• Thu, May 6 2010

Bullish: Dealing with Short Men, Tall Men, and Their Various Battles for Dominance

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Women are often judged by their weight, and indeed, it can be difficult to achieve the whippet-thin, rib-baring appearance desired by society (or at least for social dominance over other women).

But men are judged by their height, and there’s nothing they can do about that. There’s no Celebrity Height Club. Even with all the money in the world, Tom Cruise puts lifts in his shoes and calls it a day.

An anecdote: I once gave a marketing seminar attended by about 20 people, including a very aggressive man who sat in the back and spoke up about every five minutes. At one point, I distributed a handout, passing the papers several at a time down each row of people as I continued my talk. He apparently didn’t like the order in which the handouts were being apportioned, and barked “I didn’t get one!” in the middle of my sentence. “I was coming back,” I said, miffed. He was combative throughout the entire seminar, until the end, when he stood up and thanked me and said it had been great. At that point, I was standing right next to him — and at least half a foot above him. I am, at best, 5’8″ in heels.

A few weeks later, the same guy saw me on the street and yelled my name. I stopped and said hello, and then, to make conversation, asked him how he’d been progressing with the work we’d done in the seminar. “I’d tell you,” he said, looking at his (very shiny) watch, “but I have a really important meeting in four minutes. Bye!” Um, okay, Mr. Pointless Blatant Power Play.

And it continues. I was once mentored by a very short, very smart man who seemed to fall into a pattern of teaching me something, and then making a point of besting me over it. Checkmate! Girl-checkmate! I will not be beaten by a girl! I wrote an article in the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine about getting my ass kicked in boxing by a guy who was actually in my weight class. (While I was satisfied to have been taken seriously as a boxer, the coed matchup had to have provided some Rocky-like motivation to any 5’5″ guy in danger of even the slightest chance of losing to a girl).  In contrast, I once dated a very tall man who constantly told stories about how his height had allowed him to assume control of any group without having to do any work or have any particular skills. One story involved going to India and disobeying a policeman’s crowd-control orders by staring him down and pushing him in the chest.

In sum, very short men and very tall men often have personalities rather transparently determined by their height. And for good reason. Every four years, we are treated to the truism that the taller candidate is always elected President (true in all but three elections). I won’t bore you: it’s easy to dig up a wealth of proof that taller men make more money and are more attractive to women. Jonathan Rauch, in The Economist, details the effect more extensively: it is even the case that mothers prefer taller baby boys, ranking them as “more competent and able.” Rauch quotes psychologist David Weeks, who points out that, while tall men are praised for perceived leadership skills, “If a short man is normally assertive, then he’s seen as having Napoleonic tendencies.”

While women at extreme ends of the height spectrum have their own challenges (can’t find men tall enough to date / sometimes mistaken for children), it’s not the same thing. If there is any female height hierarchy, it really can’t go too far when the “best” height for women is basically considered to be “medium”; it’s hard to compete to be average. A 5’10″ woman is not automatically presumed to be the boss of a 5’5″ woman in the way that would be quite likely were the players men. Women kind of muck up the male-height-dominance hierarchy. But for some short men (just some), the idea that the hierarchy of tall men / average men / short men would be stretched into tall men / men of average height and all women / short men — thus pushing their position down even further — clearly rankles. They like to take it out on us.

Here are a few tips for dealing with very short and very tall men (at least the ones whose height causes problems for everyone).

Short Men Absolutely Determined Not to Ever Assume a Social Position Below That of a Woman, Ever, Because, By God, Haven’t They Already Endured Enough?

1. One strategy is, of course, simply to stand up for yourself — which is most easily accomplished by being dismissive. If a short man tries to assert his social dominance over you, gloss over it and dismiss it: “Oh, that’s an interesting point of view. I’ll send out a group email when the final decision’s been made.” (Boy, men who care about being right freaking hate when you refer to their “point of view.” As though it were no better than other people’s points of view! Such men are infuriated, yet have no actual complaint to make! They must fume in private!)

2. However, haven’t short men put up with enough? Other than the few who are incredible assholes, most short men are involved in a day-to-day fight for dignity and power, requiring constant vigilance. If you must dismiss a diminutive jerk as per #1 above, fine, but it’s probably more advantageous to you to make a short man feel like a tall man. Look for an opportunity to (sincerely) say something like, “Oh, I just assumed you’d be in charge of that project.” Even better, find a way to do it in front of other men. If you can manage to (again, sincerely) compliment a short man’s “natural leadership” in front of tall men, you will likely gain a staunch ally, as well as strike a blow against irrational prejudice in general.

Tall Men Who Think They Are The Gods Of Absolutely Everything

1. When Tall Guy tries to assume control of something, he is probably looking for an overt fight, which often doesn’t happen (look, your office has women in it!) When he doesn’t get an overt fight, he often assumes he has won, and that everyone accepts his leadership. Hahahahahahaha. Of course, many men live in a social environment in which it’s normal to punch your friend with your actual fists, and then be friends again the next day; such men assume that when a fight is over, it’s over. It isn’t. Tall guy does not understand that some people’s grudges have a half-life of several years, and that, because he is an unrepentant asshole continuing, every day, to benefit from the unearned leadership he usurped, he will now be undermined in a hundred small ways, forever. When Tall Guy surveys his territory and decides to become the Boss of Everything, that’s your chance to shoot a “Look at this joker!” look at any women and short men in the room. You are mocking Tall Guy’s lack of social skills. Tall Guys who get by on tallness alone have terrible social skills. They’re up so high they can’t even read our facial expressions properly. Exploit this.

2. Obliquely call attention to how slowly Tall Guy types on his Blackberry, with his enormous sausage-fingers. Tall Guy is trying to dominate you through Neanderthal-style hunting and running skills that are rarely relevant in a modern professional environment. He feels like a god? Make him feel like Shrek. A big, slow-talking, slow-moving, bumbling, obsolete, outdated-by-two-or-more-millennia ogre.

3. Don’t let Tall Guy claim all things large. In fairy tales, attractive people are good and ugly people are evil. This is sloppy thinking, just a fuzzy matching of like with like. So don’t let the tall guy be the owner of the “big picture,” “thinking big,” the “big idea.” If Tall Guy is being an ass, try something like “Well, that might be true, but I think you’re getting bogged down in the details.” Then tell him what the big picture is. Tell him “That’s a great start, but we should think even bigger.” He’ll love that.

4. A tactic I learned from my high school debate coach is that when someone has an elephant-in-the-room of an advantage, you just have to call it, and it goes away. I was once in a debate against a very tall, very deep-voiced young man in a Brooks Brothers suit (in high school!) I was 5’4, wearing a jumper from JC Penney (a jumper!), and had only recently learned to modulate my voice so as not to sound squeaky when I talked fast. He made the opening speech. The arguments were nothing special, but the delivery had been trial-lawyer-in-the-movies gorgeous. So I called it. “That was a beautiful speech, wasn’t it? By the time Mr. Westfeld got to the end, I was feeling pretty persuaded that the social contract doesn’t depend on the existence of natural rights at all! And I do love to see a man in a fancy suit. But let’s go ahead and dig a little deeper here….” Calling an advantage makes it go poof; specifically mentioning the fancy suit and then suggesting we “dig deeper” makes explicit the advantage of wealth and attractiveness and then turns it, makes it seem shallow. If you have a Tall God on your hands, you need to call it. Maybe in certain contexts, you could do it explicitly, especially when you’re not trying to take power or credit for yourself: “Well, it certainly is tempting to just go with whatever the tall guy says, but I do remember that this was originally Allison’s idea. Allison?” (You would really have to be the master of “I’m-laughing-because-it’s-a-joke-even-thought-I’m-actually-pretty-serious” to pull this off). But sometimes, you’ll need to do it tacitly. When Tall Guy is done dominating the conversation, backhandedly compliment him for giving a nice “broad overview.” Then suggest that someone else who actually knows what he or she is talking about give us the “real data.” Dismissing someone’s remarks as a “broad overview” acknowledges, in an indirect way, the largeness of the speaker (it’s easy for our brains to associate the big man with “big” speech), and then makes the speech itself seem proportionately shallow as well as insufficiently detailed. Note that this technique is nearly the opposite of #3, which calls for you to claim “big” speech, rather than trivialize it. Either can work, and both can be employed at any time; you’re introducing fuzz into the system of big-is-better.

Of course, only use these techniques against people who deserve it and are trying to use their size to gain unfair advantages. If you use these techniques against benign, rational, fair-minded tall men for your own Machiavellian ends, then you’re no better than men who call women they don’t agree with “shrill.” And no one needs that.

Have your professional and social experiences been shaped by height? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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  • judes

    Never had much of a preference until I dated a few short guys. Never again. I’ll take the pleasant, lumbering labrador over the yappy mean chihuahua with a chip on his shoulder any day. I just don’t think tall or even average-height guys have the issues the little dudes carry around with them.

  • eEv

    I’ve noticed the Can’t Get Beaten by a Girl thing in a lot of men who aren’t at all short. I do walking tours, and quite frequently get middle-aged men who, especially when they’re with their wives, feel compelled to roll their eyes, make smart-ass comments and constantly question me in an attempt to trip me up. Because if they just listen, and learn something, then they’re admitting that I might know something they don’t. I think that one’s a general male problem. Although, even short-ish men are taller than me, so I’ve almost never (maybe once or twice) been in the position of looking down at a guy.

  • georgeelliot

    I’m of average height and once worked in an office in which my boss was just under a foot taller than me and the man who worked as my assistant was shorter than me by a full seven inches. The height disparities made for some tense moments in the work-place and I have to say that I was grateful when my assistant left the company and was replaced by a woman of average stature.

    • Simon

      So you are a bigot towards short men in the workplace?

  • Dan

    Short male here.
    Do everyone a favor ladies.
    When/if you have children. Find out as soon as possible if they will be below average height males.
    If they will. Drown them in the bathtub & toss them in the trash.

    • Jen Dziura

      Dear Dan,

      I’m so sorry you feel that way. If a woman posted here that ugly/fat/etc. female children should be drowned, I’m not sure what the reaction would be, but I think this is just as lamentable. I do think that the strategies outlined above are helpful to men, as well — but it does take a sort of constant mojo to run circles around those who assume that dominance is their birthright. If I were you, I’d develop some kind of undeniable expertise — hunker down for several years and become very, very good at something that is measured in numbers. No one can take that from you. But that, I fear, might be the limit of my helpfulness on this topic. Good luck to you, Dan.

      Jen

    • Jessica

      Wow EMO???? I am a tall women (5’11)and I hate it!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can barely look at other people. I always look down and make eye contact with people only when I have to. BUT to say to kill off short guys is crazy! I live in NM and all the short mexican guys here seem happy and have swagger! They are not nice to tall girls but neither are any other guys. See I’m emo too, but people have to move on! I have a son. He’s 5’5 at 10 (doctors say he’ll be 6’3-6’6) so maybe since he’s going to have a great life he’ll be the one man to take care of me (his mommy). So look on the bright side of your situation!

    • Simon

      Being a tall woman does not significantly lessen your chances of being F***ed unless you are hung up on height. Men’s changes for being f***ed rest solely on women. Please stop trolling! You yourself did not marry a short man, typical “not me but some others I know”, please…

  • Michelle

    As a 5’10″ woman, I’ve definitely seen both pros and cons (mostly pros) to being tall. I taught high school math for a while and, in heels, towered over most of my students, and only had a handful that were taller than me. It makes establishing authority in that context much easier. I know a lot of shorter teachers had more issues than I and had to find other ways to do what just “magically” happened in my classroom. I also noticed that the “tall guy” complex appeared more often in those high school boys than adult men in my experience. The adults I’ve known have tended toward “gentle giants” rather than exploiting their size.

