Redheads, assemble!

 

My love of red-headed folk is long-standing. There are ginger genes in my family. My nan had auburn hair and my mum is a bright, coppery beacon. As a child I even had a shrine of images on my wall that burst with oranges and reds and translucent skin. I was in awe of red-heads even then; I called them my ‘happy people’. Seeing an abundance of coppery hair has always drawn me and made me smile.  I guess you could call me a rutiluphile but for me it’s much more than sexual attraction. It’s a feeling of affinity and of kinship. It’s a feeling of both longing and belonging.

Whilst I’m only a token ginger by virtue of my mum’s carrot hair hues and Lush’s rouge henna, I heartily identify as a redheaded woman. Lucky me, then, that there are some awe-inspiring, powerful, bold, flawed, ginger heroines throughout history to take a cue from. From Boudicca to Ygritte the Wildling, via Lucille Ball and Elizabeth I, redheaded women are known for their fieriness, passion and explosive tempers. I mean, you wouldn’t mess with Black Widow or Jean Gray, would you?

 

The past is bursting with examples of red-headed women inspiring art. Dante Gabriel Rossetti and other Pre-Raphelite painters loved the lusciousness that red-headed women brought to their work. Alphonse Mucha created flowing art-deco images blazing with red-heads. Part of the appeal to artists is how striking red hair is. It is visually arresting and creates a powerful contrast or emphasis that makes for compelling art. Just as red-headed men have become associated with being untrustworthy due, in part, to the depiction of Judas as a redhead, women with red hair have become synonymous with sensuality, licentiousness and deception. The image of the wily temptress is often portrayed simply by the addition of ginger hair.

 

 

Throughout history, red-headed women have been known not only for their stunning beauty, but for their ferocity and cunning. Being already well-aware of the physical allure of red hair, I’ve recently been reading more about the characters of these well-known red-headed women. I love historical fiction; it’s meaty, character driven, informative (when taken with a pinch of salt) and full of amazing personal stories. What intrigues me most is the intimacy of the readers’ relationship with the central characters, whether they’re maids, jesters or monarchs. Little wonder then that I adore Tudor fiction with the powerful and poisonous Queen Elizabeth I. I’ve read pretty much every novel based on her life, and those of her mother and father. (Henry VIII was, after all, a red-head).

In terms of non-fiction, Tracy Borman’s Elizabeth’s Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen shows us a female-centric world in which the cult of the personality, as in most monarchies, prevailed. Elizabeth used her red-headedness to her advantage throughout her reign, and not just as a means of seduction. It was a blatant defiance of any doubt cast on her parentage. Her hair was Tudor red and she played on this as proof that she was her father’s daughter and that she was capable of leading as Henry had before her. Naturally, red hair became fashionable during the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth relied on this as a symbol of self. In her later life she wore wigs, which she had made in different hues of red and copper. It certainly had the desired effect, creating an instantly recognisable figure to us today.

Reaching even further back into society’s cult of the redhead is the legendary figure of Boudicca. When I discovered the Dreaming the Eagle series based on the warrior queen, I think I made a sound that only dogs and Professor Xavier could hear. Boudicca has is all as far as I’m concerned – she’s a warrior, she’s a leader, she’s Scottish, she’s anti-establishment and she is so ginger it hurts (see my post Me, Myself and Merida for more on this killer combination). The mixture of the mythology surrounding her and historical fiction format, this series is proving to be an immediate favourite. In these books, we meet the warrior queen Boudicca before she even exists – when she is a child named Breaca. We meet the men and women in her community and see how central the spirituality of her nation is to her every choice and action. It is laden with small details that together build an immersive world, every bit as real as our own. Boudica is depicted as a woman, destined for greatness, but by no means ready and willing. It is a tough slog with hard decisions, personal loss and bad choices.

My most recent red-head reading has been Red: A Natural History of the Redhead by Jacky Colliss Harvey. It’s essential reading for red-heads, aspiring red-heads and social historians. It charts the mythological and social perception of red-heads, their anatomical differences, the gendered assumptions about redheads and more. The gene may be recessive, but the cultural obsession is growing!

As for me, I’m ready for the red-head-revolution:

 

miss lilith

red-head and proud

The Eagle Huntress: A Raving Review

aisholpan

Photo Credit: Asher Svidensky

 

I have a new heroine. She’s called Aisholpan. She’s 13 years old. She is The Eagle Huntress.

This is a raving review, not only of a beautiful piece of film-making (an amazing undertaking by novice Otto Bell), but of a girl showing bravery, resilience and passion despite the not inconsiderable obstacles of tradition and terrain. Set in the stunning mountains of Mongolia, The Eagle Huntress is a documentary that looks at the nomadic way of life, tradition and progress on an intimate level. As viewers, we are privileged to experience the coming-of-age of an extraordinary girl. Aisholpan is a trailblazer, but all the more for how unremarkable she is in other ways. She goes to school, looks after her siblings, paints her nails, has dreams of becoming a doctor. She lives in a world that is changing – straddling the nomadic tradition and the increasingly modern world.

Aisholpan’s forebears are Eagle Hunters: revered members of the nomadic tribes, bringers of food and fur, masters of the majestic Golden Eagle and, always, men. It is a male inheritance, a male ancestry. This is a celebration of non-conformity. This is a story not only about a young woman, but about the men around her that have the strength to correct a long-lived falsehood – that women are not strong enough, resilient enough, patient enough. Instead they are proud to say, ‘Women are more than enough’.

Aged 13, Aisholpan proves herself to be a robust and talented individual, regardless of those factors which others have proclaimed must exclude her. Even the proof of their own eyes will not persuade the tribe elders of their misjudgement.  Aisholpan’s victory in the festival is received with discomfort and disregard. ‘It’s proof of a sort’, concedes one of the elders. The objection remains that Aisholpan has yet to prove herself beyond the arena, that she must succeed in the wilderness, too – only then will she be worthy. The catch-22 is that the objective is one of which they do not think her capable.

All too often this is true for those who are female, non-binary, of colour. Going beyond the achievement of the male (or oppressor of any kind) does not guarantee triumph, it does not even guarantee equality. Yet, it has been said that the best revenge is success. Fitting, then, that the film ends with Aisholpan catching her first fox, having weathered the brutal conditions of the mountains. There is abundant proof of her capability and even more of her contentedness.

The role of the Eagle Hunter or Huntress is vital for survival; it serves both a practical and a spiritual purpose. The meat and fur provided by the day’s hunt will keep the families alive. The connection between the eagle and the hunter is sacred. It is a partnership built on mutual dependence; it is a significant connection with the natural world.

Particularly moving was Aisholpan’s attitude and outlook throughout the film. From scaling a mountain face to capture her eaglet to competing in the world-renowned festival (as the first female and youngest competitor), she approaches everything with a stoic calm and assuredness. Perhaps this can be attributed to her youth, but it is an attitude of which many young women are stripped early on. She turns an entire tradition on it’s head without missing a step. She is never disrespectful to her heritage, though; she is simply growing into who she is and has every right to be. Becoming an Eagle Huntress is not a child’s whim, it is an act of dedication and a sweeping aside of barriers that ought not to be there.

If in doubt, ask yourself, what would Aisholpan do?