Red-Headed Stepchild

"I'm gonna beat you like a redheaded stepchild."

Redheads who are bullied, picked-on, beaten, or just plain hated for no reason other than having red hair. Sadly, this is not a Discredited Trope.

The expression is from mixed Italian-Irish families in the late 19th century. The red-haired stepchildren would be seen as evil. Also, red hair would underscore that the child is not related to the stepparent, as seen by the physical difference — and, alas, the Wicked Stepmother (and father, too) is not a Fairy Tale.

See also Wicked Stepmother, Hilariously Abusive Childhood. Contrast Redheaded Bully. If the redhead is made fun of for more than just her hair color it falls under Redheads Are Uncool.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Saiyuki, Gojyo is his family's literal version, raised by his stepmother who hated the color red because it reminded her of him, and thus of her husband's affair. The red hair and eyes are proof that he's a half-breed; these are considered an abomination and extremely unlucky.
  • Claire Stanfield from Baccano! is a literal redheaded stepchild of the Gandor Family. Mind you, the other three aren't exactly on the straight path either, but at least they are not batshit frickin' insane.
  • Kyo Sohma from Fruits Basket could probably qualify as this and a Redheaded Hero — and is certainly unwanted by his (biological) father.
  • In Naruto, the titular character's mother, Kushina Uzumaki went through this as a child (red hair is later revealed to be symbolic of her clan). She grew to hate her hair color until her future husband complimented it.
  • Yoko Nakajima of The Twelve Kingdoms is literally redheaded, which, in Japan, truly makes her stand out; other people think she dyes it and her mother nags her to dye it black. She's also literally a stepchild: an unborn child of the Twelve Kingdoms who was implanted in a human woman through some bizarre Applied Phlebotinum.
  • In the anime version of Elfen Lied, all diclonius have pink hair (only Lucy/Nyu did in the manga). Nobody else does, including the parents of them, so red hair must be some kind of diclonius trait.

    Comic Books 
  • Caitlin Fairchild of Gen13 is literally a red-headed stepchild. This was lampshaded at one point:
    Antagonist of the Day: Come back here so I can beat you like a red-headed stepchild.
    Freefall: She is a red-headed stepchild, you jerk!
  • Several characters from the Knights of the Dinner Table use this phrase to mean a severe beating which is completely one-sided.
  • Will Vandom averts this in the original W.I.T.C.H. comics when her mother marries her history professor, Dean Collins. Will was ecstatic when the engagement was announced and she and Dean get along fairly well as it's her biological mother she actually fights with while her real father tried to blackmail his ex-wife—while also trying to use Will against her.

     Fan Fic 

     Fairy Tales 

    Film 
  • Radio Flyer has a literal red-headed stepchild who is routinely beaten until he and his older brother concoct a way for him to escape.
  • Cheaper by the Dozen has Fed-Ex, the redhead with glasses who got his nickname because his siblings tease him by saying the Fed-Ex truck dropped him off.

    Literature 
  • Besides being plot important, The Prisoner of Zenda has a good explanation for the prejudice. The hero has fiery red hair, the result of an affair between one of the traditionally red-headed kings of Ruritania and a female member of his traditionally dark-haired family. Thus, his appearance is a reminder of illegitimacy.
  • Averted with Rand Al'Thor of The Wheel of Time. His red hair and light coloration in a village of brunettes are assumed to be inherited from his outlander mother, and he's never treated differently because of them. Even after it turns out the he's a literal stepchild, he's Happily Adopted and considers the man who raised him to be his true father.
  • Occurs, obviously, in Jaye Wells' Red-Headed Stepchild. In this universe, all vampires have red hair, related to the myth about the mark of Cain, while all mages have black hair. Sabina's red and black striped hair is a constant reminder of her half-breed status, and it doesn't take dye.
  • Italian verist writer Giovanni Verga's "Rosso malpelo"note  is made of this trope. And tears. Lots of tears.
  • Anne Shirley is treated this way by every family and orphanage she goes through before finally ending up at Green Gables. Even then, she gets this reaction from various members of the community. It goes a long way towards explaining why she so vehemently longs for hair that isn't red.
  • Francois of Poil de Carotte is a full biological member of his family, but that doesn't prevent his father from ignoring him and his mother and older siblings from abusing him...until the child is nearly Driven to Suicide.
  • Referenced in The Tulip Touch, where the narrator uses a phrase that Tulip picked up from her abusive father: "He'll thrash her like a red-headed stepchild! He'll whip her till her freckles sing!"
  • 1632: Subverted Trope: Gwaihir "Gerry" Stone is red-headed, and the only one of Tom Stone's sons who is most certainly not his father's biological son. However, the Stone brothers stick together like nothing else, and Tom Stone is the kindest and most loving father to ever exist.
  • In As I Lay Dying, Jewel's red hair is one clue to the fact that he's not really Anse's son. Played With, though: a few family members realize this and the information threatens to split the family apart, but ultimately is not revealed. It also seems to make Jewel his mother's favorite.
  • Mallory Pike, the Butt Monkey of The Baby-Sitters Club, is also the only red-head in the group. Interestingly, she didn't start out as a red-head (the early descriptions of her describe her hair as a fairly uninteresting chestnut brown), but a combination of this trope and the fact that the cover artist always depicted her as having reddish hair eventually turned her into a ginger.

