Beaten like a red headed stepchild

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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 theories[edit]

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.

See also[edit]