Many features of humans are sexually dimorphic, that is very different between male and female (size, facial shape, hair growth, etc). We have the oft complained about double standard between expected and rewarded male and female behavior.
One of the less acknowledged differences is the relative attractiveness of male and female red hair.
While not universally admired to the degree blonde hair is, Many men consider female red hair an attractive feature. While individual men may not be particularly attracted to redheads, few would have revulsion towards an otherwise attractive female.
For men, however, red hair seems to be a negative. I have never heard of a red-haired fetish amongst women. I am not sure if there ever has been a red (gingery not light brown) haired male sex idol. Why is this? Naturally, I have some theories (I often have theories).
Fair Ladies and Tall, dark strangers.
While blonde and gray haired men can find favor with the ladies, I presume there is a reason for the “tall, dark, and handsome” meme. If we consider fair skin more ladylike then perhaps there is a negative association with fair skinned men. Perhaps darker skin was a sign of rugged, outdoors, warrior type (the opposite to the genteel indoors female). Some studies have shown that (for White males, at least) brown eyes appear more dominant. Some studies have also linked blue eyes with greater inhibition, obviously not an attractive trait in a male. Perhaps it is not the hair color, but that traits that accompany it that lead to the discrepancy; red hair is brings with it less “alpha” traits.
Although the Mythbusters “busted” this, other studies have shown that red heads are more sensitive to pain. The brain processes physical and emotional pain in the same place. I wonder (I can point to no studies) if this greater pain sensitivity might also lead to greater emotional sensitivity on the part of red heads. If it did that would be bad for males while being attractive (or at least acceptable) for females.
Red hair comes from a recessive gene that causes a mutation on the M1CR protein. If we notice and are attracted features related to health, then perhaps we notice and are repulsed by features that reflect abnormalities. In the same way that small asymmetries unconsciously (I doubt we could point them out, even if we notice them) affect how attractive we find people, perhaps signs of inbreeding or genetic mutation are unconsciously unattractive. Men may tend to more out group breeding while women tend to be more risk averse in this regard. Such differences would account for the difference in relative attraction.
[Of course, the above is wild speculation. I am not implying that all red heads are inbred (the various royal families are probably worse), only that it may have once signified some kind of clannish or outsider status.]
This does break the general principle that to be attractive, women need to be near average (other than appearance) while men need to be different than average (stand out). I really do not know why there appears to be a discrepancy in the attractiveness of male versus female red hair.
Brown eyes make men appear more dominant
Red heads feel more pain
The link between emotional pain and physical pain.
Red heads and pain, busted?
Wikipedia entry on red hair (describes its genetic origins)
Hair Raising Poll
While the totals are (of course) public, nobody can see who chose what option. If you have gone gray, please use your original color. Pick the option that seems closest. For women, please choose your natural color (remember nobody can see your choice).