The Short Shrift

by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

Alice Robb flags some research that says short men make better boyfriends and husbands:

[A] preliminary new study suggests that shorter men might actually make better partners: They do a greater share of housework, earn a greater proportion of household income, and are less likely than their taller peers to get divorced. In a working paper (it has not yet been peer reviewed), Dalton Conley, a sociologist at NYU, and Abigail Weitzman, a Ph.D. candidate, used data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamicsa University of Michigan project that’s been collecting demographic data on 5,000 families for almost 50 yearsto look at how a man’s height impacts different areas of his relationship after the initial dating period. …

Divorce rates for tall and average men were basically indistinguishable, but 32 percent lower for short men. Weitzman explains this by saying that women who are “resistant” to marrying short men are more likely to “opt out” before it gets to the point of marriage: “There’s something distinct about the women who marry short men.”

But… isn’t it anti-feminist to ask women to care less about male appearance? So argues Kat Stoeffel:

Yesterday, Daily Beast writer Emily Shire argued that Jezebel’s nude rendering of Disney princes “perpetuates the same pressure on men to exhibit a certain physique that [Jezebel] critiqued Disney of doing to women.” That may be. But Shire has missed what makes exerting that pressure so fun. “Not being objectified” is just one of the many advantages of being male. When we selectively revoke this freedom from body scrutiny, we don’t do anything to diminish the meaningful economic and reproductive advantages men enjoy.

Put another way: We will stop Dong Watch once there’s a female president, zero wage gap, and Swedish-level paid parental leave; once tampons, birth control, and abortions are all available free and on-demand.

And so I, too, contend. (My take is less colorful, less recent, and less inclusive of cartoon genitalia.) It’s bleak to think that women must choose between physical enjoyment of a partner they’re attracted to, and one who’s a decent person. Bleak, but also confusing – if it’s empowering to choose a partner in part on the basis of physical attraction, what does it say if the tradeoff of a more attractive partner is having to load the dishwasher every time? (It isn’t in all cases, but Science is not interested in individual anecdotes about strapping men who do their fair share.)

But I digress. What about short men?

The importance of male height in hetero dating strikes me as perplexing, because women aren’t imagined to care about looks in the first place. Women aren’t visual creatures, or so they say, they who have not observed women observing packs of shirtless joggers. Why would any aspect of male appearance matter to women?

Part of the double-standard in terms of who gets to select a partner they’re physically attracted to, without (excessive) shallowness stigma, is just sexism. Men feel entitled to being attracted to their partners, whereas women are, I don’t know, meant to thank their lucky stars if they have company of the non-cat persuasion. A man who falls for a beautiful woman, well that’s just natural! A woman, meanwhile, seems as if she’s regressed to the life stage when falling for a Jordan Catalano was age-appropriate behavior. Yet some of it may also relate to the way female looks-concern most obviously manifests itself, namely in an apparent fixation on this one, unalterable trait. A woman can, if she sees fit, take various measures to be more conventionally attractive. Height, however, basically is what it is.

But is the male-height thing even about looks in the sense of physical attraction? Or is just a status marker? Obviously this will vary from woman to woman – subjective preferences and cultural ideals do tend to overlap. But they don’t overlap entirely. Do women’s heads really not turn for shirtless joggers under 5’7″?

My official verdict on this is that if you truly only find yourself physically attracted to tall men, you shouldn’t somehow force yourself to be intimate with people you don’t want to be. If, however, you’re simply afraid of what your friends will think if you date a shorter guy, and are rejecting shorter men you are attracted to in order to date the people you think you should be dating – and I suspect that this is the case most of the time – then yes, you probably should reconsider. If that means more dates for short men, and more equitable division of household labor, fantastic.