Recently it occurred to me that red is primarily being used as a negative. A colour in a context of aggression, abuse and negativity. Let us be reclaiming the red!
As a massive nerd I anticipate the Black Widow-movie, but she was trained, and sterilised, in “The Red Room”. In The Handmaid’s Tale the fertile women, forced in to child-birthing slavery, need to wear red. And Red Sparrows weren’t exactly nice girls and guys either. These examples are all fictional, but let us not forget how communism took red for their colour. When and why did red become such a bad thing? And how can we reclaim it?
Before we dive in to it, let’s do a quick test. I have made a list of things red an added whether the association is a positive, a negative or a neutral one.
- fruit – positive
- hair – positive
- blood – negative
- traffic light – neutral
- lips – positive
- dress – positive
- flag – negative
- carpet – positive
Naturally, the list above is subject to personal preference. But generally speaking these associations ring true. Why then, is red used as a negative so much these days?
Red is a primary colour. Add another colour to it and several new colours can be made. Notably, the colours with red as its base are considered positive. The orange warmth of the sun or the pink flowers of the cherry (red!) blossom are generally well thought off.
Red is said to be a masculine colour. And yet, the above mentioned negative examples all encompass females. Does the colour-gender combination make it negative then? I beg to differ, because a red-haired women in a red dress wearing red lipstick is commonly marked ‘positive’!
My best guess is blood. Blood is always some shade of red and belongs inside our bodies. There’s only one example of blood leaving the body that is positive, in all other situations something bad happened. Battlefields of old stained red after a good fight, adding the tang of aggression to the colour.
In ancient Mesopotamia, red was purely positive. It was directly linked to the gods and divine protection. Red garments were used to either show a link to the divine or to protect against evil spirits.
In ancient Egypt red was also used as a divine protector, invoking the blood of Isis, protector of women and children. But here we also see the negative creeping in. The god of chaos and violence, Set, was depicted with a red skin or red hair. Angry gods were shown to have red eyes.
The ancient Mediterraneans used red as a symbol of status, the pigment for red paint being extremely expensive. But the Romans were reclaiming the red as their colour as well, taking it with them on their conquests. This may have instilled such a fear, that later christianity connected it to the devil.
The fact is: red demands attention. The women in the red dress sure gets Neo’s attention in The Matrix. A red firetruck, traffic light or stop sign grabs your attention, because you’re supposed to act on it. It is what happens after getting the attention that makes the positive or negative.
Let’s mix some other colours in when stating a negative. And make red a little bit more friendly and feminine. I am reclaiming the red!