Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dating Tall Men


This post on Very Smart Brothas asks why women always seem to be biased against short men. Granted, this is completely anecdotal, but I hear women say things all the time like, "I just can't date a guy that's shorter than me." Warning: I am about to take a very controversial opinion on this: Women who discount men because they are short are, well, kind of bigots.

People get really offended when I say that, so if you're interested in my rationale. I recommend you continue reading. Otherwise, you can just skip to the comments section and tell me I'm a horrible human.

Despite the fact that I've never dated anyone shorter than me (I'm 5' 6") and my current boyfriend is closer to 7 feet than he is to 6, I've never really understood women's bias against short men. Not all women are guilty of this, but I've noticed a lot of women say this, and given the reaction I've had from men and women on Twitter, people feel strongly about this.

Height discrimination seems to be one of the last socially accepted irrational dating biases. If you're short, there's literally nothing you can do about that. When I say that I think women who refuse to date a man simply because of his height I usually get a litany of reasons defending this position—pretty much all of which are irrational.

I'm just not attracted to short men.
Fine. I don't really get why you'd eliminate an entire population simply based on height, but there is some evolutionary psychology to back up the idea that women tend to be attracted to greater height. But if we're totally being honest, there are tons of "evolutionary" romantic biases that modern people work around pretty effectively: People tend to be attracted to people that look most like them, women are "attracted" to wealthier men, or that women evolutionarily want to be more submissive to men. Why we adhere to the height "evolution" reason and tend to reject others as biased is beyond me.

Short men have a "Napoleon" complex.
I don't have any scientific data to back this up or anything, but I'm pretty sure Napoleonism isn't a universal trait among men under a certain height. What women mean when they say this is they once dated a short guy who was an asshole and so they've taken to assuming all short men are assholes.

It's "logistically difficult" to date a short men.
Women tend to bring this up a lot, hinting that height affects performance in bed. It's also usually followed up with "well, granted, there were other issues in the relationship." Do you think possibly these "other issues" were why you weren't having such a great time in the sack? Maybe? Possibly? I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there's an extreme height differential between me and my current significant other—yet somehow we manage to work around it. Why women can't work out a hight difference going the other way is, again, beyond me.

I really like to wear heels, and that makes me way taller than a short guy.
I'm sorry, what? No. Your fashion choices don't let you get to justify an irrational preference. Wear flats. Or better yet, wear heals and don't give a shit about how tall they make you.

The thing is, people are ready with all kind of irrational reasons why it might be justifiable to judge someone based on height alone, but it's really weird. Why do they do that?

Probably because the thing that makes them uncomfortable about all of this is that when they say they don't like short guys, what they're really saying is they are passing judgement on men about their masculinity based on a trait these men cannot help. And saying it in those terms makes people uncomfortable, so instead they will come up with strange defenses of this bias to make it seem like this is what's going on.

We perpetuate stereotypes about masculinity because dating is the one aspect in our lives where we're still allowed to be biased. People can't argue with you if you're not attracted to someone. But if they point out that this is rooted in ideas about masculinity and societal expectations, that becomes more uncomfortable for women. They're reminded how society demands they lose weight, look a certain way, act a certain way, or even be a certain skin tone.

Let's just call a spade a spade. If you look at a great guy who's attractive, smart, interesting, funny, and kind—and he's too short for you—you've given in to an irrational bias. That's fine, but just accept you're buying into reductive ideas about masculinity.


Sam said...

Fat men?

Miwome said...

Hear hear! My first boyfriend was shorter than me, and the only thing wrong with that relationship was that he went off to college and got so distracted he forgot to dump me. It happens to lots of otherwise decent people, many of whom are (BREAKING) not short!

Anonymess said...

This may be true for some women. But for others, I think it's the opposite side of the coin: being taller makes them feel unfeminine or worry that they appear so.

Edward said...

I suppose by the same logic not wanting to date ugly men is bigoted, at least to the extent it's something they can't help.

eeanm said...

I would never date a religious person, does that make me a bigot? Or just someone with preferences? We're not talking about renting houses or interviewing job candidates here!

Speaking as a man the same height as you (and about 2mm shorter then my gf), I think this is just silly. :)

figleaf said...

Even though I'm quite tall myself I try to pay a lot of attention to irrational discrimination. And yeah, height discrimination is discrimination.

I first noticed it with a woman friend who's nearly six feet tall. And boy is she biased against any man who's shorter than her when she's wearing heels.

What makes it really irrational, by the way, is that a man who towers over a woman who's five feet tall in heels and is thus a desirable hunka height can also be a complete turn off to a woman who's 6 feet in bare feet.

What's with that?

This general phenomenon in women and its companion phenomenon in men is responsible, in part, for the notion that men are always bigger (stronger, better earners, older, whatever) than women. Here's a good way to check it out.

