------------ ---------- Diary of a Goldfish: Materteral Mishaps and Laboured Linguistics

Diary of a Goldfish

Monday, November 13, 2006

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...

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Comments on "Materteral Mishaps and Laboured Linguistics"


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (11:02 PM) : 

Absolutely...connecting with the younger, or youngest is not an ability limited to parents or a role limited to parents, and when those of us who arent' parents like to do so, our role should be promoted... :)


Blogger Charlesdawson said ... (9:34 AM) : 

How about PG Wodehouse's Aunt Dahlia? Bertie said she was a good egg most of the time.

Jane Austen was a very good aunt, according to her nieces, though not always a tiptop rĂ´le model: she wrote to her sister Cassandra that there were definite advantages to being relegated to the ranks of the old chaperons: "I am put on a Sofa by the Fire and can drink as much Wine as I want."

You could try being such a disreputable aunt and have fun.


Blogger The Goldfish said ... (1:18 PM) : 

Oh I defintely intend to be disreputable. ;-)


Blogger Mary said ... (1:21 PM) : 

There was a "good aunt" in a book I read recently - The Almond, by Nedjma.

The principal character is an Arab woman who is escaping a rotten marriage, and runs away to her Aunt Selma who takes her in and helps her in a lot of ways, including helping her to develop her identity as an independent and individual woman.


Blogger Mary said ... (12:26 PM) : 

Uh, not that I think it would be great for you to encourage Alexander to become a confident and independent woman, you understand...


Blogger The Goldfish said ... (3:58 PM) : 

Uh, not that I think it would be great for you to encourage Alexander to become a confident and independent woman, you understand...

Perhaps not at this stage, but if that's what he really wanted... ;-)


Blogger Marcelle Proust said ... (3:27 AM) : 

One of the mystery novels by Amanda Cross (aka Carolyn Heilbrun) about English professor Kate Fansler has her being a very cool aunt indeed, taking in a rebellious nephew, complete with digression on "auntly" as a non-existent companion to "avuncular." I think it's The Theban Mysteries, but am not sure. In another, one of her nieces plays Watson to Kate's Holmes.


Anonymous Janet said ... (1:36 PM) : 

There are some good aunts in literature. I think Betsy Trotwood was pretty good to David Copperfield and in The L-shaped Room the main character, whose name I forget, was rescued from her grotty bedsit by an aunt who supported her through the rest of her pregnancy.


Blogger The Goldfish said ... (1:38 PM) : 

Of course, Janet; two literary aunts I know well but had forgotten. Oops! Perhaps my theory is incorrect. Thanks for reminding me of these. :-)


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