Short Men Shortchanged


Females biologically programmed to prefer tall guys, documentary says

For a long time I was married to a short man.

This presented no logistical problem because I myself am not quite five feet tall.

My ex-husband was almost exactly the same height as Howard Goldberg, the Montreal-based writer/director of S&M: Short and Male, a film screening Thursday and Sunday at the Hot Docs Festival and set for broadcast on CTV on May 24.

When Howard Goldberg takes off his elevator shoes, which hike him an additional two inches, he’s 5-foot-3 1/2, he says.

My former husband claimed to be 5-foot-4.

In short, he and I were a perfect match – or would have been if we’d been, say, salt and pepper shakers.

But as human beings, our matching stature only fooled us into thinking we were made for each other.

Growing up, but not up enough, I was warned by my mother, herself not quite five feet tall and therefore in the know, that being short would be a problem. “Tall and pretty” were what was wanted, I was warned – tall being not only a preference but taking precedence.

For example, celeb chef Gordon Ramsay was asked recently which celebrity he’d want to cook for. Cameron Diaz, he replied. “She’s tall, she’s beautiful and she loves pink meat.”

Even with all her other attractions, including a fondness for flesh, tallness comes first.

But I was not destined to be tall, far from it, and therefore, I was advised, I would have to, er, lower my expectations.

Which brings me (and brought me) to the short man.

I always suspected it was even worse for a man to get the short end of the stick. And I was right, according to Goldberg. “It’s natural for a man to feel inadequate if he’s shorter than the woman. Or for the woman to feel as if she’s going out with a child if the man is shorter than she is.”

In his film, there’s a scene with a lineup of eligible men. Two women behind a one-way glass pick which man they’d like to date. It’s always the tall man with the most masculine features – even when he has only modest credentials and the short, nerdy-looking guy is said to be a pediatrician and an adventurer.

Goldberg, who says his wife is 1 1/2 inches shorter than he is (half-inches mean a lot to us short people), understands and forgives this penchant for tallness.

“It’s just a biological thing,” he says, “with origins in the evolutionary process.”

The filmmaker recalls, when he was dating, having to “end up being friends” with many women “because they were frank enough to tell me, straight up, `Look, you’re just too short, so don’t even go there.'”

It’s not just the dating scene that shortchanges short men.

“You reach a certain age, for me it was 47, you feel like you’ve been around, you know the ropes and you deserve some respect,” explains Goldberg, who is 50. “And you begin to notice that you’re not getting the respect you deserve …”

With both humour and gravity, the film makes it clear that height discrimination is pervasive and painful. Indeed, the prejudice against short men is so pervasive that even I was guilty of it.

I used to think my ex-husband’s way of being in the world, and therefore with me, was to a large extent shaped by his, well, shape.

But I was wrong in attributing some of his behaviour to a so-called Napoleon complex.

Goldberg says, according to a renowned psychologist he interviewed, “There’s no evidence a Napoleon complex exists, no evidence short men are disproportionately aggressive. Aggression is equal among all heights.”

We just notice it more when it’s coming from a short person, he says, just as we notice little dogs in the park yapping and pestering bigger dogs.

“There’s something incongruous about loud, aggressive behaviour coming from a short, compact package,” he says, “whereas you expect aggression and pushiness from a larger, more dominating person. When a shorter man, who does not in your subconscious equal dominant, begins to behave dominantly, it’s comical, memorable – and repulsive.”

Does that mean people are being unfair in attributing a Napoleon complex to French president Nicolas Sarkozy (like Napoleon, an estimated 5-foot-5)?

“They probably are,” he replies. “Sarkozy is feisty …” Goldberg stops himself mid-sentence.

“Feisty: that’s a terrible word. I just used a bad word. That’s a politically incorrect word in the circle of short male activists. Sarkozy is a fighter, how’s that? See, I myself have absorbed these stereotypes.”

Goldberg says making Short and Male has helped him reflect on and process what he’s been dealing with his whole life. He’s convinced that, in the end, height doesn’t matter. Because when two people are right for each other, both grow in love.

His evidence is a study correlating men’s height and libidinal stimulation in women’s brains. Although the women were instantly more attracted to taller men, when some of them later fell in love with shorter men and were shown pictures of their mates, the same stimulation was provoked.

“So love builds from complex intellectual and emotional attractions that can only develop over time, that have nothing to do with appearance. It’s just that, to allow those types of deep, meaningful connections to take place, we have to get over our hard-wired inclinations.”

As reported by

Judy Gerstel
Living Reporter
Apr 21, 2008 04:30 AM

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One Response to “Short Men Shortchanged”

  1. shoogakube Says:

    I have been dealing with just such things all my life. I am five feet one and a half, a former semi pro ice hockey goalie, a musician, singer, writer and painter. I have done some stand up and believe when I say my act is offence…however, I let a friend of mine how is over six feet, do the exact same act. When they were reviled by me, they were in hysterics when he said the same thin. You are so right to say the reactionto a big brash little guy is looked upon with revultion. It makes it even funnier for me and get more ouragious and outspoken just to see the reaction. Do you know the name of a documantary wher a short and atll go out in new yor witha camera crew and each of the vox pops are asked their profession? every one of the vox pops state the big guy as being a professional of some sort and each and every vox pop states the little guy as being a manual task worker of little intellegence or standing. I have seen it but would like to see it again, do you know what its called and where I can a copy, Ian short but happy, Appleby, a short arsed jock in London

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