Height, an often overlooked issue

By Nick Shlafer

Macalester regards itself as a progressive, tolerant institution. We’re supposedly willing to question the status quo, debating gender and race. Yet on height, we’ve got a long way to go.For the uninformed: height is a social construct, but most don’t treat it that way. Not only is tall privilege rampant, but so is the persecution of individuals who don’t conform to standard height identities. For instance, I identify as 6’8″, but am told that I’m “biologically” 5’5″. When I try to buy clothes for “tall” individuals, I’m questioned by cashiers. When I tried to explain my alternative identity to the DMV, they refused to grant me a driver’s license. Asking someone to specify height is inherently tallnormative; I refuse to participate in such discriminatory systems.

Macalester should work against this. Instead, we further it.

There is a distinct lack of a height studies department despite emphasis on other, socially progressive scholarship. Why not offer something like Deconstruction of Tallnormative Repression on Race, Genderqueer Theory, and Cisgender Institutions through Critical Theory Analysis? This is a simple idea that is just as valid as any course in the HMCS or WGSS departments.

Others share the blame. The math department reifies the tallnormative system through measurementism; feet, inches, meters and other oppressive “units of measurement” are used on a near-constant basis. Students who reject such primitive notions must either drop or fail classes, as they are required to specify units when answering questions. The biology department encourages the notion that height is not socially constructed, but since I lack a background in genetics, I’m not “allowed” to argue against their “concrete evidence.” Judith Butler has already shown that we don’t need scientific data to back up scientific claims. Why doesn’t scholarship mention alternative height theory?

This repression pervades Macalester. The new athletic center encourages participation in an inherently tallnormative institution, what with its history of excluding height-neutral individuals deemed “short.” Many dorm shelves are too high to reach without standing on a chair, another construct (billed as “furniture”) designed to marginalize the “short.” Those who don’t conform to hetero-patriarchal measurementism must choose a height identity, which I find appalling at a “progressive” institution.

Even the social sphere at Macalester is rooted in tallnormativity. Despite actions taken against those who dressed as a Klansman and in blackface at last semester’s politically incorrect party, hardly any mention was made of an equally despicable appearance at the party. At least one student showed up as a “short” person, in addition to whatever other costume he or she wore. When I protested, some ignorant people told me that those partygoers were naturally short, that it wasn’t part of the costumes. Of course, it is widely known by me that these people are wrong. If they’d read any critical theory, they’d know that height is nothing more than a socially constructed oppressive system of power-knowledge. The so-called “naturally” short individuals dressed up to adhere to this system, yet saw no consequences.

Clearly, Macalester condones the othering of height-neutral and heightqueer students. When will we finally rise up and overcome this?

Nick Shlafer ’09 can be contacted at [email protected]