Thursday, February 19, 2009

On ginger

I grew up with a red headed sister. She is beautiful and a bit of a genius. But lately I have begun to understand some of what she may have encountered growing up, solely because of the colour of her hair.

Where has this come from? Well...

A very good friend of mine has an 8 month old baby boy. I finally got to meet the 'wee man' when I went home at Christmas and can honestly tell you that he has the biggest, most enchanting smile I have ever seen on a baby. He is a delight. He also has red hair.

This week, while tucking the wee man into the back of the car, my friend was passed in her peaceful residential street by two teenage girls. The girls looked at the gorgeous 8 month old and proclaimed;

"Eeew, I'd never have a ginger baby".... "Yeah, that's disgusting."

Now, my friend believes that one of these girls' mothers has recently been charged with ABH or GBH or something, so she waited until they were beyond stabbing distance, and the baby was safely ensconced in the car before telling them that it is really rude to talk about someone like that, and not to say nasty things about her baby. As she put it to me; "And suddenly I am embroiled in a gingerist war and its all very depressing. Is this what life will be like with a small lovely flame haired one....?"

In Australia they seem to have much more of a hang-up about red headedness, and many many more names for it. Wincing a little at their incessant name calling of grown-ups, children, men and women alike, I have to say I don't even know what descriptive term *is* favoured. My friend used "lovely flame haired one" which I rather like, and my mum always called my sister auburn. If you have pale red hair you are Strawberry Blonde. But is ginger (said with soft Gs) always bad? Is red insensitive? I describe my hair as brown, so if red is wrong is it purely because its rather inaccurate? What do official forms use?

A couple of weeks ago I read an article in The Canberra Times (which frustratingly I cannot find now) in which a father repented for his 'affectionate' name calling of his daughter. While it was written to entertain, and therefore treading rather close to the line of continuing the mickey taking, I loved the conclusion it arrived at, which I paraphrase;

Is this the last acceptable form of prejudice? Ginger is an anagram of another offensive and prejudicial word which we all now know not to use. When will we stop with the insults?


11 comments:

cardinalsin said...

While I agree that insulting folk with ginger hair[*] is unacceptable, basically in line with every other form of rude and offensive behaviour practiced by morons who should know better but clearly don't, if there is a "last acceptable form of prejudice", it is the word chav. Personally I think using this word should be considered on a par with racism.

[*] I dunno, I'll have to try talking to someone who actually has that colour hair to see what they say, but I'd say "ginger hair" is fair enough but calling someone "ginger" is offensive.

bobbycat said...

How often do people shout "chav" in the street at people, though? compared with how many times red heads get various things shouted at them....

erin said...

It's interesting you're finding 'gingerism' more prevalent here in Australia. I actually thought it was much worse in the UK - people seemed to have a real hang up about it there, to the point where some of my intelligent, responsible, grown up friends (or so i thought) said to me in passing they'd be horrified if they had a ginger haired baby. When i asked why, they couldn't really tell me, other than they thought it would have a hard life and be constantly picked on. They didn't seem to realise their horror at a potential ginger haired baby was perpetuating the gingerism trend.

Dr Nic said...

It's interesting that you see this as an Aussie thing, whereas I've always seen it as particularly English – wasn't it you chaps who started the whole "put the milk in before the tea to avoid redheaded babies"?
Personally, I go completely nuts for red hair – a condition one of my chums insists on referring to as gingervitus – so I've never understood any form of rudeness regarding it. I've said it once and I'll say it again – blood nuts are proof that God loves us.

@EmVicW said...

OK I hereby retract the comment that its particularly prevalent in Australia. I obviously have met with lots of comments about it here, when my friends back home don't talk about it so much, but I don't know enough people on either side of the world for these to be representative samples.

If Erin and Dr Nic see it as a very British thing then I am very prepared to conclude that people are horribly rude about red heads the world over.

And Dr Nic, remind me never to introduce you to my sister!!

Melissa said...

Its really very very bad in scotland. I speak from experience, having been a ginger haired child. And the odd thing about that, is that scotland has the highest percentage (along with ireland) of red heads...

Sideways said...

Ginger women are the best there are. Wish there were more about!

Em's mum said...

I actually think that red hair is beautiful. I wish mine was red – Edwina’s red. A while ago there seemed to be lots of people dyeing their hair red, but you could always tell. I could see that Edwina was a red-head as soon as she was cleaned up after being born, her eyebrows were red, a giveaway!
I'm thrilled that Phoebe seems to be going the same way.
Your Great-Auntie Pearl was a redhead and as she aged she went paler and paler until she was blonde, and then she gradually wemnt snow-white. What a fantastic way to age - no grey!

cardinalsin said...

@bobbycat:
Fair point, but then again, try typing the word "chav" into facebook's search engine and look at the groups that come out. Now try "ginger".

As a random aside, if you haven't heard it already go and have a look at Tim Minchin's song "taboo":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-JIjEsLkDA

Anonymous said...

"The last form of prejudice" I think is an alien concept as there will always be something about who people are, the way they are, they way they act etc. that causes people to make generalisations and be bitchy! This doesn't make it right but maybe inevitable.

The most prevalent form of prejudice I see is not against Chav's or "red-heads" as I think people maybe have in the back of their minds that this is unacceptable (some people might even thrive on that unacceptability!). No, one of the most prevalent forms of prejudice (in the UK) in my mind is that against the citizens of the USA.

As a British born reader, I see this form of prejudice everywhere by people who are claiming to take the moral high ground. Even now, some of you may be reading this and thinking that it is "not a proper form of prejudice" but I know my American friends in London are constantly bombarded by the "stupid, unaware, uneducated, obese, morally bankrupt" comments on a daily basis.

Nelly said...

I was born with flame red hair, which unfortunately turned into blonde during my first years. Growing up, I always wanted to be a proper redhead. Now my hair is a mixture of red and blonde (strawberry blonde, I presume) and I am flattered every time someone cathegorizes me as a "ginger". To me, ginger hair is a beautiful, vibrant hair colour which stands out from the crowd.

When it comes to the term "ginger", I have never seen much offense in it. I am from Norway, though, were gingerism is quite uncommon. Several of my friends have red hair and are only ever called gingers in a matter-of-factly way, as a description of their hair colour. However, while I was on vacation in the UK last summer, a group of teenagers shouted "ginger!" to me in the streets. I didn't care too much about it, but I can see why people would react to being called a ginger if they get this sort of abuse regularly...

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