraction is wiped out the moment he opens his mouth to speak. Just one example...

Anon said...

The thing that makes me uncomfortable about some of this talk, is that it sometimes seems that whatever a short guy does, this is attributed to his shortness. There are always a variety of complex factors behind someone's personality and achievement levels. Why, when anyone does anything out of the ordinary, say that it must be due to the most visually noticable thing about them?

I've heard there are findings that when tall men act decisively, they're considered to have leadership potential, while short guys with the same behaviors are dismissed as pushy. Similar phenemona have been discovered for Jews vs gentiles, blacks vs whites, and men vs women. When there's something different about someone (in a way that lowers their status), we tend to let that influence our perception of them, whether by attributing all their characteristics to that one difference, or by being generally less kind in interpreting their actions.

Anonymous said...

Chimps Gnawed Genitals!

This just in, folks, and leave it to mainstream media sources to keep readers puzzled and confused. As previously reported, Buddie and Ollie, two combative and unhappy chimps at a sanctuary in California, were gunned down after attacking a one St. James Davis.

The first report indicated that Mr. Davis had his face chewed off. Wrong! His nose was pretty much taken off, but not his whole face, and according to the latest report, not only was his leg mauled, but so too were his genitals. Local wags have taken to calling the now deceased chimps the Bobbit chimps, in reference to Lorena Bobbitt who did you-know-what to her spouse.

It remains a mystery as to how Buddie and Ollie got out of their cages but at least one mystery has been cleared up. It was the son-in-law of the sanctuary owner who capped the pair as they ravaged St. James male anatomy part, and you heard it second here at JFW, folks.
The Massabi Ranger

Corrie said...

If Jeremy's right about the eharmony rule, that really pisses me off. I'm sick and tired of hearing men complain that women only want to date tall men, but then not being willing to date a woman who is taller than they are. As a tall woman (over 5'10''), I'm taller than the average male, which narrows my prospects considerably. On top of that, I'm in academia where the men are even shorter, according to Jeremy. So basically, eharmony thinks I'm screwed - even before finding out that I'm fat. That sucks.

jeremy said...

Corrie: But, wait, I thought I was a little bit taller than you. How can I can be less than 5'10", you be over 5'10", and I be taller?

Anonymous said...

So, it sounds like being tall and tenured makes you a freak-like statistical outlier in academic circles?

Anonymous said...

Chimps, feral cats,tall and short men .......This Blog gets better by the day. It's becoming a must read. Esther

Anonymous said...

Tall men, short men, chimps, feral cats, no wonder this is becoming a must-read Blog. Esther

Corrie said...

Jeremy: all I know is that they told me I was 5'10" and 1/4 when they measured me this fall at the doctor's office.
But your comment raises interesting issues of perception - even before reading that you were between 5'9" and 5'10" I would have said I was a smidge taller than you. I wonder if people consistently take an inch or so off the height of people that are just about their same height.

Anonymous said...

I must pass along that some friends of mine, married couple late 30's, are roughly the same height. Perhaps he is ever-so-slightly taller than she, but the fact that she is often in heeled shoes, creates the opposite effect. My point? Any time I even jokingly mention that his wife is taller than him, this usually jovial and humorously self-deprecating man responds with a staunch "She is not!". Nothing could rankle him more...-Elizabeth.

Anonymous said...

I for one wouldnt mind some feral cat poems by LDM.