Shortt Cuts #1: “What if it comes out ginger?”

 See introduction at: http://www.harrietshortt.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/back-to-school-this-years-subjects-are-babies-and-bleach

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When I was pregnant this was one of the questions I was frequently asked. I’m not a redhead and nor is my husband, although my mother-in-law has naturally auburn hair. But this seemed to be a genuine concern for some people – “Can you imagine? A ginger child?! (gasp)…oh the horror, oh the shame!”

Really? Is it still ok to say/ ask this? Are these prejudices still around? And so what if I had a red-headed child?!

In Wendy Cooper’s book on ‘Hair’ she presents a brief history as to why red hair was once so popular; famously Titian depicted beautiful red-haired Venetian women in his paintings, and at the time of Elizabeth I’s reign, society was apparently desperate to find ways of replicating her copper locks…even rhubarb juice was used to try to get that flame haired look. Yet somehow, over time, red heads have been mocked, distrusted and portrayed as suspicious. Flame coloured hair, Cooper writes, is linked to Judas, witches and witchcraft, and sexually promiscuous and dangerous women.

Cooper’s book was published in 1971. Her short narrative on red hair rather breezily concludes that it is now ‘back in favour’, certainly in Europe and the U.S. and she seems to equate this with the advent of colour television and movies and as such, red-haired women being seen as passionate rather than dangerous. Hmmm…Cooper seems to suggest historical prejudices are no more…I’m not so sure. And it seems I’m not alone…

In the last few weeks The Sunday Times has published two articles on the topic of ‘red’. In one, Emma Smith reviews a new book (out last week) by Jacky Colliss Harvey, ‘Red: A Natural History of the Redhead’ in which Harvey explores the history, mythology and biology of red hair. It sounds like a good read – a cultural and social foray into the who’s who of red hair, including Tintin, Ronald MacDonald and Mary Magdalene. As Smith suggests, this book seems to be part of a current ‘growing movement’ to reclaim red hair from the ‘bigots and bullies’ and ‘celebrate it’s varied hues’.

In another article, and on the back of this new publication, red haired historian Kate Williams reports on the mocking of ‘gingers’ and recounts her own experiences of bullying as child growing up in the 1980s – as she puts it, having red hair was a ‘social disaster’. Williams’ article goes on to present a number of grim prejudices experienced by a variety of young people in recent years; name calling, those who are ginger deemed as ‘unattractive’ (she recalls a university friend explaining that ‘ginger rhymes with minger’), those driven to suicide by bullies’ slurs on the colour of their hair, the advent of ‘Kick a Ginger’ websites (that led to attacks on school children), physical harassment…and, reportedly, that red heads are now seven times less likely to get a job than a dark-haired applicant. All pretty shocking stuff.

Following these cruel accounts of bullying and frankly appalling stories of discrimination, Williams plots a brief history of when red-haired men and women have been in and out of vogue and gradually attempts to move towards a more positive conclusion. Now, she suggests, in the 21st Century ‘red-heads are in fashion’  (just as Cooper did in 1971)…although this time I found, rather disappointingly, some of this ‘fashion’ appears to be attributed to the all-powerful Taylor Swift saying she would ‘do a ginger’ and Ed Sheeran believing ‘he has helped ginger men to have more sex “we’re finally getting laid”’. So is the suggestion here that when red heads are in fashion it’s all about attractiveness and sex? Maybe it would have been even better if Williams had, instead, acknowledged, say, Greg Rutherford’s recent sporting achievements or the fact that at this year’s Glastonbury festival, Florence and the Machine’s Florence Welch was the first British female headliner this century! Come on Williams – surely red-headed achievements and role models win over Swift ‘doing’ one?!

I was more encouraged by the news that the Australian Red and Nearly Ginger Association (RANGA) are attacking stereotypes and by all accounts attacking prejudices too. And the good news that in 2011, when the world’s biggest sperm bank announced it was to stop accepting donations from ginger men, there was a huge backlash and ‘a surge in requests’ for ginger donors.

Maybe I’ve missed something here, but for me it’s not about ginger being fashionable or not. I think Smith had it right when she suggested we ‘reclaim red hair from bigots and bullies’ and ‘simply celebrate its varied hues’. This got me thinking about my own red headed friends and their many and varied hues (from strawberry blonde to dark auburn)…and their many and varied talents – VP and General Counsel, Development Manager, BAFTA Award Winning TV Producer, Oxford University Student, Musician, Academic, Solicitor, Creative, Personal Trainer, Vintage Clothing Business Owner. So, if I had had a red-headed daughter, I’m sure she would have embraced her hair, been proud of her locks and had some pretty great role models along the way!

P.S. Thanks to my friend Owen for his Facebook post the other day: Gingers Rejoice! Redhead Day UK is coming! A special event that celebrates red-head power, including arts, music and entertainment…and the MOGO Awards (Music of Ginger Origin!!). 12th September 2015, Angel, London www.redheaddayuk.co.uk

 

Back to School? This year’s subjects are Babies and Bleach…

It’s September. In my normal life this would mean there would be that familiar smell in the increasingly cooler air that says it’s a new term, go to Paperchase and buy some new stationary and dig out the woolly tights! I’d usually be gearing up for some sort of conversation with my Head of Group about my workload bundles and be negotiating the number of first year tutorials that lie between now and Christmas. I feel like I should be back at school…

Instead, I’m smelling that September air and booking myself onto a Baby Sensory course and wondering whether or not I should buy the Rainforest Jumperoo on Ebay. I’m on maternity leave…and loving it. The past year (and it’s been almost a year since I last blogged) has been filled with a happy pregnancy, anxieties and excitement about temporarily leaving work, and the birth of our beautiful baby daughter in May. The last few months, as is the case for many new parents, has been full of clichés; it’s been a huge learning curve, the realisation that life will never be the same again, falling in love in a whole new way, getting used to less sleep, and realising that, as Mother always said, you’ve given birth to an accelerator and time simply takes on a new dimension. I am now aware that all the clichés and trite things that people said when I was pregnant…are true.

But there are also things I’ve found that aren’t so true. One thing I’ve found relatively easy has been spending time at home. As an academic, most of my summer months are spent at home, so being here has been normal – I’ve just replaced my research work with a new project, swapped books for bottles, and traded in papers for Pampers. I haven’t yet yearned for ‘adult conversation’, I’ve not been covered in sick (much), I’ve managed to do my make-up AND my hair, and I’ve found babies to be fascinating company.

What I wasn’t expecting was hitting September with such an unsettled feeling. It’s not that I’m missing work (although I am certainly making an effort to see friends and colleagues), it just feels strange not to be at work this time of year. An odd case of “I don’t want to be there but it’s weird not being involved” …if that makes sense…

This past weekend, I also found myself reflecting on what I had (naively) intended to do on maternity leave; read lots of books, make a quilt, keep a diary, clear out my study…and so on and so on… All of this with the view that “babies sleep, right?! So I’ll have some time on my hands?” Needless to say I have barely done any of these things. And so, five months into my maternity leave I find myself thinking, what have I achieved? What have I got to show for this time off? …then I wanted to slap myself around the face (hard) and say “What?! YOUR BABY is what you’ve got to show for this and it’s NOT time ‘off’. You have a right to this time and YOU are benefitting from this and so is your baby!”

I recently spoke to a great friend about these feelings and after a virtual hug (we were speaking on email), she wisely noted that this almost ‘performance culture’ must be rife in today’s (Western?) society…that we even try and make maternity leave as ‘productive’ as possible! Awful, isn’t it?

Why can’t we just be? Why do we need to milk (forgive the pun) every ounce of time we have and place unrealistic demands on ourselves and what we ‘should’ be achieving? Why do we feel the need to ‘do’ all the time? I also wonder what other people think about this – other new parents – and what are other people doing on their maternity leave? Answers on a postcard please…

Still, I am left feeling part mother, part academic…part content at watching my little girl giggle and laugh all day, part itching to ‘do’ something. On the one hand I am telling myself to enjoy this time…on the other hand I’m nudging myself to at least write something. Looking ahead, there’s that sense of returning to work next May a changed woman, with family as a priority and not the perfect lecture…but feeling a bit like a rusty old bike that’s been left in the garden for a year.

This is what has prompted me to get back on my bike…or rather, my blog. Here is a space where I can ‘do’ something, here is a space to metaphorically keep the wheels oiled…

…and what better subject to blog about than my love of all things Hair! If I had a hair salon, I’d join the hundreds of hair salons that embrace a jolly good pun – Alive and Klippin’, Curl Up and Dye, Bright ‘n’ Bleach – and I’d call my salon ‘Shortt Cuts’. For now, this seems an apt name for my short(t) blog pieces on hair, hairdressing, hairdressers and the brilliant world of bleach!

I will start with a piece on being ginger…