Social norms come in all shapes and sizes. They change based on where you are, who you’re with, your culture, the weather, and sometimes they exist only because people THINK they do. Philosophers have been arguing morality and the breaking of social norms and values since the beginning of the ancient occupation. But what makes us take offense? Yesterday, I talked about harassment being in the eyes of the beholder, so how do we avoid offending and harassing if that is not, in fact, our intent? I’m not sure- though there is a lot of research other there- that there is a definitive answer. But what I do know is Abraham Lincoln made a good point when he said,
“You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time some of the people all of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”
So why am I even concerned with this? One of my dear friends commented on my last blog, saying that he thought by the title it was going to be a call against all of those who call redheads ‘gingers’, and the discrimination that is cast our way. It occurred to me that a term that I think of as a compliment (the term ‘ginger’ is used as a means of denoting a red head with a fiery personality and spunk, in my group of friends), is actually used as an insult in some places. It got me thinking about the term, about being a red head, and about how interesting it is that perception varies so vastly. Also, I wanted him to know that I appreciate and value the differences in our perceptions.
“Cultural reactions have varied from ridicule to admiration; many common stereotypes exist regarding redheads and they are often portrayed as fiery-tempered.” (Red head, 2012)
Certainly, in England they have a more historically negative connotation for the term ‘ginger’, as red hair is most common in Scotland and Ireland (and most of us know the struggles there). Here in the US, it seems the biggest reason people are likely to find the term ‘ginger’ offensive is if they’ve in some way been exposed to the episode of South Park where they poke fun at prejudice in general using ‘gingers’ as the trait being discriminated against. Little did South Park writers know that people wouldn’t get the irony they were going for (Ginger kids, 2012). Admittedly, it is hard to believe (not to mention be okay with) people supporting ‘Kick the Ginger Day’ (on FB the group apparently had over 5,000 supporters at one point). Nicely done, people. And, of course, if you grow up with red hair, you have undoubtedly been called ‘carrot top’ or some other ridiculous name (carrots are roots, people… they’re tops are GREEN). In some ways, the negative perception of the “mutation” in pigment is perpetuated by theatre and movies as well (Red head, 2012).
Then again, blondes and brunettes have various jokes made about them due to the color of their hair too. There is research that suggests that men perceive blondes as being less intelligent than brunettes, and redheads as being more temperamental than both blondes and brunettes (Weir & Fine-Davis, 1989).
No surprise there. In medieval times, they apparently thought redheads were over sexed (is there such a thing) and morally degenerate. That explains the no soul thing, I suppose. However, in other cultures red hair is revered (apparently Muhammad was thought to have been a red head… score one BIG one for us!)
However you perceive the word ‘ginger’, I guess the point is to make sure you aren’t calling someone a ‘ginger’ who doesn’t want to be called by that name. Intention matters, and if you’re being cruel to someone, any word can become a derogatory one; keep it in mind. As for me, and I hope my friend forgives me for this, I’m going to keep calling my little rants ‘Ginger Rage’. I am proud of the fact that I am feisty, temperamental, and don’t have to dye my hair to have an excuse for it all. I take pride in my heritage (I’m Irish), in my excess of pheomelanin, and although “I have a thing for redheads” gets old as a pick up line, there’s a part of me that can’t blame them. We have the peacock thing happening… we’re pretty incredible, what can I say?
Ginger kids. (2012, September). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginger_Kids
Red hair. (2012, September). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_hair#Beliefs_about_temperament