    Live Action TV 
  • Also parodied in The Catherine Tate Show. (Catherine Tate is a redhead.)
  • Rhydian Roberts, who was second in the latest UK series of The X Factor, apparently went blond to avoid this bullying.
  • Nicely subverted in the Doctor Who story The Christmas Invasion, when a newly regenerated Doctor asks if his hair is ginger, prompting groans from redheads all over the UK at the expected usual dig at red heads, only for him to be disappointed that it's brown and lament that he always wanted to be ginger. The same was asked by the 4th, 6th, 7th, and 11th Doctors when they regenerated, so it's a Continuity Nod. There are occasional newspaper-led social justice outrages in the UK about why there hasn't been a ginger Doctor yet, because the stereotype is alive and well and particularly affects red-haired children. When Tom Baker was asked in an interview if he thought there would ever be a ginger Doctor, he insisted he'd been ginger - "or maybe I was auburn" note .
  • An episode of The Kids in the Hall has Queen Elizabeth walking and talking with a prepubescent girl with long red hair. The Queen compliments her on it: "You have such lovely hair for a demon." She later attempts to get the child to jump off a pier holding a stack of rocks. The Elizabeth in the "Kids" sketch is II, the brunette one we have now, played by Scott Thompson.
  • Elliot in Scrubs hates redheads to the point where she can't touch anything that a redhead has touched.
  • Parodied in a series of Nick At Nite commercials from 1998, which showed scenes of "Phoebe the Lost Brady", who was The Brady Bunch's lesser-known redheaded stepchild. Phoebe was a meanspirited character who caused all the problems (like Bobby's ball breaking the vase—that was actually Phoebe, folks!), and who was eventually edited out of reruns due to unpopularity with viewers. (All a joke, of course.)

    Music 
  • This is the topic of Tim Minchin's Taboo. It's terrible the way we treat people who look different, and we never like to talk about that word with a couple of G's, an E, an R, an I and an N...
  • M.I.A.'s video "Born Free" is about the horrible treatment redheads get, taken to the extremes. It opens with a SWAT team raiding an apartment to capture one redheaded young man and goes downward from there.
  • Nicola Roberts of Girls Aloud was constantly derided by the British press as the "ugly ginger one" simply because she's a pale-skinned redhead. In her song "Sticks and Stones", she would beg the band's driver to buy her alcohol so she could attempt to drink herself to death because that the media just assumed that she wouldn't care about being called "ugly".

    Theatre 
  • The Talisman by Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy revolves around this, playing it straight, exaggerating, subverting, and parodying it.

    Video Games 

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • Strong Bad refers to sending your "step-headed red child" off to certain doom in the Homestarmy in one of his emails.

    Western Animation 
  • South Park:
    • According to Cartman, ginger children do not have souls and are likened to the undead. The parents of three ginger children act terrified when the boys talk to them about it and imply they may be changelings. Kyle, though, is a Red-Headed Hero. (Cartman calls him a "Daywalker," on the grounds that his hair makes him "half-ginger.")
    • Later, it turns out that Cartman actually has a ginger biological father, which horrifies and depresses him. However, his dad was also on the Denver Broncos, so that at least cheers him up.
  • The titular character of Oliver & Company is an orange-furred tabby kitten and plays a subtle version of this.

    Real Life 
  • Kick A Ginger Day.
  • A little Brit-o-centric clarification may be in order. Dying your hair to a deep, sultry red is not the same as being born ginger. The color is different, and so is the tendency to be heavily freckled, paler of skin, and unable to tan easily. The genetics are rather complicated, but the gene that causes red hair does so because it prevents a certain pigment from being made. This gene also affects other things such as skin tone and generally results in having paler skin than you would have otherwise and causing you to burn more easily.
  • It's also worth bearing in mind that, way back in Medieval England, having ginger hair would mark a person as likely from (or descended from) Celtsnote  - that is to say, not English, not native. The general attitude of the English (and especially the Norman aristocracy) was to look down on those from Oop North beyond Hadrian's Wall as generally inferior. The racism may be (mostly) gone today, but the aesthetic stereotyping of gingers remains.
  • In some cases, "ginger" has occasionally been known to be used as derogatory slang for homosexual (cockney rhyming slang - ginger beer = queer), but this is not common, especially outside of that hotbed of cockney rhyming slang, the East End of London. In the 20s.
  • Subversion: the prejudice against redheaded people in England doesn't seem to stop them from acknowledging the exceptional contributions made by members of the royal House of Tudor, including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I — both of whom were very redheaded. (And, given the number of wives Henry had, Elizabeth was a literal redheaded stepchild to four different women!) This was because they were of Welsh descent (see above), proud of it, and willing to beat up any Englishmen who had a problem with that. Mind you, England also had several red-haired rulers who weren't Welsh, including William II (nick-named 'Rufus' for his red hair), who was Norman, Henry II (who was French), Richard I Coeur de Lion ("between red and blond"), John ("dark red"), Richard II, ....
  • There's also the myth that red hair is the mark of Cain, which serves to very visibly brand redheads as his descendants. Like redheads didn't already have enough problems. Although that does pose the question of whether or not all of a redheads' ancestors who didn't have red hair happened to be of Cain's lineage and, if they aren't, how the hell that works. Perhaps all redheads are actually adopted.
  • An albino seal pup was abandoned by its mother because of its unusual coloring, which gave it ginger-colored fur. Luckily, there's a happy ending: it was rescued and taken back to a dolphinarium.
  • This sort of discrimination isn't limited to Western Europe - in the Balkans, it's traditionally thought that red hair is one of the marks of vampirism.
    • Similarly, red hair was believed to be the mark of witches in Medieval times.