Thursday, November 02, 2006

Gingers aren't mingers!

danea by klimt
Danae by Gustav Klimt. Many painters have exhibited a fascination with red hair. The colour "titian" takes its name from Titian, who often painted women with red hair. Other painters notable for their redheads include the Pre-Raphaelites, Edmund Leighton, Modigliani , Gustav Klimt and Sandro Botticelli, whose famous painting, The Birth of Venus, depicts the mythological goddess, Venus, as a redhead.
Prince Idon of Mu fled his homeland, arriving in Atlantis at sunset. 'Moved to tears, he wished that its beautiful red tones could be saved for posterity. In an instant his hair was changed to red and every succeeding generation of redheads was reminded of that first spell-binding sunset.'

So what is it about the British and their antipathy towards redheads? Or, to use their pejorative term, what is it that’s wrong about gingers (pronounced ging-ers, both hard g’s)? Not only do they use it pejoratively, they combine it with another British pejorative term (one I particularly dislike), ‘minger’ (also a hard g), so that you have ‘ginger-minger’.

Doug isn’t the first person to suggest that I may have a thing about redheads. In fact I’ve joked about it myself in the past. Not only do I happen to have a wife and two children who are all redheads but, my ex, a boyfriend of seven years, is one too. And there I was, two nights ago, swooning about the redheaded double bassist of the Puppini Sisters.

So do I have a thing about them?

Well, having a wife who’s a redhead made the likelihood of my having redheaded children rather high:

According to ‘The Redhead Encyclopedia’, a book devoted to the study and celebration of the flame-haired, there's a 50% chance the gene will be passed to the children if one parent has red hair. If one or two parents aren't redheaded but carry the gene, there is a 25% chance of having a ginger child. And if both parents are redheaded? It can be any colour as long as it's red.

Although there’s a tinge of red in my beard (rapidly being superseded by swathes of grey!) and the hair on my arms can look slightly red when seen at a certain angle in bright sunlight, I’m not a redhead. Well, not enough of one, I don’t think, to ensure that my offspring are redheaded. So, my choice of mate explains them.

But why would I choose a redheaded mate?

Research on the matter offers completely different reasons:

Rees (2004) suggests that the vividness and rarity of red hair may lead to it becoming desirable in a partner and therefore it could become more common through sexual selection. But, Harding et al (2000) proposed that red hair was not the result of positive selection but rather occurs due to a lack of negative selection. In Africa, for example, red hair is selected against because high levels of sun would be harmful towards fair skin. However, in Northern Europe this does not happen and so redheads can occur through genetic drift.

Contrary to what Harding proposes, selecting against red hair doesn’t apply to me as I selected my mate in Africa. So, perhaps it was sexual selection in my case? Of course it was sexual selection! Choice in other words. How else does one human select another? I can’t say that I’m that comfortable with the idea of my selection criteria being governed by forces of nature over which I have no control. Um, having said that, I’m gay (despite the anomalous selection of a female redhead), something over which I have no control. Oh, bollocks to natural selection being the reason for my choice, there must be some other reason.

Ah, but ‘ginger’ is Cockney slang for queer (it rhymes with ginger beer) so maybe that’s where my liking for redheads comes from? That still doesn’t make sense of why I’d go after a redheaded WOMAN. But, as I said, that’s somewhat of an anomaly, so best not concentrate on that. Rather let me move on to the choice of a redheaded man.

seth green
Here you have Seth Green, one of many famous redheads. Rick Astley, Julianne Moore and Tilda Swinton are three others.
If I’m to do this ‘scientifically’, I suppose I should consider each of his traits/talents/attractions in turn, then determine how his redheadedness features in comparison with them. Let’s see, beautiful blue eyes, great legs,strong hands, lovely wrists, fun to be around, big cock, fantastic in bed….yadda yadda. Don’t worry, I’m beginning to bore myself, so I’m probably boring you too. You know what, I’m beginning to think that this is going nowhere. He is, however, closer to my son’s age than he is to mine. Could that mean anything? Ok, let’s NOT go there! I can assure you….

The thing is, as I write this I’m beginning to think that I do have a thing, not an obsession mind you, about redheads. Not all of them, let me hasten to say. I’ve got nothing against freckles but some of them do have a washed out look that would suit a blinking troglodyte freshly exposed to the light. Even my wife had a few concerns about our son getting his ear pierced. ‘I don’t want him to look like trailer-park trash. It could look so common with his hair colour.’ I could see her point but she really shouldn’t have worried as he’s a very good looking boy and couldn’t look common no matter how hard he tried.

So, I sort of acknowledge that there are certain redheads who look insipid and unsightly but there are so many of them who are really gorgeous. I still can’t understand the British ‘ginger-minger’ thing. The way they use the term sometimes reminds me of the way some South Africans use the K-word. Why else would Catherine Tate manage to get so much mileage out of her sketch where she’s forced to seek refuge in a haven for redheads? If redheads were a recognisable ethnic minority, the slurs you hear against them would be covered by hate crime legislation.

