I was walking down the street the other day when someone yelled out “ginger” at me from a car window. I was startled for a second, thinking I was somehow 14 again and steeling myself to do battle with another bunch of cowardly ‘hairists’, witty retort ready at my lips.
I must have been a teenager the last time I was the subject of any anti-ginger sentiment so I’d naturally thought the world had grown up, or at least grown tired of mocking me for something so ridiculous as the colour of my hair.
I guess I was wrong.
To be honest, I was a little put out to think that after years of defending my flaming locks, the haters suddenly disappeared. I can’t believe it’s because everyone suddenly got tired of a joke that’s lasted the span of my whole childhood. The whole ‘blondes are dumb’ cliché is still going strong after all.
Why do gingers get mocked? Naturally I’ve pondered the answer to this question since the hair bashing began when I was about eight years old. I suffered through years of ‘ranga’ and ‘gingernut’ and the myriad of other derogatory terms associated with the hair colour as the majority of my ginger counterparts have done.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a ginger winger – far from it in fact. I’m eternally grateful for the unshakable sense of self-worth and finely tuned wit I’ve developed from growing up having to defend myself from the haters.
But seriously, it’s been more than 15 years – time to get over it people!
The persecution of red heads is not a new phenomenon. Thousands of gingers were murdered in the Middle Ages on suspicion of being witches, vampires and other non-human creatures. Red hair has also been associated historically with impurity and dangerousness. Take this French proverb for instance: “redheaded women are either violent or false, and usually are both.” Ouch!
What I don’t seem to understand these days is the mixed messages and double standards associated with the hair colour, especially as it has become far trendier in recent years. The rise in the number of ginger celebrities on our screens has obviously done a lot to help our cause but it has also created a divide between the ‘cool gingers’ and the social pariahs.
Prince Harry is celebrated for his gingerness while Mick Hucknall of Simply Red fame is abused on Twitter for it. Women with red hair are alluring, men with red hair are nerdy – or at least that’s the message I’ve been getting.
British photographer Thomas Knights launched a photo exhibition in 2013 to debunk this idea, telling the Guardian that male redheads are “completely emasculated and desexualised in popular culture”. Meanwhile, female redheads are exactly the opposite – popularly lauded for being good in bed.
Clearly, the psychology behind the anti-ginger sentiment is much more complicated than I first thought but honestly, if you’re going to mock one of us at least mock all of us.
Then again, if you look at how bad the abuse can get, maybe ease up a bit.
In 2007 a Newcastle family claimed they had to move home twice due to the systematic abuse they suffered for being ginger. Then there’s the recent case of the so-called ‘ginger terrorist’ who plotted to kill Prince Charles after he was severely bullied over the colour of his hair.
In a way being abused for being ginger the worst form of bullying because of its element of ridiculousness. Groups that form with the aim of helping to stem the tide of gingerism are laughed at because the idea that people’s lives could be destroyed by an on-going ‘joke’ about something as trivial as hair colour is apparently ridiculous.
No more ridiculous I’d say than picking on someone for the colour of their hair.
To be honest, I wouldn’t trade in my red hair for anything. Ginger isn’t just a hair colour to me anymore, it’s become my personality. It’s a licence to be both quirky and passionate as well as being a statement of survival.
As for why gingers are mocked for their hair colour, I’m sure there are a number of psychologists or sociologists that could provide an endless list of reasons for that particular predilection. I like to think that it’s just jealousy and not something more sinister but whatever the motivation, it’s certainly a trend society is supporting and one that isn’t likely to end soon.
I think the key to being a good ginger is to embrace the stereotype and to have a sense of humour. Catherine Tate says she used humour to stop her label from becoming ‘the ginger one’ and it certainly worked for her, as it did for me during high school.
If you’re going to have lads yell out at you from car windows unprovoked then hey, you may as well live up to the ginger reputation.