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Dare to Ask: Fiery temper to match that fiery hair?

By PHILLIP MILANO

Question

Why do they say people with red hair have a temper?

Marksam, 40, Rhyl, United Kingdom

Replies

I had a school teacher who picked on me severely because she said she “knew” I had a bad temper because I have red hair. I’m one of the calmest people I know, although I have noticed that staying calm when someone wants an argument with you does annoy people greatly.

H., 24, London

Being a redhead, people are prejudiced against me and treat me differently, and not in a good way. This [angers me], and I let them know that, and they don’t like it. So that makes me the bad guy, in their eyes.

Jess, 40, male, Chicago

My “temper” has nothing to do with the color of my hair. I will confess that I have, in the past, attempted to use it to “excuse” my behavior, but have learned not to because it can backfire. How? If I am really angry, I might not be listened to because it’s just “an obvious reaction from a redhead – what can you expect?”

Vicci, Southampton, United Kingdom

I guess it is possible there is genetic linkage between red hair and a bad temper, but I have a feeling it’s more of a self-fulfilling prophecy. My grandmother still gets away with temper tantrums by blaming it on her “coloring” – even though it now comes out of a bottle!

B.B., 26, female, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Expert says

Don’t get mad about these interesting facts about redheads.

– They are more sensitive to pain and require more anesthetic for their operations, a study by anesthesiologist Edwin Liem at the University of Louisville found.

– According to a Washington Post article, a Clairol Color Attitudes Survey found 71 percent of redheads felt the word “bold” described them – compared to 47 percent of blondes.

– The red hair gene was discovered in 1995 by the lab of Jonathan Rees, now professor of dermatology at the University of Edinburgh. It may have popped up as recently as only 50,000 years ago. (A myth: Redheads, with their recessive gene, will be extinct in 100 years.)

So, why the temper talk?

According to red-haired Marion Roach, author of The Roots of Desire: The Myth, Meaning, and Sexual Power of Red Hair, the Greek philosophers of the fifth century B.C. said human temperaments were caused by four “humors,” or bodily fluids, one of which was blood. Blood, being red, was associated with being sanguine. Redheads were thought to have this temperament. Eventually, though, it came to be thought of as just hot-headedness.

Also, many mythical and literary figures associated with evil or sin were portrayed as being red or redheaded – from Satan to Judas to Mary Magdalene to the demonlike Lilith. That didn’t help matters.

Then there’s the fact that redheads are just unusual, and people sometimes attach negative stereotypes to anything different, Roach said.

All the legends and stories don’t bother her, though.

“I don’t mind people thinking I’m bad-tempered. It’s saved me some fights!”

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