Te Kete Ipurangi Navigation:

Te Kete Ipurangi

Te Kete Ipurangi user options:

English Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

The ginga stereotype

By Lucy Croft

If you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to be a natural redhead, it is most likely that you would've experienced cat-calls of "GINGA" as you amble down the street. It is a simple statement that is both admirable and yet degrading. Yes, 'gingas' are a hard race of hair to find (only 4% of the world's population are natural redheads), but is it really necessary to single them out for their colour?

Contrary to popular belief, redheads aren't considered to have "piping-hot tempers" and don't tend to display "crazy, with-like behaviour" (or if they do, it hasn't been scientifically proven). However, during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, having flame coloured hair was taken to mean that you had stolen the fire out of hell and therefore had to be burnt as a 'witch'. Likewise, in German history (around the Middle Ages) one of the marks of a 'witch' was also red hair. The poor ginger 'witch' on trial would ultimately be burnt at the stake or drowned in the nearby river because of her distinctive hair. Thankfully, times have changed since then; however, an Irish judge fined a man (with red hair) for disorderly conduct in 2001, saying "I am a firm believer that hair colouring has an effect on temper and your colouring suggests that you have a temper." Stereotypical? It seems so!

Over the centuries, there have been many famous redheads. One of the more well-known ones is Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus Christ. His red hair was meant to symbolize the fact that he was 'untrustworthy' - and indeed he was. Other well-known gingas include Nicole Kidman, Katherine Hepburn, Geri Halliwell, Queen Elizabeth I and Winston Churchill. It's no surprise that most famous 'gingernuts' are from the British Isles - It's a well-known fact that the area is one of the main places where red heads are descended. 

So how does red hair come about? The hair in question is a genetic trait that can be passed from generation to generation. A red haired person generally has genes for blond hair, as well as separate genes that carry red hair. The final result makes the ginger colour seen in the streets today. Sometimes there are dark-haired people that carry the red gene, but the dark genes over rule the red ones, so the person ultimately ends up brown or black-haired. 

Generally, red heads are pale, freckle easily, and never get tanned. This means that they usually tend to have an increased risk of skin cancer in later life. In the summer sun here in Aotearoa, some gingas find that SPF 30 isn't enough, and consequently walk around looking like lobsters for a couple of days.
 One genetic factor that red heads are lucky to have is that they don't turn grey later on in life, but instead turn a sandy colour, then white. So really, gingernuts are the lucky ones in the long run!

So the age-old debate beckons; do we need to single out redheads for their colour? The answer is no. After all, this vibrant hue is something to celebrate, not shun. Who wants to be a dull brown? Bring out the orange dye instead!

Published on: 17 Jan 2011