    I also seem to attract very small girlfriends which looks awkward in pictures. In college all of my close friends were under 5’3″ and I can distinctly recall incidents where I was specifically noticed or addressed much faster than any of the rest of them. I also tend to be fairly assertive and confident as a general rule, but even if my more introverted side is showing, I still tend to get more attention from people in customer service roles (hostesses, Home Depot boys, etc…)

    I also noticed in high school and college that being tall and athletic meant that I ended up being “one of the guys” much more easily than my dainty counterparts. This could be a pro or con depending on what you want. It suited me at the time.

    On the down side, if you want to be romantically involved with someone taller than you in heels, the pool of potentials is significantly reduced. I ended up married to my 6’4″ charming husband, so it worked out for me.

    • Simon

      So, your romantic “troubles” were you own because YOU were hung up on Mr. Taller. SMH…

  • G

    In the end, it all depends on the insecurities. If men are insecure about their height, its going to manifest itself. But I know a few short guys and they seem very chill. So maybe they’ve just had success dating women even shorter than them and never had a chance to be bitter. As for the big guys, I dated one in 3 years who was big in every way. And smart to boot. On one hand, it was great being with someone so confident and self-assured. On the other, It was hard to try to take him down a few notches when he was being a prick lol. I’ve come to the conclusion that you always run into problems when dealing with extremes.

    • Simon

      Short men’s “insecurites” about height are the RESULT OF women’s treatment or them and the discrimination they face…

    • Evilbaga

      Why would a short man want to date a woman even shorter? If most women are taller than you, you have to date taller women.

  • Craig

    Height preference is so American, prehistoric and boring. I strongly suggest short guys get away from this North American caveman continent and start looking to foreign women. They put their American and Canadian sisters to shame and most of them could care less about height. It’s just a number.

  • Pippa

    Hey Craig, the reason they like you in those foreign countries is because you’re taller than the native men.

    • Craig

      Hey Pippa, I’m a whole lot shorter than many European girls and some Middle Eastern girls. We all know that most women prefer the six feet or more guys, but I’ve got more respect as a man from women in other parts of the world. I don’t know which native men you’re talking about because the First Nations people that I’ve met have been quite tall, boys and girls. Scandinavian people are notoriously tall. Girls from that region(Sweden, Denmark, Norway) are still way less hung up about a man’s height than North American girls which explains why they are socially ahead in some respect.

  • Short Dude

    I really appreciate this article and wished that I had used some of these techniques earlier in my life (especially on my tall dad).
    But… being a short man sucks! I stopped growing at 14. In basketball, I went from being a top scorer on my team, at 14, to a bench-warmer, at 16, because of height differences between other players and I. In the workplace, executives are tall men (or tall women). Whenever I go out with my close friends (all 6′ and over), I am the only one who consistently goes home alone. When they talk about their sexual conquests, their stellar number of partners and their ease in seducing women, I notice how much more fun they are having.
    Women say they like tall men’s strength and feel safe around them, but I can lift most women off their feet and I find tall men easier to fight… I speak from experience: As a young men, I blew off steam by excelling in mix martial arts and short fighters were always more challenging. In the street, I just go for the legs, tall guys fall like a rotten sack of potatoes and hurt themselves in the fall, then I look at them straight in the eyes and show no fear; they always back down. I try to find my way but it always hits me whenever I’m in a competitive social setting. Even with my stellar grades in undergrad, athletic track record and commitments to extra-curricular activities, I can’t find the right amount of self-confidence. No matter how hard I tried, it always seemed that the taller dude wins in the end.

  • Fred

    I’m always amazed that more people don’t kill themselves. Especially short men. I’m one, almost 60 now, and most of my life has been disappointment. I don’t go more than a few months without thinking of killing myself. I’ve lacked the courage so far, but if certain things don’t improve in the next few years will probably do it.

  • Michael

    Being a short adult male is the single most disastrous things that can happen to a man. Height is absolutely critical to everything in adult life as a man. As a short adult man my only regret is that I am 25 and am only through 1/3 of my life

    • KiNGZ-MENTALiTY

      how tall r u

  • Savvy

    being tall is quite good but not as profiting or rewarding as you guys think of it. am 6’3 and can u believe am 20 years now yet no sex because no girl agreed to date me. what should i do coz they complained of my overly taller than them!

    • Ila

      I bet you only hit on little childlike girls (alot of tall men are). Find a tall girl we’re dreaming of you!!!

  • TJ

    I am a middle aged guy who is 5’5″ and Ive had a pretty good life. I learned early on that average and tall guys have a lot of advantages. A lot of my successes have been from 2 strategies in this area.

    Understanding that height is an advantage but only in the area of perception. People will swoon over tall guys in all kinds of conscious and unconscious ways, just accept that. However, thats not all there is in life. There is actual performance. Be a good writer, be well spoken, be dependable and be honest. You will gain on the margins much of what you lose in perception. Tall guys are slow, tall guys get tired easily, they get discouraged easily because so much goes their way in life they often move on when things get tough. They are often looking for the next better job, the next better girl, the next better or easier task. Be there when they give up and walk away.

    Don’t fall victim to the short guy complex. People hate that. Be happy that you are who you are. You are faster, probably tougher and more resilient and you can outlast and outhink a lot of tall guys because thats life when you are short- Thinking and moving and hanging in there. Yeah you will get shot down by a lot of women but so what: theres like 2 billion of them so just move on to the next one: you won’t lose if you don’t give up.

    • Louise

      I`ve known tall guys who were quick, energetic, and hard working.
      Maybe stereotypes don`t ring true either direction.

    • Chlo3

      I think there is some truth to what TJ is saying. Tall men generally get more opportunities presented to them and as such don’t really learn the value of hard work. When things don’t go the way they want, they simply move on, safe in the knowledge that something else will soon come up.

      This is backed up by countless studies that show 6 foot plus men get the best paid jobs, have the most reproductive success and attract the most women.

  • KJ

    Oh, dear, short man syndrome.

    Anecdote alert: Let me just say, I have a shorter boyfriend and one of the most attractive things about him is his self confidence. He doesn’t even mention it except to joke that I am not allowed to wear heels around him.

    Then again, he is average height in his country, and I am on the taller side for a woman, so he wasn’t raised with all the hangups of being duh duh duh SHORT

    But all in all, I have known some awesome short men who have the confidence to joke about it, and they have had zero problems, so it is distressing and annoying to read all these comments about putting short guys out of their misery.

    • Louise

      Do they have true confidence or just false vebrato?
      I`ve known several shorter men who were rude, controlling, even violent.
      I wonder, is it something in their chemistry or are they trying to over compensate for something?

    • Gloria

      I know a hella-luva-lota tall men that fit the same description. The average height for men in prison is 5’11.

  • Brandy Brown

    I dated a short guy. He admitted that he was short, but not when lying on his back.

  • Eyd

    some people will always find reasons to show they are better than the rest…either by height,race,tribe,country,e.t.c..for the very short or very tall,these guys will always find a link between whatever you do & your height…my advice,AVOID THEM LIKE A DISEASE.

  • Jack

    I love how this article and subsequent comments expresses how to deal with both tall and short men, but favors tall men all of the way (like every article on the web that discusses height and men). Everything points toward the SOCIAL HATRED OF SHORT MEN, relationships, the workplace, and school. No wonder short men have issues.

  • Justin

    Wow, a fellow short buddy showed me this article out of pity I’m assuming, and it couldn’t be more false.
    To all my short buddies out there. Please, please don’t ever take advice from a women on men and what to show interest in. 95% percent of the time women dont no what it is they want in a man in the first place. Being a short dude all my life I’ve never had any problem with women or relationships, or having friends for that matter, good buddies. There all way bigger/taller than me besides maybe 2. It is possible for ppl to look up to you and appreciate you no matter what your height is. Many many ppl, women/men have told me I have ‘carisma’ which means more than any basketball players height, or mr Olympias strength. Stop listening to these cute women who make themselves feel like they need to have more dominance than a guy by making him feel insecure, even tho it is pretty cute when sexy girls try to be a ‘bitch’. Remember, your not out to try to be better than anyone or try to make a group of ppl feel like your the dominant one. Just be natural, cool , calm , collected. When you feel like u need to prove a point, others will notice and that’s when you look like a pussy. What ever your height is, your a MAN. You don’t need to hide behind anything. Remember that and you’ll win and gain the influence, and respect of ppl, especially women.

  • Elena

    Regarding By judes comment.. I too try not to judge but have also had some (and I’m only average height.. 5’6″. and very petite/slim) really unpleasant experiences with shorter men.. and with some, yes.. that chip resides and isn’t going anywhere.. gives all the normal ones a bad rap, if you ask me. Where are the normal guys though? I actually prefer guys my own height.. it’s nice to be able to kiss, look someone in the eyes, and makes alot of activities more fun.. they are also usually more energetic.. the lumbering labrador is overrated, and they actually come with just as may issues regarding their height and insecurities. I honestly think everyone deals with their own issues and in the end.. noone is perfect.

    • Gloria Kay

      I have had bad experiences with men over 5’10. What does that mean?

  • Nkonye

    I’m 6ft 2 and love every inch of my height. No one has the right to tell another person not to exist! One thing I will say that puts me off men in lack of confidence. My husband is four inches shorter than me, we’ve been married for 17 years now. The most attractive thing about him was his confidence, not cockiness. At the end of the day, he treated me like a lady, opened doors, picked me up on time for dates etc.

    • Simon

      Stop trolling! Your husband is 5’10 which is one inch taller than the average!

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  • Mansizedfeminist

    Heightism effects women even worse than men (IN The Workplace) the same. As a short guy I’m just as upset that I probably will not be able to rule over a company as I am that my short daughters will face the same fate. To say short men take out height frustrations on women is like saying women have it easier on the dating scene. It’s just a matter of perspective.

    If a man has issues address those issues via actual communication. Short guys are always getting their heads patted at work. Don’t make the mistake of doing it at home. I work on a farm and I am the only worker referred to as bud, buddy or Mr. vertically challenged.

    Finally EVERYONE, sees what they are looking for. If you see a person acting aggressive, insecure regardless of height they might be having a bad day. If you are a jerk, you are a jerk. Tall people are not “So confident they can’t keep it in” and short people are not always a “Napoleon.”

  • Danny

    I’m a 5’5″ man and I thought the article was great! It outlined some things that are a bit difficult to articulate. I never really considered my height to be a gating factor for me until my late twenties. I am assertive and tend to get leaned on when emoloyers need initiative to be taken. I have heard people being passive aggressive with me by mentioning ‘Napoleon complex’ as an unrelated auxililiary subject in a meeting, targeting other people of course, but obviously loud enough so they know I can hear. I really don’t have anything to fire back with. I just want to do the best I am capable of and if that means risking being labeled because of my height I have to accept that. I can’t change how the human condition works. I am extra nice to really tall people because I don’t want there to be any confusion about my intentions/psychology. I

  • Dog king

    Short guys shoot themselves in the feet by whimpering about their heights all the time. Every time I see a short man complain about his height I cringe at how pathetically weak his self esteem is. Not only does the short man lack the veil of perceived dominance, he fully reveals his insecurity for every one to see. As a man I even I can see how unnattractive that is romantically, and there is no way I’m following someone who isn’t comfortable in his own skin.
    As for tall guys who think they’re gods, amused mastery works best. The heirarchy of men goes —> psychopaths —> apathetic funny shitheads —> oak trees —> everyone else. Be the charismatic shithead who prods the beast because he knows the big guy won’t do anything. When you show a tall man that you are not phased by his physical presence the dynamic suddenly shifts in your favour because the tall man rarely deals with social interactions in which his height is a non factor. If you’re good, a short man or woman can almost bully a tall guy.