Cahal Milmo: Redheads Historically - And Notoriously - Tempestuous

Roundup: Talking About History

Aristotle, for all his learning, was among the first to express hair-based prejudice when he wrote: 'The reddish are of bad character.' The Medieval inhabitants of modern Poland were so wary they burnt them all as witches, and the Normans charged twice the going rate when they were put up for sale as slaves.

From Cleopatra and her auburn tresses to the blood-stained ginger locks of Boudicca and the dance-related strops of Patsy Palmer " and including Napoleon Bonaparte, Oliver Cromwell and Leeds United hardman Billy Bremner " redheads and their reputation for a temper as fiery as their manes have fascinated humanity since they apparently first stalked the earth just 20,000 years ago.

All it takes to be born with red hair is the presence of the melanocortin 1 receptor or MC1R, the genetic mutation that dictates whether a person has the type of pigment to produce such distinctive locks.

But from this accident of nature flows an avalanche of science, history, mythology and naked prejudice to suggest that redheads are indeed to be feared and admired, if for their fury and ability to withstand pain and exude sexual attraction.

The role of a fiery temptress was laid down for redheaded women as early as the Bible; Lilith, the lascivious she-demon with a propensity for eating male children before medieval theologians made her the first wife of Adam, has always been portrayed as a redhead.

Experts on redheadedness say that if a child is born with red hair, it is better if it is a girl, for the auburn male is likely to attract little more than derision.

Marion Roach, a New Yorkbased writer whose history of red hair, Roots of Desire, was published this summer, said: 'Redheads have been the subject of curiosity and stigma since time immemorial. 'At some point in history, our perception divided along gender lines. The red-haired woman has moved from being portrayed as merely evil to being highly sexual.

'But the mythology of the male remained one of distrust. Redhaired men don't have the power or appeal of women. For example, pollsters will tell you it's very difficult to sell a red-headed male politician.'

[Editor's Note: This is a short excerpt from a much longer article. Please see The Independent for more.]

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