Beaten like a red headed stepchild

Vintage spanking drawing used by the band "Redheaded Stepchild".

Beaten like a red headed stepchild is an idiom that means to be treated badly and unjustly, literally or metaphorically to get a terrible beating. To be "a red headed stepchild" means to be treated worse than other children in the family, to be unloved, abused or beaten often.

Origin theoriesEdit

Stereotypically (e.g. in Grimm's Fairy tales) a stepchild would get beaten more by their stepmother (or stepfather) than a child with two biological parents. The phrase "beaten like a red headed stepchild" suggests that a red-haired stepchild would get treated even worse. Various theories have been suggested where this cliche might come from, such as:

  • redheads were traditionally disliked and picked on
  • a stepchild having red hair (with both biological and step-parent having no red hair) is an obvious reminder of the child's absent biological parent
  • a red-haired child born to non red-haired parents was often assumed to be the child of an affair
  • in the US, red hair was associated with Irish immigrants which were lower class back when they first started immigrating.

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