Friday 8 November 2019

Aunty-Zoned - Blaming the Victim, Reclaiming the Title

It seems that the word Aunty has become a bit of a bad word in recent times. Being called an Aunty is offensive because it implies you are old and old-fashioned, in a world where being young an attractive is everything. Auntie’s get grouped like a pack of wolves, or hyena's – upholding toxic traditions and the patriarchy. They are made to look like a bunch of sneering, gossiping, judgemental women. I'm seeing this lazy labelling more and more and it's bothering me for two reasons.

Firstly, the group of women we are talking about are often the most vulnerable in society. Women in their 40's to 60's, often with difficulty speaking English, no job or income, dependent on their families.  They are usually immigrants who have struggled through being uprooted, facing poverty and isolation to build communities and families around them. They often still have poor health outcomes (which we satirise as the Auntie’s talking about their various illnesses and complaints, or hypochondria). They are often still the most vulnerable to racism or hate crimes due to their faith or race.  They have spent a lifetime caring for others and then find themselves looking forward to the prospect of caring for elderly parents and in-laws whilst not getting the support from their children they had hoped for.

Secondly, I think young people forget the foundations they are standing on. I was the same.  I used to wonder what on earth my parents did with their lives, why they didn't fight back against racism, why they put up with so much unfairness. Until I started to see what they did do. Keep our faith and culture alive, build our places of worship, work hard and make sacrifices so that we could have the best chances at education and life.  We dismiss it because they weren't all on Instagram shouting about it, they did it quietly and without thanks.  My generation of newly-minted Auntie's built on this, we had jobs, money and a voice.  We knew how the system worked and we have tried to use it to benefit our children and our communities.

I have to admit, the first time a grown person called me an Aunty (in my thirties) I was offended. After all he was balding with a big belly and I looked young for my age (I think I used to get it because of my hijab).  A few years later, in my late thirties, I started to get used to being called Aunty by people in their twenties and took it as both a sign of respect and their short-sightedness, after all to many young people thirty is the limit to do anything and forty is as old as death.

There are two things that come from this for me. The first is the need to advocate for our mothers and auntie's not belittle them.  I believe part of the reason why Asian women of a certain age have poor health outcomes is that they are not taken seriously by health professionals, who will try to send them away with advice to take a paracetamol instead of looking into their problems seriously until they become serious. I have seen this time and again.

The second is to own our power as the new generation of older South Asian women, both to uphold our values where they are beneficial (e.g. faith and family) and to challenge where they are not (racism, casteism, misogyny). In a culture that mourns the birth of a daughter, look everyone in the eye and celebrate loudly. Where we are seeing young people being forced into marriage or religion being used to harm others – take people to task. Stick up for our young women, but hold them to account also when they take all of their education and opportunity and decide to focus on petty drama, make-up and materialism instead of all of the good they could do.

Where we see bad behaviours, those things that cause us to label people Aunties, don't lump women under one moniker as if to excuse, but call out the individual behaviours. Also, see them for what they often are: the actions of women who are bitter or isolated, lacking in self-respect or self-hating to the point they have bought into the most toxic parts of their cultures. 

This doesn't give young women a free pass either to misbehave (read be disrespectful, lazy or rude) and then expect older women to defend them when they are called out on it.

For now, I am taking up the Aunty label with a view to owning and re-defining it. As the women you go to for help, the ones that can take care of their communities, lead their young folk and stand up to and up for others.  One of the people who has really inspired me to own the word Aunty is The Village Aunty who hangs out on Twitter and talk about interesting stuff, you might want to check her out.

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