Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saudi and non-Saudi Conjugal Height Differences: Social Stigma vs Social Status Symbol

Prince Al Waleed and Princess Ameerah...hmmm...platforms, fascinator, and model's bent knee slouch...
shall we call them well-matched?

At first I found the idea of the article below comical, as it reminded me of generally adolescent concerns. It also brought back to mind a Canadian wedding for which I was maid of honour. Prior to the arrival of the men to the initial meeting between the bridesmaids and the groomsmen, the women (adults not adolescents) were all aflutter about who would get which one, and how tall the men were, only the bride having met all involved.

As I was the maid of honour, the best man would be my escort no matter what the height differential. In any case, I found the whole discussion hilarious, and part of my culture shock (I had just returned from Europe), as well as a throw back to teen girl conversations I had done my best to avoid during my teens. Fortunately for the preservation of the Canadian social order, the best man was (just) tall enough to give me height clearance even in my high (but not too high) heels.

 Tom Cruise and second wife Nicole Kidman/ Tom Cruise and third wife Katie Holmes

There is also a certain irony in the idea of stigma against marriages between a shorter husband and a taller wife, when such marriages can also be a status symbol--whether for a shorter man who triumphs in the idea that a taller woman would marry him, or the trophy wife of a highly successful man, or the often beautiful, young, tall second wife who assuages a man's mid-life crisis. Examples abound among political leaders and celebrities Western and non-Western. Sarkozy springs to mind. He has a preference for marrying tall brunette former models.

Mayor Sarkozy with his first wife, Marie-Dominique Culioli, neither a model nor markedly taller than he, in the centre, between their best friends, French celebrity Jacques Martin and his wife Cécilia Ciganer-Albéniz, later to become Sarkozy's second wife.

Minister Sarkozy with his second wife, former model Cécilia María Sara Isabel Ciganer-Albéniz, who left him for the taller Moroccan-Jewish American Richard Attias just at the time of his presidential campaign.

President Sarkozy with his third wife, former model and singer Carla Gilberta Bruni Tedeschi, the tallest of his wives

I once traveled Royal Air Maroc with a middle-aged Moroccan celebrity, and his 2 much taller, blonder, more beautiful, giggling, fawning lady companions. If he hadn't been so loudly showing off, and stinking up the trans-Atlantic flight with his cigar, while they laughed uproariously at his bons mots,  I wouldn't have noticed them at all. Then again, I would have missed out on being able to say, "I flew with...whatshisface".

However, the article below about Saudi norms raises more serious concerns regarding self-esteem issues that then impact negatively on the marital relationship, particularly around control and social demonstration of it. Often these issues are triggered by societal attitudes and comments. The article also raises the issue of younger brides who haven't finished their late adolescent growth, and start shorter but finish taller than their husbands. A non-issue for the wedding becomes an issue for the marriage. The article does acknowledge a lack of statistics on the matter, and includes more positive examples.

Men shorter than wives still carry social stigma
Published: Aug 15, 2011 00:14 Updated: Aug 15, 2011 00:14

JEDDAH: Men with wives who are taller than them often face certain social problems, especially when in public.

To many men, marrying a taller woman is a social taboo. It is considered damaging to their pride. Some families still don’t allow their sons to marry taller women. A woman who is taller than her husband cannot pass by others without receiving snide comments.

For some men, on the other hand, marrying a taller woman is not a problem, as long as there is mutual understanding between the couple.

Some of these couples never consider it a problem as long as they are happy together. They are hurt only when they hear negative comments. Others do not even care about the comments, because they know couples like them are rare in Saudi society.

Some women suffer from this problem after marriage because their husbands lack self-confidence, which reflects on their relationship. In front of people, these men want to show that they are in control.

Men think that they might lose control of their wives if they are taller than they are. They also believe that women usually look for protection in a man, physical protection in particular. Perhaps because women are perceived as being weaker than men, a woman with a short husband might not give the impression that she is protected.

However, there are no statistics to paint a clearer picture of this problem.

Ahmed Al-Jifri is a Saudi employee in his 30s. His family initially opposed his marriage to a woman who was clearly taller than him. Nevertheless, they got married.

“My family opposed my marriage, because my wife was a few inches taller than me, but eventually we married. We received a lot of negative comments from our family and friends,” said Ahmed. He added that people should not judge a person by his height or weight, and that his wife is a very good person. He is able to protect her, and that is what women always look for according to him.

“It doesn’t make sense not to marry someone because of her height; the important thing is that she is a good woman and that she is the perfect wife. We are happy with each other,” Ahmed said.

Seham Mahjoub is an Egyptian woman married to a Saudi who is shorter than her.

“When we married, I was 17 years old and we had the same height. Yet I kept growing, so I became taller than my husband,” she said. “I hear comments that my personality is stronger than his because I’m taller. I do not know why people make a link between the height and personality.”

Mahjoub added that she never became upset when she heard negative comments, because she knew it was rare for people to see a man married to a woman taller than him. “The funniest comment I ever heard was when a woman thought that my husband was my son. The woman apologized and said to me that she thought so because of the difference in height,” she said.

Samira Al-Hassan, a Jordanian, married a man shorter than her despite her family’s negative reaction. She now believes that the difference in height has had an effect on her husband. “Before our marriage, it wasn’t a huge problem for me, but later I started to realize that my family’s objection had been logical,” she said.

According to Al-Hassan, her husband lacks confidence because he is short. He deliberately shouts at her in front of others to show them that he is strong “My husband always tells people stories about how strong he is. Most of these stories are fake or half-truths,” said Al-Hassan.


*In the interest of transparency, I must state for the record that the hub is taller than I, including when I am wearing my usual high heels. If I were to try out the current fashionably "Sky High" platforms and heels, we might have "issues". Thus, in the interest of conjugal harmony, and world peace, I leave this fashion trend to others--except for the sandals I recently bought :D.

Your comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?


Wendy said...

Boys will be boys and we all know how important 'size' can be to them and especially if they are insecure to begin with. LOL!!! I had never thought of the tall wife as a status symbol before though. Very interesting.

Hning said...

Nobody argues with the Royal Louboutins. Besides, vertical
difference doesn't matter when laid HORIZONTALLY, you silly sexually
frustrated Arab man! I hear it's actually more fun when a taller girl is laid diagonally with a man of any height as long that she can sleep straight in bed.

Unless, height is -- by some sick mental way -- correlated with length? Hmmm...

PS. Great post, Chiara; loved, loved the platform pics.

Duha said...

LOVE the post, and yes it is a social taboo for some,

Loved Hning's comment too, very true :-p

Anonymous said...

Indeed Hning...the thing you can do with a shorter woman in bed...:P

Another thing, who said we're sexully frustrated....We're just very picky...

Plus Tom cruise, and stallone....were always making their woman wear flat to conceal the hight differece, are they also sexually frustrated, and they r not even Arabs...:)

oby said...

That is so some women it doesn't matter and to some it does. I am thinking that for some women anyway, it might be a combination of things that make a man the case of Tom Cruise he has hundreds of millions "little friends" I am sure that will help a woman overlook the height difference. Some men in order to compensate really develop their personality and are a hoot to be around. Silly that people are defined by a genetic roll of the dice over which they have no control.


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