Saturday, July 12, 2008

‘The Wild Girls Club’

After all these blog posts, I haven’t mentioned my height. An adult male, I stand less than five-feet tall. Why? I’m not an achondroplastic dwarf (like Peter Dinklage), but I do have a kind of dwarfism: spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia tarda, which is a fancy way of saying “misshapen spine that shows up late in life.” Because of my dwarfism, SED tarda for short, my torso isn’t as tall as its supposed to be, cramming a few extra inches of gut into my abdomen and making my arms and legs look rather long in proportion.

Because of my unusual vantage point, I'm more sensitive than most to issues of height. I’ve noticed some discriminatory uses of size and stature in entertainment media. For example, a film or TV project — unless it’s catering to a shorter-than-average male star, such as Dustin Hoffman — will sometimes try to get its audience to root for a romantic pairing by pitting the preferred male partner against a shorter male rival. Examples of this include the “how we met” episode of the TV sitcom Mad About You and the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice. (And to those who point to 1950s Lilliputian leading man Alan Ladd as an exception that disproves the rule, notice how his starring vehicles always disguised how short he was.)

Another media offering that comes to mind is the 1994 non-fiction book The Wild Girls Club: Tales from Below the Belt, written by sex-advice columnist Anka Radakovich. While not exactly brimming with anti-short-man bromides, the book does make a few asides that take the undesirability of shorter men for granted. Although the instances were few, they rankled me enough in September 1995 to fire off a letter to Radakovich:

Dear Ms. Radakovich:

I began reading The Wild Girls Club with lots of enthusiasm. It was great to get a flip, frank view of what it’s like to be a single woman in a culture that takes its sex drive too seriously. On this score, your book was very enjoyable. But as an adult male who stands less than five-feet tall, I was very put off by your put-downs of short men.

• On the respondents to your personal advertisement: “Immediately eliminated were guys under five foot seven…” (Why? Did they all have poor penmanship?)

• “At parties, I either attract sex-offender types or guys under five foot three who insist on dancing with their noses wedged directly into my cleavage.” (Are all short men so inconsiderate?)

• On party phone lines: “…With my luck, I’d probably fall in love with someone’s great personality, and he’d turn out to be a dwarf.” (What’s the moral here? Height is more important than a good personality? Does that mean that breast size is more important than a good personality?)

It’s tough enough trying to make my way in a world that’s always built to someone else’s size — trying to see over the dash of my car, trying to shave with a wall mirror that only lets me see my forehead, trying to find clothes that aren’t designed for ten-year-old boys. Now, I also have to listen to guys like me dissed in The Wild Girls Club just because of our proximity to the pavement.

Yes, I have a sense of humor. I can laugh along with you at the insensitive boyfriend or the crude would-be Casanova. But there’s a crucial difference. The insensitive boyfriend has the potential to see the error of his ways and become more caring. The crude would-be Casanova can always wise up and become more gentlemanly.

By contrast, once you’ve reached your full adult height, there’s not a helluva lot you can do to change it. And I hate being bashed because of something I can’t control.

The Wild Girls Club promised to be a perceptive social satire about sex. But I now question the writer’s perceptions. How can I trust her to spoof the foibles of others when she seems so oblivious to her own?

How did Ms. Radakovich react to my letter? I have no idea. I never heard back from her. For all I know, my letter never made it past her secretary.

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