Ginger Stereotypes and Their Nuggets of Truth

As redheads we are all too aware of the negative connotation associated with our coloring in regards to our behavior. 

“Redheads are trouble”, “redheads have a bad temper”, “redheads are crazy in bed”, “redheads are clowns”, etc, etc, etc…The list goes on.

All our lives, or as long as we have embraced our natural red hue, we have been met with a particular stigma or lense. But where does this come from? Why do cultures all around the world hold similar stereotypes of gingers? What is the root? 

Well, many of these shared ideas of gingers do have a small basis in scientific fact. Like discussed in a previous post, the idea that gingers are tough is kind of true, as we do have a proven higher pain tolerance than those of other hair colors. But another interesting scientific fact about those with the natural ginge tinge is that we are able to access our adrenaline and release it into our body and blood supply faster than those of other hues! Ever been called a hot head? 

I have always considered myself to not have a temper, but this fact isn’t truly about temper, it’s about speed. And being able to access our adrenaline faster and therefore activate our fight or flight responses faster than others can often lead to a response that is perhaps more extreme. For instance, I can literally feel when I get upset or angry, the swiftness of the response in my body can make me feel as though my spine and head will burst into flames. But do I yell and overreact? No, well, not usually, haha. Instead, I have learned to take a deep breath, step back, and keep silent until I calm down. If perhaps this is an email, text, or something which has elicited this instantaneous aggressive response, I close it and move on to something more calming before replying. 

But I am an adult woman. This has taken me years to learn and put into practice, and even so, I still have days where it is nearly impossible to control. Now imagine this issue in a child. This child has a gift, their gift is that if a saber tooth tiger comes running, they will be able to switch into fight or flight in a millisecond and perhaps even have a chance of getting away. But there aren’t any saber tooth tigers roaming around anymore. So, this response is not as welcome, especially in the classroom, and especially from a boy, as their response is amplified by the developing male brain and male hormones. 

I had a recent experience with my mother, a former teacher, where she (a natural brunette) was trying to convince me (a natural redhead) that indeed ALL redheaded children were bad, trouble, and couldn’t sit still. I, completely baffled at her stubbornness (something I, too inherited from our Irish ancestors), calmly tried to explain that even if that was her personal experience, that doesn’t mean that ALL redheads are horrible students. After she interrupted me to argue the contrary, I countered, more personally, by asking her about me, a model student all throughout my youth. Her response? Well, you had strawberry blonde hair then. *Face palm*

So, it appears that despite there being a link between adrenaline and the ginger gene, sometimes perception is everything. If you walk into a classroom and see one ginger and think,  oh, they are going to be trouble, you have already decided about their behavior based solely on their looks. My having blonde hair as a child and red as a grown adult does not change my DNA, nor does it change my behavior.

In ancient times, redheaded warriors were prized, and often paid more than others, and sought after to be in the front line. This is due to their ability to shift into battle mode at the drop of a hat. Naturally, we now see the link between red hair and stereotype of hot tempers. We may not all have tempers, but we sure are more likely to feel like we do. We are also the people you definitely want with you during a crisis, because we are essentially superheroes.

Now, lets take a look at this whole, “crazy in bed” idea. There are so many ways to look at this to find it’s root, I could go on for days. So, I will take you down the road most interesting and slightly less salacious. The color red is a color that has dramatic meaning and connotation in every culture. It provokes the mind and body, and even causes onlookers to produce a hormone they do not not produce when looking at other colors. Now, put all that right on top of your head and walk around in public all day every day. That’s a lot of weight to carry on your shoulders.

All this color connotation that we walk around with on our heads everyday is bound to get us attention, whether we like it or not. Many times, people are unable to differentiate between the way a color is making them think and feel, and how a person is making them think and feel. This essentially means that the sexual link with the color red, often (no pun intended) bleeds into the idea of the mythic redhead. Another loosely scientific discovery is that gingers, possibly linked to their easy access to adrenaline and endorphins, have a higher sex drive than people of other hues. Does any of this have any relevance to the actual bedroom? Not at all. That stereotype is more wishful thinking on the part of a sad non-ginger. I mean, Jessica Rabbit anyone?

Another interesting fact is that our ability to create our own vitamin D, leads to stronger bones. And back in the day, before the time of modern medicine, strong bones were important, and made it more likely for a woman to survive childbirth and a man to survive war. This fact about strong bones in regard to childbirth is thought to subconsciously impact the way that men see women. Having a woman survive birth and therefore be more likely to provide more opportunities to procreate, appeals greatly to the male drive to continue the bloodline. Does this mean that this is completely the reason why men can be so drawn to redheads? Nope. It’s just a theory brought up by scientists. And I think it’s pretty cool to think that the brain and body can pick up on something, process it, and put it through the conscious brain in an easily digestible way, such as being attracted to someone without knowing why. Though this is just a theory, and we all know so much more goes into attraction. But it’s an interesting theory nonetheless. 

And finally, I will touch on the curse of Ronald McDonald. Ronald is not the first clown to don a red wig for impact. The use of red wigs to denote character goes back hundreds of years. Ancient Greek stage plays often had the bad, money lender or scheming villain of their stages don a crazy red wig, so the audience would know right away the essence of their character. This is thought to originate from the redheaded Jewish population who many didn’t like as they tended to work with money. This didn’t mean that they actually were villainous, but they were the “other” and therefore used as the butt of jokes by being made the stage fool, or as a scapegoat villain. 

Again, this idea is used in various other cultures, as the Celts, the Boudini, etc, moved throughout Europe and tended to have a higher percentage of gingers. This primary color atop their heads arrested and even frightened many. So, what do you do when something makes you uncomfortable? You laugh at it. And so, the redheaded clown was born. It still exists today, both in culture and the circus. Now, actual clowns aren’t seen as having red hair, simply wearing a bright wig. But culturally, gingers are still often used as the comic relief in films, and expected to be funny. Granted, there are many legit funny men and women out there with natural and unnatural red hair, and this is great! Carol Burnett and Bill Burr are two of my absolute favorite comedians. And perhaps we all learned a little humor along the way due to the color of our hair and the way of society. If we can’t laugh about life, we are missing out! 

There is so much more to talk about in relation to the stereotypes about redheads. But what I find to be the most interesting is the seed of a small, fascinating fact that is planted which then grows into this blossoming tree of ideas, for better or worse. 

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