Redheads are genetic outliers, with only 1-2% of the world’s population naturally red-haired. In The Roots of Desire: The Myth, Meaning and Sexual Power of Red Hair, Marion Roach talks about the semiotics of hair:
For its own part, hair is integral to human semiotics, one of the signs and symbols we use to communicate who we are and one to which others respond when making decisions about just who we might be. Its dual purpose represents not only what we choose it to say about us – shaving our heads to a shocking baldness, say, or restraining hair in braids– but also what others perceive. Perhaps the weightier identifier, in fact, is the latter: the cultural as well as personal history the onlooker brings to the observation. What to know what your hair is saying to the viewer? The answer: Whatever is is they were taught to hear.
That redheads are untrustworthy, fiery, unstable, hot-tempered, highly sexed, rare creatures is what passes for common knowledge today. The belief that they are generally evil, deceitful liars, however, has nearly passed out of use. That they are witches is a belief that thrums through humankind, with lighter shades of it popping up here and there. But we have forgotten now that redheads were once handy to have in the pantry when planning to off someone, a notion that was once tossed back as easily as a bromide. Which means that while we have moved far in time, in our reactions to redheads we’ve only moved along the color wheel to warm from hot. While we no longer burn them at the stake, we still carry potent, inflammatory beliefs about their power.
Hot-tempered? True. Fiery? But, of course. Unstable? Mmm, not really. Doesn’t really fit. I’m actually quite well-grounded. Always have been. And really, I don’t lie that much. As for my sex life? Well, frankly, that’s none of your goddamn business.
I’ve been called “La Jolie Rousse”, though. By my much older French professor, Monsieur Knight. Back in mille neuf cent quatre-vingt quinze, when I studied French literature in Ellensburg, Washington, this side of the jagged Cascades, that side of helplessness. Conjugating French verbs all night while the blonde babies slept (neither one of them inherited my copper tresses, something I’m sad about to this day), working hard for my good grades. Even though I could tell by the twinkle in his eye and that nickname-for-me-but-none-of-the-others that there were other ways I could earn high marks in French lit.
But I made a habit of not dating my professors. And my only regret is that my hair isn’t even redder.