Moggie walked into the haidresser's as a blonde the other day, and walked out a redhead. Mwahahaha. ONE OF US. ONE OF US. ONE OF US.

I was quite surprised when I first heard, as an adult, of redheads getting teased for their hair color. My tastes in TV notwithstanding, I'm American, and I'd never heard "ginger" as a derogatory term for a redhead until South Park centered an entire episode around it. Since I didn't make it a habit to watch South Park either, even that took a while. I had heard the term "firecrotch", which I'd considered one of those things that was nominally rude unless it was coming from someone with whom you had an affectionate relationship -- off-color but not necessarily derogatory. (I also thought Lindsay Lohan was a twit for getting that angry over it.) I've never personally been called "carrot top"; I'd probably be annoyed on the grounds that it was undignified, but it's a bit old-fashioned, and not something kids my own age were likely to have come up with, I don't think.

I can't speak for the boys, but it's my experience that being a redheaded girl makes you a quasi-fetish object much more than it makes you an outcast. Something near or under 5% of the US population are natural redheads, which makes us kind of homegrown exotic. A lot of guys have a thing for "redheads" in the same way as you traditionally think of guys having a thing for "blondes" -- the kind of thing that encourages them to put up with a load of crazy just because of how the girl looks. Not doing redheads, or humankind, any favors there. So far as I know, that started -- at least in terms of Americans -- in the 1920s with Clara Bow, who was not a natural redhead (she henna'd her hair) but was very much the sexpot darling of silent films. She did the same thing for short haircuts on women, which she wore less as a fashion statement and more because her hair was so curly she couldn't get it to behave any other way. Bow, having grown up skint in Brooklyn, also did a lot to further the image of the young redheaded woman as a volatile firebrand, e.g., if you got her mad enough she could and would punch you straight in the snoot.

A lot of later famous redheads were dye jobs as well. Rita Hayworth was of Spanish extraction, and though Spanish redheads aren't unknown, she wasn't one. Gorgeous, she was, but unfortunately, happy she was not. She did a great many very famous films, almost all of which I find difficult to watch. No matter what she's doing, something about her bearing just screams to me "I don't want to be here". She's not the only famous sex symbol who spent most of her life being deeply unhappy, but at least some of the others enjoyed performing.

(Part of the reason I got so adept at eavesdropping in Spanish was that I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. For some reason, the adjective for "redhead" in a lot of European languages is constructed differently than the ones for "blond/e" and "brunet/te" (including English, if you'll notice. We don't say "blond-head" and "brown-head", after all), and Spanish is not an exception. If someone was talking about "la pelirroja" somewhere in the immediate environment, they were pretty much always talking about me -- or my mother, if I was out with the rest of the family.)

As it happened, another famous dyed redhead hit it big just as I reached my teenage years. Gillian Anderson -- who is apparently faintly reddish-blonde naturally, but colored it to almost exactly my shade for Agent Scully -- started working on The X-Files in 1993, and it snowballed from there. I was born in 1981; one day, when I was about fourteen, I woke up and got dragged to the mall and discovered that every last mannequin in the damn building suddenly had my hair color. It was disconcerting, particularly as I hadn't yet noticed that a lot of the guys who started randomly talking to me in public were not looking me in the face, as many 14-year-olds don't.

I have had puppy boys follow me around because of my hair color. I have been asked out second- and third-hand by men who knew absolutely nothing at all about me other than that I was a redhead. I try to find this merely stupefying, rather than actively sad. More felicitously, I also get probably half my work as a model because of my hair color (and length), and my concomitant pallor. I am almost hilariously reflective in flash photography.

American redheads do still have the traditional reputation for being tempestuous and vicious when angered. It's fairly hard to make me lose my temper these days -- I was worse as a child, but then most people were -- but when I do, I apparently am rather scary. I doubt my hair color has anything to do with being obstinate, but because of the rep redheads have, all I have to do is be obstreperous once and everyone assumes that I will do it again if provoked. Makes my life easier, as then they give up butting heads with me as a bad job. Normally people think that quiet blonde Moggie is kind of a space cadet, as they mistake 'not talking to you' as 'not paying attention to anything'; I shall have to ask her if the new hair color makes people sit up and take notice.