‘Gingerism’ – is it a real thing?

So, the other day, I was walking back from lectures along a busy road with lots of students around me when I hear someone, (a male voice), shout ‘ginger’, from his car window. I didn’t turn to look, I just carried on walking, absolutely livid that some ignorant f!!!k had got away with discrimination – gingerism – to be precise.

I didn’t even realise the term ‘gingerism’ existed until last year. It is described as being ‘prejudice against, or maltreatment of people with red hair’, (pretty self-explanatory stuff so far…), but how real is gingerism in today’s society? Is it just a glorified term for name-calling?

First and foremost, as a ‘ginger’ myself, I do actually take issue with the aforementioned tag used to describe people with red hair- I’ve always been told by my parents that ‘ginger’ is a pejorative and crude term in contrast to the more technically accurate ‘redhead’. Let’s be honest, when do you ever see or hear the word ‘ginger’ employed in a positive light. Well…never.  Even among my friends, people I’ve known for years, the term ‘ginger’ is frequently used in a negative manner to describe a botched hair-dye fiasco, or, more commonly in a conversation about how they would give their children up for adoption if they were born with ginger hair…can you imagine, red-headed children? Who the hell wants babies with red hair? And so, as a largely insecure teen, I believed that my red-hair made me instantly and unquestionably undesirable. I even went for a consultation with my hair-dresser about potentially dyeing my hair blonde, and, to top it all off, the sad truth is that I myself now question whether I would actually want children with red hair…

Well, I’ve realised that the media is largely to blame for the toleration of gingerism in today’s society. It appears that Popular Culture is very much responsible for the rise of ‘the ginger kid’. What I mean by this is that, generally speaking, the stereotypical red-headed child is portrayed either as the bespectacled geek, or the lonesome outsider. Take a look at South Park for instance…Now obviously it’s all a joke to most of us, I did indeed laugh, but it’s the effect that it can have on younger children that concerns me.

Equally however, I do believe that Popular Culture has a tendency to portray red-headed women in a slightly different light. For some inexplicable reason, there appears to be an abundance of overly-sexualised and exotic-looking red-headed female characters dominating the silver screen (like Jessica Rabbit, for instance). This bizarre phenomenon unsurprisingly opens up a whole new can of worms about the differences between representations of red-headed men and women and whether or not men are more likely to be subject to gingerism. Without going into too much detail (and before I deviate any further!), I do strongly believe that the media’s ability to brainwash children from a young age has meant that red-headed men are more likely to be exposed to forms of gingerism compared to women.

As a female, I have never been bullied because of the colour of my hair. Sure, I’ve been subjected to pathetic name-calling by random people in the street who for some reason think it’s hilarious to point and shout, ‘ginger spice’ or ‘ginga’, umm, well figured, good to know you’re not colour blind… Sarcasm aside, I nonetheless believe that there is something fundamentally wrong about the mocking of people for the colour of their natural hair. For instance, no right-minded person would ever dare to mock other people in public for having a certain skin colour. It would rightly be classed as racism and would not be tolerated under any circumstance. And yet, according to society, gingerism is deemed tolerable (dare I say, encouraged by the media) and without any serious consequences. (Please bear in mind that in no way am I equating racism with gingerism – they are 2 very different things –  I simply find it interesting to look at the ways society deals with varying forms of discrimination.)

All in all thus, it does appear to me that gingerism is an actual thing, a real form of discrimination that still appears to be socially acceptable. Someone once described it as being ‘the last socially acceptable form of prejudice’, and I would certainly agree that that is the case. So, what now? Is it worth labelling as a ‘hate crime’? Do we need to change the way the media represents red-heads? There’s a lot that can be done, but I’m not sure how much of it is going to have any lasting impact on society.

Short-term solutions:

  • Call us red-heads and not gingers
  • Don’t ever think it’s acceptable to shout/inflict any ‘ginger’-related abuse
  • And please, for the love of God, think twice before you start making nonchalant comments about how grim and ginger your hair looks after you tried to dye it blonde




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