I confess that I have always been guilty of nimbyism when it comes to short men. I’ve felt distaste at people vocally sneering at short men, but I’ve rarely dated someone short.
Indeed, I have never known there to be an open prejudice justified so much by otherwise right-thinking people. Among liberal young women, “He was 5’6”, of course,” is so often the punchline to an anecdote about a man acting in a rude or entitled way.
To dismiss a man, rude or otherwise, as ugly or stupid would be distasteful. But somehow, dismissing him as short is often considered funny. On social media in particular, even “woke” or right-on women feel comfortable making jokes about short men. They legitimise their prejudice with the defence that women are dismissed for their weight or their looks by men all the time, or curiouser still, that it’s “a primitive urge” to be drawn to tall men (such primitive evolutionary reasoning also concludes that women are built to pop out babies and men to cheat on their partners).
On a recent night out, a woman in my group rejected a man by barking “he’s too short”. When we suggested she shouldn’t have said so out loud, she countered with: “but the patriarchy”. It often feels like women’s anger at men is misdirected towards their height.
Mostly, though, the dismissiveness of short men is casual: Volodymyr Zelensky, Tom Cruise and Emmanuel Macron are bigged up as “short kings” who actually managed to land attractive women. At around 5’7 or 5’8, they are actually near the average height for men across the world. But many women wouldn’t even consider short or average-height men as potential dates: they see them as simply swimming in different waters.
A study published earlier this month was the latest to suggest the existence of “short-man syndrome”. It claimed that being a short man increases propensity towards traits such as psychopathy and narcissism. Previous research has suggested short men are wired to be hot-tempered to compensate for their height. I’m not sure how reliable such studies are, but in a way that’s not the point as the theory has become widespread. Speak to young single women about why they go for tall guys, and they’ll often bring up a date who was constantly trying to prove himself to compensate for his lack of stature, or who lied about his height on a dating app.
Fair enough, you might think. But heightism is becoming harder to ignore – precisely because you specify the height you want in a potential partner on dating apps such as Hinge. Women are said to only want a man over six foot. Statistics from the dating app Bumble suggest more women want to date someone who is seven foot tall than someone who is 5’11 (apart from anything else, this is not good for anyone’s necks). And yet the average height of a man in the UK is under 5’10. Even stranger is the fact that the six-foot requirement results purely from the quirks of the UK’s imperial measurement system. Women in the Czech Republic don’t only lust after men over 182.88 cm tall.
Is it something to be concerned about? We so often shrug off the hypocrisy of our prejudice against short men because we associate complaints about such imbalances as the preserve of furious, misogynistic incels. But overwhelmingly, the experience of short men is not anger but sadness: scroll through forum posts by men who haven’t had a date in years and are suicidal or investing their life savings into limb-lengthening procedures, and your stomach will churn. It’s also worth noting that there is a weird racial dynamic to our fixation on height; it tends to be western Europeans and Americans who are tallest; the shorter nations include Guatemala and the Philippines. Isn’t it odd that we think it compatible with wokeness to discriminate by height?
If short-man syndrome exists, then it does so because short men are born knowing they are fighting ingrained societal preconceptions. Surely that means it’s up to us to resolve it, too?
[See also: How dating a couple set me free]