Lots of people make suggestions about what kind of film I should make next. I always try to listen, because you never know, but the truth is it takes about three years to make a film. And if I’m going to invest that kind of time on something I have to really want to delve into that world. Usually I don’t. I have my own list of films that I really want to make, and I’m always adding to it.
Today I was asked to make a documentary about the sexual stereotypes associated with red hair. The person who recommended it said it would be a perfect follow up to Being Ginger. Clearly, she hasn’t actually watched Being Ginger.
That said, stereotypes in media have interested me since I was an undergrad film student at the University of Texas. We spent quite a bit of time talking about the impact they had on society. In one class, which every film student is required to take, a day is spent on each of the traditional stereotyped groups. Redheads never came up.
But the stereotype that redheaded women are hyper-sexual is undeniable. I just saw this add on TV last week:
It isn’t a coincidence that the woman who couldn’t control herself had red hair.
Being a man, I can’t really know what depictions like that would have on young women. I know that redheaded men are depicted as nerds, and I turned out to be a nerd, but I have no idea if media played a roll in that. I’m pretty sure I was going to be a nerd either way. But there is something about the hyper-sexualized stereotype of redheaded women that gives me pause.
I’ve spent the better part of today wondering if there would be a way to get an answer to the question. First of all, just because it’s a redheaded women in one ad, doesn’t prove anything. I guess I’d need to do a study examining how many times a redheaded woman appeared on television in a speaking role every night for a month, and what percentage of those appearances were somehow tied to sex. For such a study to matter though, you’d also have to count every time a blonde woman, or Asian woman, or black woman appeared, and note how often their character was sexualized. And frankly, I’m too swamped trying to plan the rest of my screenings in the US, as well as my next film, to take that on.
But even then, it would become a chicken or the egg question. Stereotypes, while often harmful, come about as a kind of mental shorthand that is often based in some sort of reality. It’s a stereotype that football players are dumb. They aren’t all dumb though. There are plenty who are actually brilliant, but still I feel pretty confident that the percentage of football players who are also in MENSA is lower than the general population. Stereotypes come from somewhere. The question is, where does the sexualized stereotype of redheaded women come from?
The only answer I can come up with is that Eve, the ultimate temptress, is usually depicted as having red hair. The thing is, Adam’s first wife, Lilith, is also often depicted as having red hair. Lilith is thought of more as a demon and far worse than Eve. In “Faust” Mephistopheles warns Faust about her thus: “Beware of her. Her beauty’s one boast is her dangerous hair. When Lilith winds it tight around young men she doesn’t soon let go of them again.”
I remember talking to one redheaded woman who told me she didn’t mind the stereotype because in her case it was true. I can’t help but wonder about it all though. If anyone happens to be writing a paper on media stereotypes, I submit that this might make a worthy topic.