TERRY PRONE: Forget your high hopes: Lack of inches leads to being short-changed

I CAN die happy. I have met Brian O’Driscoll. I haven’t just met Brian O’Driscoll, I’ve met Amy Huberman too.

Lovely, they are. The two of them worked their way through 800 guests at BOD’s testimonial dinner, shaking hands and telling people they were so glad they had come to the do.

Their right hands must have been swollen to twice the normal size and Amy’s face must have been make-up-free and sore before they even sat down to eat on Friday night.

Shaking hands with 800 people of any type would be tough, but when each of those 800 is mad with enthusiasm over being there, they’re going to exert enthusiastic muscle power above and beyond the norm.

And Amy was getting kissed on both cheeks by guys whose faces were covered by a layer of chic stubble — which might be great if you’re a masochist who enjoys being exfoliated by the equivalent of coarse sandpaper, but would otherwise not be pleasant at all.

In addition to the O’Driscoll-Huberman couple, I also met Aoife Cogan, the artist, model and former Miss Ireland who is married to rugby player Gordon D’Arcy, and a warmer, more charming and interesting person is would be hard to encounter.

In heels, as she was on Friday night, she is also tall enough to make me feel small, which is some achievement, because I’m not and never have been since I was two.

Being tall, as a girl child, is not a good thing. You are assumed by teachers and others to be a) stronger, b) thicker c) not as sensitive as weeshy little girls. You get put in the back row of everything, on the theory that if they allow you in the front or second row, the teenies won’t be able to see past you to the action.

The authority figures putting you in the back row, of course, don’t include your eyesight in the factors influencing their decision. If you’re as short-sighted as I was (prior to the laser), you didn’t need to have anybody in front of you to ensure you didn’t see the action. Being in the back row will do it, every time.

In secondary school, in the choir, I was always in trouble because I couldn’t see Sr Fidelma conducting, she being not two hands higher than a duck, so I had to guess what she was signalling.

Then, when the dating years came along, one of the reasons I failed (as well as the being fat problem) was that I wasn’t prepared to wear low heels in the interests of a shorter guy’s self-esteem.

Men hate women to be taller than them. So much so, I suspect that the height discrepancy between Nicole Kidman (very tall) and Tom Cruise (not) was key to the breakup of their marriage.

If you think about current celebrity pairs, the number where the fella is shorter than the girl is small to non-existent. And you can understand why.

I have to admit that as I talked with Aoife Cogan, I wished I hadn’t worn kitten heels, but that was mainly because the music was so loud, I could hardly hear her and have yet to learn lip-reading. But if I’m to be totally honest, I just simply wanted to be as tall as she was.

When you’re used to being the tallest woman in the room, you get to like it.

Except where your height is embarrassing. I was always grateful, when I first encountered the late Charlie Haughey, that I was in a wheelchair, because the former taoiseach went to endless lengths to avoid standing beside taller humans, never mind taller women.

He was more subtle about it than the late — and extremely short — Cardinal Spellman who, according to novelist John Casey, “never looked up when carrying on a conversation with a taller man, thus inducing the taller man to bend”.

You have to admit, that’s a cunning approach if you want to avoid gazing worshipfully skywards.

Men are terribly scrupulous about the height thing. They will and do lie about their weight, but a man who is 5’11 will rarely claim to be a six-footer. This may be related to the importance of height to male success; if you want to lie, it’s safer to lie about something that isn’t key to the judgements others will make about you. The judgements others will make about a man, based on his height, can be economically challenging.

ONE study, published in the Journal of Applied Science, found that for every inch, a man could expect a 1.8% increase in salary. Taller guys, in other words, tend to be paid markedly better than shorter guys, even when all the other relevant factors have been taken into account. Which clearly indicates so fundamental a prejudice as to transcend logic, which is precisely the reality, when it comes to men and their height; they are much more likely to make it to the top in business and be better paid, if they’re tall, even if the job they’re doing has no objective requirement for height.

Take, for example, the American presidency. Most American political planners, faced with a man shorter than five feet six inches, would be unlikely to even begin to consider him as a presidential candidate.

The history of the American presidency indicates that a grossly disproportionate number of the men who have lived in the White House have been much taller than average. It’s odd. Not much evidence suggests that this prejudice affects women.

Rather the reverse — female fortune tends to favour those on the short side.

Few jobs require a woman to be a six- footer, other than modelling. Even ‘glamour’ modelling (underwear or absence thereof) accommodates quite short women. But ramp and photographic modelling favours the very tall and has since the days of Verushka. Other than that area, women can be as small as they want, without encountering the clear, present and costly prejudices encountered by smaller men.

The wonder is that this prejudice has been tolerated without challenge for so long. I have yet to come across a recruitment interviewer’s manual, for example, which alerts recruiters to their probable tendency to prefer a tall male candidate over a shorter one.

I’ve never heard a male executive suggest that he is being paid less than a taller man for doing the same job, or claim to have been passed over for a promotion because of his height.

It may be that some shorter men are less confident from the teen years when height benefits many of the sports that give a young man status. Or lack of protest about objectively-present prejudice may be attributed to the fear of ridicule. But the fact is that here we have a largely unacknowledged prejudice that hampers the promotion prospects and finances of a large number of men who seem to have individually and severally decided to suck it up rather than protest or take legal action about it.

Or, to put it another way, at least some of them are being doubly short-changed.


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