As a redhead, I’ve heard a lot of strange comments about my hair. People have tried to tell me it’s orange (which is rude as hell); they’ve told me that redheads are dying out/going extinct (not true); and they’ve compared my hair to Merida’s from Brave (to be fair, our hair texture and color are similar). I’ve also seen a lot of character tropes people use for redheads, and frankly, they’re annoying at best. I’ve made a list of the most common ones below.
Some of us redheads — myself included — have fiery tempers and are outspoken and passionate. Examples in pop culture include Kushina Uzumaki from Naruto, Pippi Longstocking from Pippi Lockingstocking, and Scarlet Benoit from The Lunar Chronicles. It’s unclear where the trope originated, but it may be because red hair was originally associated with Irish and Scottish people, who were considered loud and passionate. Another part may be because of our hair color. Depending on the shade of red and the lighting, red hair can look similar to fire.
This trope isn’t offensive, but it’s annoying and overused. People without red hair can be fiery, and not all redheads are hot-tempered. It’s commonly used because it’s such a popular trope, but I wish people could use something else. Or reinvent it — maybe it’s a curse. On the flip side, it would be interesting to dive deeper into the trope by exploring past the temper and seeing what’s past it. The movie Elemental is a good example. Ember, the protagonist, is a fire person with a bad temper, but the movie explores what’s behind it and reveals more of her personality as the movie goes on. She may not be a redhead, but in this case, it’s close enough.
Supposedly, redheaded women are better in bed, and we have more romantic partners. I’m not sure why these studies were even done — and as an asexual redhead, it makes me very uncomfortable — but there’s no arguing with science, I suppose. Studies like these have helped the stereotypes persist, and as a result, this trope has been commonplace. A famous example of this trope is Jessica Rabbit, both in the novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? and the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Another example — one that isn’t as obvious — is Daphne Blake from the Scooby-Doo franchise, and you can click here to understand more.
It’s important to reiterate that this trope is specific to redheaded women. I find this trope creepy and gross, and not just because I’m asexual. I don’t like the idea of someone looking at me and thinking, “Oh, she has red hair, so she must be good in bed,” or something of that nature. This — hopefully — isn’t very common, but just the idea is enough to make me cringe. That’s not to say redheads, whether they’re real people or characters, shouldn’t be in relationships or have sex; I wish the characters would have more nuance.
It’s been a long-standing belief that redheads are connected to the supernatural. These beliefs may be because redheads are rare or that our hair color is “unnatural.” We’re vampires, werewolves, witches, demons, participants in satanic rituals, and — my personal favorite — we’re spawns of Satan. Many redheaded characters fit in these descriptions, such as Abaddon, a Knight of Hell; Rowena, a witch, from the TV show Supernatural; and Ruin, from the Mistborn series. These characters are also usually evil, though they can change, such as Rowena.
I’m a little morbid, so I think this one can be cool. It depends on how it’s done. If all the redheaded characters are supernatural, or if they’re the only supernatural creatures, then it’s cliche and borderline boring. But if there’s a variety, and the redheaded supernaturals aren’t all portrayed as evil, it could be great. Charlie Bradbury, also from Supernatural, is a human redhead, and she’s amazing. I think the “evil supernatural redhead” is overdone and cliche, but if it’s tweaked, it could be a great trope.
The Redheaded Step-Child
This trope isn’t always literal, but rather someone who is hated, mistreated, and even abused. The phrase originated sometime in the 1800s when there was a massive Irish immigration to the U.S., and they were treated poorly and segregated. Red hair was indicative of Irish heritage, and stepchildren were seen as unwanted, so the phrase was born. Regarding the trope, the character is usually a redhead, and it’s because of their red hair that they aren’t liked. Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, and Yoko Nakajima from The Twelve Kingdoms, are prime examples of this. Their red hair was a source of ridicule, and they were unwanted and mistreated by many around them.
This is offensive, plain and simple. Red hair garners ridicule — I experienced this throughout my childhood — and I have no problem with different forms of media showing this. However, I feel like showing that redheaded children are unwanted by parents, other family members, etc., furthers the ridicule. The phrase “beat you like a redheaded stepchild” is also used in media, such as in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it just makes it worse. The trope is bad because the reason these characters face ridicule is because of their red hair, and that’s it.
There are strong anti-redhead prejudices that exist, called gingerism, that contribute to these tropes and stereotypes. However, it cannot be compared to racism, sexism, ableism, etc., because these are serious forms of oppression, whereas gingerism is more about people’s prejudices.
For an article on fictional redheads, click here.