Tony Asaro points out the ways in which tallness is evil and oppressive, and why tall-person privilege must be eradicated.
Monkey Business by Tony Asaro (composer/lyricist)
First grade: Mrs. Welker's class. I am meticulously tracing my cursive capital Gs, when my pencil point becomes dull. I raise my hand to ask permission to use the pencil sharpener. Permission is granted. All eyes turn.
Not having been allowed to sharpen our own pencils in kindergarten; this privilege is new to us and very exciting.
As I get up from my desk, I am a man. My dull #2 will be sharpened by my hand, bowing to my will. I am empowered. I am virile.
…I can't reach the fucking sharpener! The crank is just out of reach of my fingers, and I can’t get the pencil in. Instead of a sharp pencil, I get sharp ridicule. Instead of capital Gs, I trace self-hate into my blank notebook.
Mrs. Welker rushes to my aid, sharpening my pencil for me with her more than ample arms. She means well, but her help is tantamount to popping a pacifier in my mouth and tying a bonnet on my head. I am impotent. I am emasculated.
From that day until I could safely reach the sharpener (2nd grade), I kept at least a dozen pre-sharpened pencils in my desk at all times. This prevented further embarrassment. That plan worked well, at least with regard to pencils. But as I soon learned, these assaults would come at me from any and every direction.
In little league, I would get up to the plate, and all the outfielders would scoot in to the infield. All the infielders would in turn scoot way in, right in front of me. It was an intimidation tactic obviously taught to them by their coaches. It worked--I usually struck out.
My first day of 7th grade, I was assigned an upper tier locker in the main hallway. I couldn't see the numbers on the top of the combination lock. So, that weekend, I snuck onto campus with a cinder block and a Sharpie, marked a subtle line at “6:00”, and memorized the numbers underneath instead. Somehow, this seemed less torturous than asking the administration for a different locker.
It's easy to pity the poor little guy who isn't tall enough to reach the pencil sharpener. I imagine many of your hearts may have bled a little as you read the first two paragraphs. Wake up world; it’s not pity you should feel, but rage! Even in your sympathy, look at who is getting the blame: it's not that the little guy wasn't tall enough for the pencil sharpener. It's that the pencil sharpener wasn't low enough for the little guy. I had no control over my height, but the contractor who screwed that sharpener in place could have positioned it at a height that would have ensured usage by all children.
That aforementioned pity is itself symptomatic of the larger problem: the world we live in is designed to persecute and punish short people. This is true with all disenfranchised groups—ethnic minorities, the poor, LGBTQ people, the differently-abled—but with those groups, there are strong factions rallying against the oppression. The factions are made up of people belonging to those groups as well as sympathizers.
This is not true for short people. Tall-person privilege and tall-person preference are ubiquitous in our society and are upheld by tall, average-height, and short people alike. Because tall-person privilege goes virtually unchallenged, the result is a social malaise: a tall-person dominated worldview, or as I call it, Altimyopia.
Why design a classroom where smaller children can’t reach one of the basic classroom utilities? In retail clothing stores, why stack the smallest sized jeans on the highest shelf? Why is there always that one prick on the subway that leans against the vertical pole when it’s obvious that you can barely reach the horizontal bar? Why do people say things like “He’s short BUT he’s handsome”? And don’t even get me started on umbrellas! All of these are symptoms of a society plagued by Altimyopia.
There are many bars and restaurants in this city that will never receive my patronage because they have for some reason hung the urinals in their men’s room at my navel height. I refuse to arc my stream! Had they hung the urinal six inches lower (well, seven and a half, but that’s not what this post is about), everyone would be able to use the urinal!!!
How many chairs have I had to sit in with my feet dangling? How many times have I been trampled at a gay club because looking across the sea of heads, the tweaked out queens see what appears to be an open space, but instead is me? How many SUVs have I driven in which I can barely reach the gas pedal? How many wife-beaters have I bought that fit me like a tube dress? Every facet of society is rife with Altimyopic infection, and only we can cure the disease. This is a call to arms!
The revolution, or should I say WEEvolution, has already begun! We are small in number (and in size), but we are not without our moments of triumph: The seating at the Mitzi Newhouse! Flying coach! The Mazda Miata! But there is more work to be done. We must start with our own lives—in our own homes.
I once dated a man (as a WEEvolutionary, I only date short men) who had decorated his apartment with all of the usual accoutrements, but, my brothers and sisters, the art, the mirrors, the clocks, bookshelves and sconces (gays like sconces), were all hung at my/our eye level! When I first looked around his apartment, I was close to tears. It was like I’d come home.
JOIN THE WEEVOLUTION!
If you are under 5’8”, this is your war! You must live out in the open. No more lifts in your shoes (or crazy high heels, ladies). No more avoiding horizontal stripes. No more lying about your height in your online profiles. No more styling your hair to give you that extra inch and a half. No more jokingly referring to yourself as “vertically challenged”. No more dating tallies! (Sure, tallies can be nice individually, but they are the oppressor! Who wants to bed a tall person anyway? Limbs everywhere! Yuck.) Most importantly, NO MORE WISHING YOU WERE TALLER!!! You know who sees that? Your friends see that. Your co-workers do too. And your bosses and clients see it. Most detrimentally, your children, likely to be short themselves, will see it and internalize it.
I was lucky to have been raised by two very short, and very loving and empowering parents. My father taught me that being short meant that I’d have to fight harder to prove myself. He also warned me against Short Man’s Complex. “Let the adversity turn you into a champion, not an asshole,” he would say as he’d point across the kitchen to my Uncle Paul, scratching his belly and yelling at his wife. My father was, and is an excellent role model—a true WEEvolutionary.
To you who are of average-height, this war is yours too. While you might be free from the overt oppression of Altimyopia, you are not free of its patterns. According to this study done by the National Bureau of Economic Research, tall people report higher levels of happiness:
Please note that the article in the respected TIME magazine is written with an Altimyopic voice by a heightist tall person who somehow thinks it’s appropriate to belittle short people while reporting on this important study.
Also, from an article published by The Economist:
A survey of Fortune 500 CEO height in 2005 revealed that they were on average 6’0” tall, which is approximately 3 inches taller than the average American man. 30% were 6’2” tall or more; in comparison only 3.9% of the overall United States population is of this height. Similar surveys have uncovered that less than 3% of CEOs were below 5’7". Ninety percent of CEOs are of above average height.
You of average height are under this glass ceiling as well.
It’s time for you to reject tall-privilege, average-heighters! You are not short, it’s true, but you are “not tall”, and in a world predisposed to rejecting things “not tall”, that groups you with us! You’re high yella in the Altimyopic eye. Join the WEEvolution!
And lastly, to the tallies… Yeah you. And you. Certainly you. Oh wait, not you? No, of course not. You’re not one of those tall people. You’re not part of the oppression. Some of your best friends are short, right? When you sit down in a movie theatre, you always look behind you to make sure you won’t be blocking some short person’s view. I’m sure you look over your shoulder every time…
You will now.