Materteral Mishaps and Laboured Linguistics
|We had a very good weekend, much better than anticipated. We went out for a lovely meal with the aged Ps, R, A & A to celebrate our anniversary. A good time was had by all. Alexander was very sweet, but he did throw a showbiz tantrum on Saturday afternoon and I couldn't be in the same room as him, the racket he made. Something to do with teeth coming through, being somewhat overtired and having a cold, he said, but I think he simply had to be centre of attention.|
He does however think it is very funny when someone sticks their tongue out at him. He smiles, giggles and then tries to do it himself - which he can just about manage. This is fascinating to me; he is way too young to have a sense of humour or to realise that someone is pulling a silly face. And he doesn't immitate other expressions. In fact, he appears to be working very hard to focus on a person's face at all.
Alexander met Kettle the pirate for the first time and was very impressed by him. He smiled a lot and gave him a friendly punch in the chest several times, which I interpreted to be a gesture of approval. He demonstrated his thanks to me by attempting to vomit over my shoulder, rather than to vomit straight onto my lovely clean top. Unfortunately, he missed.
Materteral, by the way, is like the feminine of avuncular; i.e. aunt-like. I am not sure whether we should stick to masculine familial terms since they have now almost lost their gender; paternal, fraternal, avuncular etc. Avuncular isn't exactly used everyday; I didn't know what it meant the first time a much older male friend declared he had very strong avuncular feelings towards me. I was quite worried for a moment.
To be an aunt is a very important role. And indeed, there is a feeling we have towards our friends sometimes which is a little bit protective, and encompasses a desire to give guidance and help but doesn't involve the sort of protectiveness and angst which one might describe as being maternal.
However, is there anything particularly different about being an aunt as opposed to an uncle? I can't imagine so. So perhaps we should stick with avuncular to described the relationship between the siblings of parents and their nieces and nephews? Is accepting the masculine as default a slight on the feminine or merely the most sensible way to do away with gendered language altogether?
Some feminists have attempted to reclaim the word patriarchy, referred to as The Patriarchy to mean "our society which is run by men in the interests of men; a sexist society", but then that leaves us without a word to describe a "a society run by one group of people who maintain an unnecessarily level of control over others, mirroring a parent-child relationship" (and the various other meanings which don't hinge on gender). It also draws attention to the presence of gender in patron, patronise, patriot and various other words which we don't have neutral alternatives to. Whilst language is important, you'd have to rewrite the whole thing (and abandon the Romance languages altogether) if you wanted to take all references to gender literally.
However, as an aunt I have struggled to find good cultural role models. Lots of our stories have positive representations of the uncle. The kind uncle who take his nieces and nephews under his wing, the eccentric uncle who entertains the children, the uncle who become substitute fathers, the man called "uncle" who turns out to be the mother's lover or even the child's father. But aunts? I can think of a few nasty aunts who bullied mothers or exploited their orphan nieces and nephews, but no particularly good ones.
So in a sense, I would like to promote the role of the aunt, to promote materteral pride. A lot more women are able to chose not to have children these days, but that doesn't mean that we don't want anything to do with children, that we don't have a special contribution to make (or indeed that we are secretly frustrated by our childlessness and pose any competition to the parents). Nor should all relationships that women have be restricted to being described as either romantic or maternal. My materteral role is very important to me, and I have strong sororal feelings towards my closest friends.
Then again, maybe there is something to be said for being easily understood...