In 1995, Jonathan Rees identified the”gene for red hair” – the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R), found on the 16th chromosome. This participant is definitely a carrier of this rare and recessive trait (less than 4% of the world’s population has naturally occurring red hair), and she wears it so well!
Unfortunately, redheads haven’t always been appreciated for their beauty. In addition to countless other myths, stereotypes, and superstitions associated with red hair (more here!), during the late Middle Ages, efforts to suppress peasant revolts and a growing movement of “people power” motivated the genocide of thousands of suspected witches (i.e. powerful women who were seen as threats to the ruling class and powerful elite). These women were typically stripped and searched for “marks of the devil,” including any “abnormalities” such as freckles, moles, warts, or birthmarks. Considering the almost inevitable combination of red hair and freckles, of the estimated 40-60,ooo women who were put to death during these witch hunts, it’s safe to assume that many of them were also carriers of the MC1R.
*To learn more about the relationship between the witch hunts, the historic suppression of women, and the rise of capitalism, check out Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation.