Laurie Toby Edison

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Heightism: What They See Is What We Get

Debbie says:

It’s no secret that people, and especially men, are judged by their height and that height in men is linked to power and perceived power. Here’s an anecdotal illustration from The Social Complex, a blog focusing on “heightism.”

For a “person on the street” experiment, this one is well constructed. Two white male actors who look rather alike, are dressed alike, and are extremely different in height: one is 6’4″ and the other is 5’2″, are recruited for the project. I would have liked them to include a third man of a more average height.

Passersby in New York City are asked to speculate as to the men’s occupations and salaries. The tall man is a doctor, an executive, a tycoon. His estimated salary goes up to half a million dollars a year (the average was $220,000). The short man is a cook, or holds a minimum wage job of some kind. They guessed his average yearly earnings at $20,000. And one woman volunteers the theory that he’s unhappy. So we have this experiment’s conclusion: $5,000 annually per inch. And many studies, some reported here, bear out this discrepancy, although not quite so dramatically.

This is just another of the many ways we make assumptions based on what we can see, without any other information about a person. In some ways, height is especially interesting because it is so completely understood to be outside of a person’s control. (Skin color, of course, is also outside a person’s control, except for some extreme interventions. But skin color is loaded with all kinds of–incorrect and noxious–preconceptions about character, history, and experience.)

If anything about people’s bodies was perceived as a neutral characteristic, height would be a logical choice. So along with illuminating heightism, this little video illustrates just how deeply we are affected by how the people around us perceive what’s visible about us.

Thanks to Sociological Images for the pointer.

One Response to “Heightism: What They See Is What We Get”

  1. Adrian Says:

    My graduate school advisor was a very short man, and I think he was very conscious of this in way I didn’t realize at the time. He went to a lot of trouble to project power and authority with clothes, voice, and manner–he was working uphill. When I was a student in the 1980s, I heard about a lot of strategies for women to get men to take us seriously in engineering (or other professional fields where we were a tiny minority), and I read about similar techniques from the 1970s. Modern feminism seems to take on modern business culture with a different style, but I know some of you remember the tactics of trying to come across like a man, only better.

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