On NPR the other day, I heard the oft-repeated phrase, “Although she’s a diminuitive 5’2”, Sylvia is a fierce advocate for workers’ rights.”
This is a categorization that will be familiar to anyone acquainted with the horrendous Manic Pixie Dreamgirl archetype (see spot-on posts about that here and here). The diminutive category, however, deviates from MPDG in that the only requirement is a sub-average vertical measurement coexisting in the same body with a noteworthy (or not noteworthy, in some cases) talent or skill.
But don’t worry, this cliché isn’t limited to musicians. To wit:
You can be a matriarch of Chicago Jewish society:
- Although “diminutive in size,” says Weiss, Mrs. Shusterman was “immensely powerful in her determination and spirit.”
You can even be a man:
To recap, if you are short, we are supposed to be surprised if:
- You have talent
- You have a spine
- You have any personality traits other than “shrinking violet”
So what if you’re tall and talented or brave? Or worse – what if you’re tall and shy? Does your huge stature belie your diminutive personality?
If we compare Mary, a tall, slightly overweight woman with a domineering personality to Madge, a short, slender woman with a domineering personality, I posit that the perception of each woman will differ widely. Folks will call Mary a bitter, jealous shrew; whereas Madge will be called “fiery,” “fierce,” and “a firecracker,” all while being given a condescending pat on the head.
So “fierceness” or “loudness,” when present in short women (read: short, thin women), are seen as cute and endearing. The same characteristics in a Madge are not so condescendingly beloved. This is frustrating for humans of all heights.
Any kindergartner could tell you that it is ridiculous to equate any physical characteristic with a personality trait, but it’s so pervasive that it’s almost invisible in the adult world. Good journalists would do well to remember their schooling and root out such tripe from their reporting before broadcasting, going to print, or posting their blogs.
*Footnote: Amazingly, NPR has done a story on the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl. This has not cut down on the number of times they use clichéd phrases describing short women with talent. In fact, the number of clichés in general remains unchanged, despite NPR’s extremely annoying membership drive.