Go to an event with a bunch of hetero couples in attendance. (I first noticed this at a parents night out auction.) Do a mental inventory of the heights of all the women and all the men with their partners. Unless it's an unusual gathering the men in couples will almost invariably be as tall or taller than their partners. Next do a mental inventory of each woman and check whether she's taller than any of the other men. Again, unless it's a very unusual gathering there will be considerably more overlap in heights.

Which in turn suggests that there's definite bias in heterosexual pairings. Which in turn suggests it's an irrational bias. (I'm not suggesting it's all women, by the way, and certainly not only women. Men have their own biases, including for some not being shorter than their partners.)

Even more anecdotal data: by pretty much any metric my 5'10" father was biologically, economically, and socially a modestly better son, husband, father, and citizen than my 6' tall friend's father. Also I turned out taller than both my dad and my friend's brothers did. So I'm not sure where the notion that there's any significant biological advantage to male height at all, let alone enough of an advantage to have become an evolved preference for women.

Cool post!


JTjarks said...

So does that make men who don't want to date overweight women bigots too? It is what it is. We're hard-wired to find certain physical characteristics in the opposite sex more attractive.

Swellsman said...

Sorry, I just can't buy the premise of this post (And I am a short man - 5' 7").

The problem I have is with your (non-)dismissal of the first argument women use for non dating short men "I'm just not attracted to them." You don't really address this as an issue, you just sort of point out that it doesn't make any rational sense.

Well, duh. Of course it doesn't make any rational (that is, reasoned) sense. Nobody looks at a potential partner and immediately starts trying to figure out whether they should "rationally" be attracted to them. You just either are or are not; it is a matter of the limbic system, not the brain.

And I'm sure I'm going to open myself up to a lot of criticism here, but I remember years and years ago being set up on a blind date with a woman who was funny, and intelligent, and genuinely charming and who made it very clear on that first date that she was interested in me. The problem, though, was that she was fairly significantly overweight, and while I liked her very much I wasn't physically attracted to her.

Later I would tell someone about this, and my friend (a woman) told me that "I didn't know you were so shallow."

"Stop," I said, "stop right there. Don't even try that on me. This isn't shallow, it's a fact of life. I liked this woman very much, but I was just absolutely not attracted to her. I'm not saying that physical attraction is the end-all, be-all of relationships, but it is pretty damned important. So, no, I am not going to feel guilty about not finding this woman attractive."

Now, I'm not trying to justify my physical preferences -- of the preferences of those women who don't find short men attractive -- as "rational" in any way. But I don't blame those women for not finding short men attractive anymore than I am willing to accept blame for being "shallow" because I don't find severely overweight women attractive.

It just is what it is.

Scott Lemieux said...

It's a really interesting question. My position -- against self-interest for someone who has physical traits that are a deal-breaker for many people -- has generally been that on some level any preferences one has in choosing mates are arbitrary. Women that I've dated/been strongly attracted to have almost nothing in common physically, which I'd like to think makes me open-minded, except that they (among other commonalities) range from being very intelligent to extremely intelligent. Not as immutable as height, I guess, but especially by the time one is an adult pretty close. It's hard for me to say that this is any more justifiable than refusing to date short men.

But there is a real cultural prejudice against short men, not just in the dating market, so it's a tough question.

Scott Lemieux said...

Or to put it another way, I think that the bad-faith rationalizations that Kay discusses are much worse than the prejudice (in a dating context) itself. If you're generally not attracted to short men, well, everyone has tastes. "I don't like short men because it's impossible for them to be good in bed," though, it pretty much bigotry.

Ann said...

I'm 5'10" and my husband is 5'4". Before we dated I had a "policy" of never dating anyone who was shorter than me. Funny enough, as it turns out, my now-husband had a similar policy of never dating anyone shorter Turns out he likes tall chicks!

His confidence in himself, as evidenced by his dating record with women who many would think were "out of his league" due to their height, was what made me throw out my "policy". Many short guys are insecure, which is what leads to the Napoleon complex and is also a complete turn-off. Like, if I'd have had to try to convince my husband that it would be OK for us to date despite our height difference, it never would have happened.

So yeah, it's a cliché, but it really comes down to self-confidence.

He loves it when I wear heels, we make it work in bed, etc. We've been married almost 10 years.

sean said...

Why aren't you talking more about the bias against ugly stupid people who have really bad skin? Most people shun these people and it is so unfair. It's not their fault.

Also, why aren't you talking more about the bias against breathing underwater?

Yes, it generally sucks to be short if you are a man , just as it sucks to have any other characteristic that people don't find desirable. But suggesting that people have any control over their response to such characteristics is just plain childish -- and being childish is a huge turn off for me.

E said...

