The personal is complicated

Sex on Tuesday

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I am a 5-foot-3-and-a-half-inch young woman. I am small enough to be the object of affection among my peers; many people tell me that the delightful presence of my fat cheeks and short stature instills in them an overwhelming desire to squeeze, pinch and bite.

As a petite woman, I have enough of a privilege to blind me from the grievances of my female peers who do not have the same body privilege. In particular, I saw their unwillingness to date, sleep and hook up with men who were shorter than them as hypocritical.

I thought to myself that if we all claimed to be so gung-ho about feminism, then how could it possibly be fair to reinforce cisgender gender roles at the same time? Where did this need to be smaller or take up less space than our male love and sex interests come from? In the end, is wanting to be physically smaller than your significant other just some innocent preference?

To answer these questions, we have to get the facts straight. On average, women are about four inches shorter than men. Height is determined by both environmental and genetic factors. This height disparity helps us infer that women’s attraction to men who are taller than them is, to some extent, biological.

This is not to say that our sex and dating preferences are necessarily at the mercy of our primeval biological urges and drives. That’s why it’s good to inspect where our preferences really come from.

For me, dating and having sex with men physically taller and larger than me never really had to be a preference. It was an expectation: With my height, most people are bigger than me. So, when a number of my female friends let me know that I should stay in my lane instead of preaching to them about the anti-feminist ills of romantically dismissing short men, I shut up.

Instead, I’ll say this. I get why my concerned feminism alarm goes off when women say they won’t sleep with men who are shorter than them. This preference undoubtedly comes from somewhat archaic gender roles that expect women to serve as the submissive counterpart to their male partners. We have always had to be smaller, quieter, more obsequious.

In a world that still tries to tell women that we shouldn’t take up too much space, shouldn’t ask for too many things and shouldn’t voice our opinions, I desperately wanted us to do all of these things in defiance of the hegemony of men. Previously, I thought we could accomplish this by throwing out a dating preference for height and physical stature.

Now, I understand that there is a power in submissiveness — or at least wanting to be physically smaller. Power is not always being bigger; power is being able to withhold being big or small and to choose our partners accordingly.

Like many of my female peers, I relish being assertive and taking up space in most areas of my life. It took me a while to step outside of my own experience and body privilege but wanting a taller, bigger partner does not stand at odds with these social and political goals.

Although likely a relic of traditional expectations of femininity, a larger male partner can allow some women to feel safe, empowered and sexy as opposed to weak or intellectually small, as militant feminism might assume. On days when women are able to take up more space than they are allowed — a mentally and physically exhausting feat — it’s OK to want to come home and be coddled and feel small. Often, our physically larger partners are able to fulfill this desire for us.

As the feminist slogan goes, the personal is political. Sometimes, the personal is complicated and even problematic, but that’s OK. For example, when I get turned on by getting spanked, choked or otherwise degraded during sex, I’m not thinking about how the patriarchy is oppressing me and my fellow women.

Being dominated or feeling physically small just means that, for some amount of time, I don’t have to make any decisions or feel responsible for my success, my goals or my purpose in life. After all, asserting my right to be in certain spaces in this world is hard and exhausting.

So, is emasculating and dismissing the sexual viability of short men problematic? Maybe. Is our obsession with privileging tall men a product of the patriarchy? I would say so. Should we be putting every single one of our messy and fraught sexual and dating preferences on the wokeness scale? Probably not. We have much more important things to do with our time. One can only politicize what makes one’s pussy wet so much.

Laura Nguyen writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected].