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Urban Etiquette

Ellen Vanstone answers your questions about the annoying behaviours, poor manners and impatient encounters that dot the days of a city dweller.

Urban Etiquette: Is the world too mean to me, a short woman?

I'm always getting ignored, overlooked, or worse, pushed around. How can I fight back?

Ani Castillo

Dear Ellen,

I am an older female, four feet, nine inches tall. Am I overreacting, or are people rude when they step in front of me like I'm not there, or grab me by the shoulders and shove me aside (isn't that assault?). I'm pretty sure this wouldn't happen if I was a foot taller, or male, or younger. Short people are not comic relief, nor are we children. Short people are real people too.


Dear A.A.M.,

Being a tall young man can also have its hazards. During their rise to manhood in our warped patriarchal society, boys are supposed to act tough, be ready to prove themselves with their fists, and refrain from “running away like a little girl” or “whining like a little bitch” if they get thrashed.

Nevertheless, as you rightly point out, there are undeniable advantages to simply being a male of average height or taller. Women will relate strongly to the increasing number of videos online in which trans men describe what it’s like to walk down the street while male compared to when they were female — they positively marvel at the luxury of not being scrutinized, judged or ogled, not being randomly told to smile or invited to perform fellatio on strangers, and not feeling automatically frightened when they’re out alone after dark or in a parking garage.

And, as you attest, the reaction of the world to the female of the species only worsens the shorter you are and the older you get. The problem of receiving excessive and inappropriate attention is exchanged for offensive disregard and zero courtesy in terms of public-space etiquette.

It’s not much consolation, but at least I can assure you that you’re not over-reacting. It’s unequivocally rude for people to shove past you as if you’re invisible. And it is indeed technically illegal for anyone to manhandle you, or anyone else, without their consent.

In terms of etiquette, you’d be justified at any time in standing your ground and refusing to move, or be moved. If you’re afraid of being flattened or have an aversion to physical contact with rude strangers, feel free to wave a hand and give your best Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy: “I’m walkin' here!”

You won’t change the world overnight, but politely, firmly giving one large, oblivious person at a time a chance to improve can’t hurt.

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