I agree with Swellsman's comment above. It's wrong to attack people's sexual preferences- because that's what thet are- and say that anyone who is attracted to a particular type is a bigot.

But the reason I'm posting here is to say something else: women's height preferences are one of the few sexual preferences that are considered socially appropriate to speak out loud. Go on any dating website- many women will openly say they want a tall guy. Or listen to women talking to each other or to male friends in public, or on tv- they often say they want a tall guy. I've had female friends tell me (a 20s age 6 foot tall man) they want a tall guy.

It's really unfair to men that women can openly say what they're attracted to, but if men do the same, we're considered pigs or frat bros. I'm personally most attracted to slender young white women with large natural breasts. Can you imagine the reaction if I said that to a male friend in an elevator with a woman there, or to a female friend, or on a dating website profile? See the double standard?

I think the best way to resolve the unfairness is for women to stop seeing men who openly state their preferences as jerks. But if they can't or won't do this, they should see talking about height preferences the same way, and stop doing it.

theswiftone said...

This is just silly. Everyone has what they think is or isn't attractive and most of the time, biologically, height is a huge key factor in that. It's a really old trait people have carried around for so long that it's just hard wired into our brains to be attracted to taller men. And actually, on my defense, I don't really like tall guys. I like them when they're around the same height as me. I don't consciously think this when I'm checking out guys but I do realize most of the men I've dated are often only a few inches taller than me. Also, why is this just about what woman think about men? I know plenty of dudes out there who would never date a girl who was taller than them. They don't find it attractive to be the one on their tip toes, very dainty and such, to go up for a kiss. They would actually prefer a girl who is smaller than them. Some people don't mind, and well, good for them. But it is biological and I'm not going to explain that all in this one little comment, but you know how to use google and wikipedia. Do you're own research on human instinct.

juliabhill said...

the point here is, you don't date a person's height.
you don't date a person's race or religion or gender; you don't date a person's weight or their wardrobe.
you date that person.
that is all!


Charles said...

Let me start right out by saying that I'm a short guy, and by short I mean short - I'm 5' 2". (So, dude, I'm sorry, if you're 5' 7" you don't really know what it's like to be short.) And there is definitely a prejudice out there against the non-tall.

Once during a period of singleness I resorted to scanning Craigslist personals, and the single most common trait that women are looking for is - wait for it - that the guy needs to be tall. Go check out the W4M section and tell me I'm not right. At one point I actually posted the question there in M4W: Why the universal unwillingness to date somebody shorter? Pretty much every reply I got back bears out Kay's thesis: "I dunno, I'd just feel funny with a guy who's shorter than I am." I heard this from women who were 5' 11" and from women who were 5' 1". It wasn't something that they'd even thought about; it was just a given that a shorter guy wasn't dating material.

It's a cultural prejudice. When was the last time you saw a male lead in a movie paired with a taller woman? When was the last time that you read some popular fiction in which a male hero wasn't described as being tall? I just finished re-reading The Lord of the Rings (seemed like a good idea at the time) and every single "good guy" is explicitly said to be tall. Fergoodnessake, I think even the freakin' *elves* are tall. It just seems to be a given that that's how you describe an attractive man.

Face it - in this culture, height = masculinity. If you ain't got it, you ain't got It. I suspect that most women - not all, but most - see shorter men as just not being grown-up.

The closest analogy that I can come up with is the common male prejudice against "fat chicks," which is equally stupid, especially when their definition of fat is a 5' 4" woman who weighs all of 140 lbs. And *especially* when they're lugging around a watermelon-sized belly themselves. It's the same, but at the same time not really the same. Most rational people will agree that men are jerks when they dismiss all women who aren't ridiculously model-thin as being unattractive. But as this post points out, it does seem to be culturally acceptable for women to instantly dismiss any man who's not at least four inches taller than she is as simply not dating material.

All that said, I will say that while the population of women who are willing to see me as a romantic possibility is significantly smaller, it still exists. Heck, I was married to a woman who was about four inches taller than I am, and while she did feel it necessary to wear not just flats but slippers at our wedding, for the most part the height difference was a non-issue.

And I really have to say that sean is missing the whole point when he says: "Why aren't you talking more about the bias against ugly stupid people who have really bad skin?" Why are you equating being short with having bad skin or being stupid?

Anon said...

I think the preference for taller men is stronger in the U.S. than other places. Anecdotal evidence from South America is that women like taller men, but its not the total deal breaker that it is for most women in the U.S.

Try this thought experiment "I'm really just not attracted to darker skinned women-darker than a paper bag and there is no chance."

Chances are that you would think that person was treading close to rascism. The strong cultural preference for height might come from a similar place-the idealization of Northern European traits.

people like what they like- but there may be some uncomfortable reasons behind those likes

Jesse M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jesse M said...

Wanted to edit the last one, sorry about that.

Was gonna leave a comment, but it got too long, so I just wrote my own post on the topic instead:

Benefit of the Doubt

Anyway, go Kay, kudos for pushing people to think critically about themselves -- self-awareness is the key to a better world.

GrrrlRomeo said...

Hate to break people's illusions about love, but most of the time physical attraction is just based on what a person is looking for in life. If someone is looking for a mate to reproduce with, they will instinctually be attracted to people that appear fertile and have genes they would want to pass on to their offspring.

Being a lesbian I suppose I've put a lot of thinking into what makes people attracted to someone since it's something I've been interrogated on all my life. I'm not attracted to the same features in women that most straight men are because I'm not looking for someone to reproduce with.

sc cyclist said...

I've never before heard the notion that any dating bias is socially unacceptable. It is absurd on its face.

I'm eagerly awaiting your post complaining that gay men are bigoted against women. I mean, really, how can they just write-off such a large portion of the population? It's just not socially acceptable.

Kay Steiger said...

This post has garnered more comments on my site than any previous thing I've written, leading me to believe that people have really strong feelings about reinforcing dating biases! Still, many people have defended the idea that women are justified in their bias against short men, but such defenses don't address the double standard. If it's acceptable for women to discriminate against short men in their dating biases, then why doesn't the standard go the other way?

sc cyclist said...

There isn't any standard. You made that part up. If a woman is only attracted to shorter men, or a man is only attracted to taller women, there's nothing wrong about it. It's perfectly normal to be sexually attracted to certain shapes, sizes, colors, and genders, but not others.

Kay Steiger said...

Wait, you're saying there's no double standard? Now THAT'S absurd on its face.

Jonah said...

Kudos for this post Kay, it's something that needs to be talked about.

I'm quite amazed at the lengths people will go to avoid dealing with this topic in an actual discussion, many commenters are simply dismissing the argument out-of-hand and justifying it with reasoning that Kay pointed out wasn't entirely rational or even honest.

The most common one seems to be "we're biologically hardwired a certain way, there's nothing we can do about it" - which is actually completely false.

Men are actually hardwired to be attracted to curvy women, because they're better at bearing children, but in the last century we've managed through social/marketing forces to flip that around completely. (Just think back to Renaissance era Europe, where curvy women were the ones depicted in all the paintings as the ideal)

If society can completely flip that genetic disposition around, anything is possible.

And at the end of the day, this bias hurts women quite a bit, although not as much as short guys, watch:

Woman A - Will not date any man less than 6 inches taller

Woman B - Will not date any man shorter than she is

Woman C - Will date a man up to a few inches shorter than she is

Which woman has more options for finding a man for her situation? (be it casual dating, or long-term) You CAN change dating preferences, and it will help you expand your pool of who you can date.

ie - I never used to be attracted to women of color, I realized this was because I had an ingrained standard of beauty that held white women up as more beautiful than others. Then I began to realize that all women were beautiful in different ways. In a city that's half non-white, doing this doubled my pool of women that I can date.

But let's do that same example with men, and the closest parallel to height bias among men - weight bias.

Man A - Will not date any woman who isn't model-thin

Man B - Will not date any woman who is curvy*

Man C - Will date women that are curvy*

* - Curvy = Above average size for women

We know there is a double standard because Women A-C are all considered to be exercising their "natural" preferences, whereas Men A & B are considered misogynistic/shallow/immature (take your pick).

Some women can even be as extreme with height as men are with weight. I've been told by someone who was 7 inches shorter than me that she prefers dating taller guys and it wouldn't work. That is considered perfectly fine, but we have no problem saying things about a 200 pound man who says that Kim Kardashian isn't thin enough for him.

Women know how it feels to be a short man in a way - because women have felt body-conscious at some point in their life. They know how it would have felt at that point to have had a man say to them: "I'm sorry, I'm just not attracted to women your size"

I think this is why so many women are in denial about their preferences - they don't want to admit that they are as shallow as those men they like to hate, or that they made people feel the way they felt before.

Although I should say, that weight and height aren't the same thing - you have some leeway with weight (we all have body types, but there's a big difference between someone of ANY body type who eats well and exercises, and someone who eats junk and sits on the couch) There's NO leeway with height.

Anon said...

Kay, the short thing touches a nerve because its really not some individual taste thing. I like big middle eastern style noses, and that's pretty individual.

The short thing is a general social judgment about the masculinity of short men. Its much more about women buying into this social judgement than it is about individual likes or dislikes.

you can be an ex navy seal firefighter, but if you are 5'6" people don't see you as masculine, and women just reflect that judgment.

The short thing is much more a part of society's overall gender and masculinity issues than women acknowledge.

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