Donica O’Malley Wins GSWS Research Grant

Donica O’Malley, PhD student, received a research grant from the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program here at Pitt, to conduct dissertation research in Portland, Oregon, this May.  She will attend the “Redhead Event 2016,” the purpose of which is to raise awareness of melanoma.  But the event promises to attract, perhaps, the “largest gathering of redheads” on record—advantageous to Donica whose dissertation focuses on popular discourses of “gingerism,” (prejudice against people with red hair, light skin, and freckles) that are imbricated in ways of understanding the relations between race, gender, ethnicity, and history. She is especially interested in how the Internet, in addition to fostering gingerism and generating reactions to it, has provided a space in which a new “ginger” type, distinct from and inferior to the traditional “redhead,” has emerged through online discussion, videos, and memes.  For example, one derogatory meme is captioned: “Ginger, Redhead: Know the Difference.”  Many images of red haired men, women and children circulating on the Internet have been photoshopped to appear highly unflattering.

For this GSWS-funded project, Donica will conduct oral history interviews with event participants and attendees about the intersections of gingerism, gender, and masculinities.  She will also perform a discourse analysis of the event’s social media pages and advertising platforms, leading up to the event and after it, as well as at the event itself, where she will photograph and analyze any signage, promotional materials, and event spaces.  Donica maintains that discourses that construct the ginger man as “less than” masculine not only place him outside of the “norm” of dominant white masculinity (meaning strong, heterosexual, etc.), but also remind/warn other white men that they must participate in the practices and codes of dominant masculinity, lest they too become objects of derision like the ginger man.  She is also interested in the affects of disgust that are attributed to both the ginger man/boy’s physical appearance and his supposed associated personality characteristics. The research questions for this project include: How have stereotypes of unmanliness become attached to the physical characteristics of ginger men? How does the ginger discourse act as a regulatory mechanism of gender for white men, generally?  Why have redheaded women, who have historically been subjected to stereotypes of hypersexualization and mysticism, recently become associated with feelings of disgust, as well?  How are fears about the current stability of whiteness in American culture implicated in this phenomenon?


Donica’s research on gingerism has been funded by the Summer Nationality Rooms. Last summer she traveled to Scotland which, as a nation, has the world’s largest percentage of redheads, but also to England and Ireland, in order to conduct oral history interviews with red haired men and women. Among others, she spoke with the owner of a ginger-pride themed online shop, and attendees of Crosshaven’s “Red Head Convention.”