I Am Not A Porn Category

I have no interest in being your redhead experience

Image by thisismyurl on Pixabay

Oh, the joys of Tinder pick-up lines. I get it, writing the first message is scary and awkward, but I would honestly prefer a “hey” or even a penis emoji to all the “I ❤ redheads”, comments about how gingers are more passionate in bed or the question “do the carpets match the drapes?”

Unfortunately, because I am ginger, this kind of thing makes up the majority of messages I get on dating sites. I am not entirely sure what am I supposed to answer. Yes hello stranger, I am thrilled that you like redheads and would love to discuss my pubic hair with you.

This isn’t limited to the internet though. Street harassment and sexual harassment of any kind usually go along the same lines. As though my hair is a beacon calling out to all creeps. Even guys I have been in a relationship said things that were supposed to be compliments, but just made me feel like I was being objectified. The fact is, I do not want to be your redhead experience. I’m not here to satisfy your desire to “test what it is like with ginger.”

Witches, prostitutes, demons and traitoresses

Poster for Paris’ Redheads exhibition

Treating redheads like hyper-sexualised semi-humans goes beyond the stereotypes of Pornhub and Tinder. I mean when you think about redheads in film, they are usually playing prostitutes (think Moulin Rouge) or wild women living in the forest (think Captain Fantastic or Brave).

The other day, I went to an exhibition in Paris called “Redheads”, which I must say, was the creepiest Museum I have every visited, including New Delhi’s Toilet Museum and the vaguely sinister display of moving wax figures I once stumbled upon in a village in Southern Turkey .

It began with some pretty oil paintings accompanied by quotations about how evil gingers are (“Ginger, the colour of demons, foxes, falseness and treachery”), and how wild and sexy (Pale girl with the auburn hair / Whose dress through its tears and holes / Reveals your poverty/ And your beauty/ For me, an ailing poet/ Your body, young and sickly / Spotted with countless freckles/ Has its sweetness.)

Then there was a room where they screened a documentary about redheads, where women with died hair described how going red had helped them discover their voracious sexuality, and a sex-shop owner showed the reporter around a huge aisle of plastic sex dolls with red hair, and then drove about with one of them, named Angélique, in his car. They also went to see an “expert” to answer the question of whether or not redheads have a particular scent. He was surrounded by bottles and test tubes and was a professional perfume maker or something similar, so presumably, he was supposed to bring some sort of scientific clot to the matter. Instead, he just said: “No, I’ve never really noticed that gingers were particularly smelly.”

Somehow I don’t think that will go far towards convincing kids that No, redheads don’t smell. Nor do we go rusty when it rains.

Treating women as categories

Ginger women, all women, deserve better than such exhibitions and such chat-up lines.

When you reduce women to a single attribute of their physical appearance, you deny them their humanity, their complexity as a human being and as a subject. It is the very definition of sexual objectification: the act of treating someone as though they are a mere object of sexual desire, in this case defined by the category you have put them in.

I don’t want to be anyone’s redhead, and other women don’t want to be anyone’s black woman / fat woman / Asian / MILF …The world of women is not a long list of porn categories in which men can pick and chose the flavour you like. We are humans. We are complex.

When a man says I love redheads / Black Girls/ Asians / etc., he is reducing a woman to one element of her identity, and imposing a hyper-sexualised vision of that identity. This is harmful and alienating in many ways. It takes a woman’s agency away by robbing them of other traits, hits her self-confidence by seeing value only in her as a physical object, and prevents her from taking pride in an element of her identity which has been appropriated to fulfil the man’s own fantasy, and which, often is a trait which is already depreciated by society.

When sexism meets racism

For redheads, this objectification doesn’t carry the same weight and harmfulness as it does for ethnically oppressed groups. One horrible idea running around is the idea of testing a certain “type” of a woman, meaning ethnicity. A former friend of my boyfriend once texted him “Dude, what are Asians like in bed? I’m dating this girl and she’s Chinese. I wanna try it out.” This reinforces the stereotype of people of colour being “other”, as well as dangerous ideologies of biologically distinct races, as though sleeping with a person with one colour of skin was radically different from sleeping with a white person.

Sexual stereotypes often present women of colour as “exotic”, “hypersexual” and “animal”, things which have a deep impact on their lives. When the French Afro-feminist blogger Mrs Roots tweeted to ask black women for stories of racism in their relationships back in January 2017, she was overwhelmed by the response. Hundreds of women tweeted back with their experiences: times when partners had told them “I’ve always fantasised of being with a black woman and calling her my slave”,” or “You smell good, usually black women have a strong smell,” or “you’re like a wild black panther”. These fleeting remarks made in the most intimate of contexts reveal deeply ingrained stereotypes, tinged with colonialism, where black women are seen as hyper-sexual and untamed.

Black women in France suffer the dual punishment of being both black and female, facing discrimination at home, at school, in the workplace, fed by these sexual stereotypes. It’s a reality that documentary producer Amandine Gay portrayed in her documentary “Ouvrir la Voix” ou “Speak up”The film shows 24 black women from France and Belgium, discussing their own experiences as black Europeans. They describe how strangers come up and stroke their hair and how employers would sexually harass them with racist statements. As one woman concludes, “A black woman can never be the person that she wants to be.” There is a long road ahead before things can change in France’s deeply racist society. On the website of Le Monde, France’s biggest newspaper, articles about Amandine Gay’s documentary were placed in the “Africa” section.

Having a “type”

Not reducing women to a category doesn’t mean people aren’t allowed to have a “type”. Generally, that type will be defined by social and gendered stereotypes, and it is always worth wondering where it comes from, and whether those stereotypes can be challenged, but in the society we have been raised in, the fact that each person finds certain characteristics attractive is a fact.

The problem is when that “type” becomes something used to reduce humans to objects, and imposed on the desired person as a limited identity. You can find certain elements attractive, but that will presumably not be the only thing you like about the person, the only reason you want to be with them. You are more complex than that too. So in your words and in your mind, don’t hem them into a category. Because the thing is, women don’t want to be your porn category.

Because we, too, have a type: men that treat us like human beings.

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