Since there are such relatively high proportions of redheads in the Irish and Scottish populations, perhaps this is a strange manifestation of English condescension rather than a British thing? Maybe it stems from suspicion towards anthing that isn’t conventional? Or is it an ancient throwback to the Roman loathing of the barbarians(*)? Well, whatever it is, it’s strong enough for redheads to feel ‘persecuted’ enough to set up websites like redandproud and redprince.

ophelia by millais
The redheaded pre-Raphaelite beauty Lizzie Siddal, the model for John Everett Millais' Ophelia. She almost caught her death posing in a bath of cold water wearing a vintage dress bought for her by the artist for a princely four pounds. She eventually died of a laudanum overdose and was buried with her love letters from her husband, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Deciding to retrieve his poetry and publish it, Rossetti had her exhumed. Legend has it that despite the fact she'd been dead seven years, Siddal looked exactly as she had in life. Apart, that is, from her red hair, which had continued to grow until it filled the coffin.
For those redheads that feel persecuted, I think they should take solace from this statement from Jonathan L Rees, Professor of Dermatology at the University of Edinburgh:.

Red hair is such a distinctive characteristic that one can imagine, in some future world, two red heads meeting up on some distant planet and the conversation quickly turning to their place of birth! Whether or not they were both of Celtic blood, they could be sure that at least one of their genes was remarkably similar.

And, they also need to know that there are people like me who find a lot of them very attractive. In fact, some people seem rather obsessed with them. The Redhead Cluster Phenomenon was set up by a guy who has this to say:

‘Since boyhood I’ve always believed, at the deepest level, that redheads are standard-bearers of the grandest and most wondrous human beauty. Redheaded males, I mean. I barely notice girls, and I certainly barely notice red-haired girls, despite coming of age in the Farrah Fawcett-Majors era.’

It’s been a long while since I bedded a redhead. Mmmm…something to think about now that the weekend is upon me….

(*) The etymology for the word barbarian:
Derived from the Latin word: barbarosa (meaning redhead). The Roman Empire had many battles against some of the Nordic tribes, who happened to have red hair, and so those Nordic tribes were labelled as barbarosae by the Romans. Because the Romans thought they were barbaric, they hated redheads, so to them barbarosa was a negative adjective. Ever since, many non-redheaded people (not just those of Roman descent), think of them in the same way. Incidentally, Judas Iscariot was also meant to have been a redhead. More ammuniton for those who call redheads 'ginger-mingers'?

And, sticking to etymology, where does the word ‘ginger’ (meaning redhead), come from?

11 Comments:

Blogger Pam said...

I have a thing for redheads too. Alyson Hannigan, Julianne Moore. I don't know if this is officially where "ginger" comes from but in Scotland we call Irn-Bru ginger and it's orange.

11:04 pm  
Blogger Caroline said...

If people in the UK don't like red heads why do so many of us dye our hair in shades of red / orange / yellow - the full sunset!?

Jim often playfully asserts that things are true because they rhyme so that might make it hard to undo the damage of ginger-minger... you of course are passing it on as I'd never heard it before...

I love that barbarian means redhead - maybe there is some truth in flaming tempers going with flaming hair on average - though I can't say I've noticed it amongst my acquainces...

8:36 am  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

pam: Julianne Moore is absolutely wonderful!!!

Caroline: The rhyming thing makes sense to me. As for redheads with tempers, my wife and son both have one, as does my ex. My daughter, not so much. So, of those 4 redheads, 3 have easily aroused tempers....my stats may be flawed but my empirical evidence suggests that redheads DO have tempers!! :-)

2:00 pm  
Blogger andrea said...

I feel so educated after I visit! More weirdness about red hair: in Australian Shepherds (dogs, that is), it's the red ones that are considered nuts.

I got the gene from my mother's side and was even born with red hair though it quickly went blonde. (The best part is that, with so much red in my hair, the blonde never faded but stayed true so I've never had to resort to the expense and hassle of colouring it. Now that I'm greying a bit it actually looks like I've added some platimum streaks.) I passed it on to my older son but he's the kind of redhead that makes it desirable: more of a reddish cast with long, dark eyelashes and very few freckles. I think the negative publicity has more to do with the typical skin/eyes/eyebrows/eyelashes than the hair colour itself.

4:17 pm  
Blogger Terri said...

Interesting post. The Irish blame their red hair on the vikings. That was the extent of my knowledge on the subject before I red this.

10:35 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeezzuus! You have spent a lot of time contemplating something that I too have wondered about (though certainly with less depth): Why do the English disdain Gingers?

There was also that guy on Big Brother a few years back how go harangued mercilessly for having dyed his ginger locks. I think, ultimately, he was a twat regardless of hair colour ... but that was my first realisation of redhead discrimination in England.

9:25 am  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

andrea: I think your son’s colouring is very much like my son’s.

Terri: Those barbarians that attacked the Roman Empire were Nordic so connecting Irish red hair to the Vikings has a lot of logic in it.

clarissa: It’s amazing how easy it is to be seen to have done a lot of research when Google is so readily available! I remember that Big Brother guy – yes, he was an arsehole, if I recall correctly.

11:04 am  
Blogger angel said...

there's lots of ginger and red hair in my family- i have lots of red in my own hair, so much so that i have to be careful if i colour it.

7:40 pm  
Blogger DougZAR said...

There's a gorgeous redhead working in our call centre. I think he's straight, though. :-(

7:27 am  
Anonymous andrew said...

As the spice ginger has a pale yellowy flesh with a paler grey outer skin. Why do we refrn to redheads as "Ginger". can some one help me as I have been given this task to find the origin as a college project. andrewjramsden@yahoo.co.uk
Thank you

11:42 pm  
Anonymous kamagra said...

This is really good information I had never read something like this before, this was really important for me "So what is it about the British and their antipathy towards redheads?" because this is a question I've heard before.m1m0

7:11 pm  

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