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Opinion and Editorial

Height of discrimination, at work and home

A. Sreenivasa Reddy
Filed on August 29, 2020

Should short men or women organise themselves to fight the discrimination? Is the bias organised and systemic? These all are up for debate.

Our modern society has many insidious forms of discrimination despite its avowed commitment to equality. 

Colour and caste biases have been ongoing issues in the US, India, and the world at large. Recent shooting of another Black man in the US has reignited the racial fires that were stoked by the death of a security guard, George Floyd, at the hands of the US police in May. 

Fat shaming too has received its fair share of attention. Need for empathy for those struggling with their plus-size bodies is an accepted piece of wisdom now. But what has mostly escaped the radar is the discrimination and low self-esteem suffered by the short-statured people at offices, public places, and homes too. Even though people tend to be in denial, it is often self-evident.

Those of us who occupy the middle space between dwarfs and normal height human beings have some difficult experiences. When you enter an office, restaurant or a night club, you feel the difference right from the entrance. Even if you appear important by way of dress and mannerism, the security guard barely gives you a nod even as he goes out of the way to welcome, sometimes salute, towering personalities. The same treatment awaits you at the hands of waiters unless you befriended them during your earlier visits with hefty tips. 

At work places, there is no dearth of discrimination and slights. People do not take you seriously unless you bring some extraordinary skills to the table whereas average types get along fairly well just because they can tower over you.

There have been studies which proved that wages are directly proportional to stature. The taller you are, the greater is your chance to earn a pay raise or promotion. One of the studies claimed every additional inch of height earns you 1.8 per cent more in wages. Yet another study by University of Florida said the gap is much larger and it is $789 for every inch per year. But I doubt if discrimination works with such mathematical precision. But heightism unconsciously and invisibly informs the processes of everyday life. 

In love life too, discrimination plays out with same ferocity. Preference for taller partners is openly flaunted without any qualms. The popular Netflix reality show 'The Indian Matchmaking' reaffirmed this popular bias. All women featured in the much-debated and reviled show have unambiguously stated their preference for taller partners. But one mother, who sought a girl not less than 5.3 feet for his son Akshay, has been singularly slammed on social media for heightism and a host of other problems.   

Leadership positions too at times elude men of smaller stature. You need to put in more effort to get to positions which others would reach far more easily. There have been studies which showed more than 90 per cent chief executive officers are above average height. Eighteen of the last 22 US presidential elections were won by taller men.  

Late Indian prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, who measured a mere 5 feet 2 inches, scaled the highest positions in politics. He was known to be a resolute and strong-willed leader. But people, both who admired and criticised him, brought up his height in public conversations. Despite his diminutive personality, they used to say he measured up to any occasion with aplomb. The fact that somebody brought in his stature at all in the conversation is symptomatic of the rampant bias. This reminds me of a disgusting statement that emanated from an Indian minister who had the gall to say late president A P J Abdul Kalam was a patriot despite being a Muslim.  

Should short men or women organise themselves to fight the discrimination? Is the bias organised and systemic? These all are up for debate. No definite word yet on this. But what can definitely be said is short men do get short shrift. It is the most basic prejudice in human beings.   

Short people do not need to think so big of themselves. This type of not-so-subtle innuendos are a routine at home, compounding the misery further.


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