There was a time, when Aunty was a word that expressed affection and respect towards women. All kids call their friends’ parents Aunty and Uncle, instead of the formal Mrs and Mr, or casual first names, like Westerners do. The woman addressed as Aunty didn’t mind, even though she could be in her twenties.
Now, Aunty (much more than Uncle) is an insulting word spat out at older women, who are, in the eyes of the one using it, old, unattractive, fuddy-duddy and not worthy of notice. Or, it is used with a leer to refer to an older lust object, even more contemptuously than cougar (an older woman dating younger men). An old man with a young woman, is, of course, to be admired.
It goes without saying that ageism effects women more than it does men. A piece by Faima Bakar in metro.co.uk says, “While the sexist term ‘spinster’ has been used to describe older unmarried women, today we found out there’s another equally misogynistic word to replace it. Enter the thornback. The word spinster was used to refer to single women between the ages of 23-26, while thornback is reserved for those 26 and above, writer Sophia Benoit discovered. The word is also detailed on the (of course, highly official) Urban Dictionary which describes it as: ‘An old, single, never-married woman. A spinster; i.e she’s so old she graduated from a spinster to a thornback.’ Want to know what the male equivalent of a thornback is? A bachelor. And if they’re starting to grey a bit, then a silver fox.”
Thornback had women burst into amusement on Twitter, because, well, it sounds a much sexier and more badass than spinster—which evokes a sad image of a woman bent over a spinning wheel, because so far back in the day, there were no other earning options for unmarried women.
So, thoughts on the usage of word Aunty arose because of the by now famous (notorious?) video of a bunch of young women hectoring an older woman and threatening to go viral with the footage, unless she apologized, because she made some ghastly remarks about a girl in a short dress deserving to be raped.
And everyone on social media called her Aunty in a snarky tone, and then there came the ultimate slur by another female, who alleged that the woman who made the rape remark was jealous because she did not have a body to flaunt, while the young woman, whose revealing dress invited the rape comment, ostensibly did.
So in the end, it was not about the offensiveness of the comment, but the age and shape of the woman. If a young woman or man had said the same thing, it would have probably got a “Haaw, so mean yaa!” as a response, and treated as a crass joke. The songs some of the young Punjabi rappers belt out are a million times more derogatory towards women. Her archaic ideas about modest dressing would be shared by many others, but the Aunty deserves to be flayed and humiliated on social media, because she does not have a body to flaunt!
Older women somehow become invisible if they do not “maintain” themselves and are termed desperate if they make the effort to dress and look young. Either way the Aunty is to be mocked, because in the world where the relationship currency is sexual desirability, men call the shots.
But, when women have the financial means and, of course, health on their side, age never comes in the way of their enjoyment of life. Like older men, they don’t necessarily have to be seen with younger partners to prove their self worth. Look around, and there are groups of women travelling together, going out for shopping, movies, plays, concerts, meals. For every woman, whose insecurity drives her to the salon or cosmetic surgeon—because woman are constantly judged by their appearance—there are the bunch of care-a-damn women who do not hide their wrinkles and grey hair. And who’s to say which woman is more attractive? If women were also to be valued for experience, excellence, intellect and achievement, like men are, then they would not feel the need to project an artificial image of youth. Men are seldom bothered about their bald pates and paunches!
The outdated saying (attributed to Samuel Taylor Coleridge), “A woman is as old as she looks and a man as old as he feels,” (which Groucho Marx twisted to “A man is only as old as the woman he feels”) can be torn up and chucked in the bin, because to describe some sixty-year-old women as ‘senior citizens’ would be ridiculous. They have the energy and drive that youngsters would envy, which is actually enhanced by their age. They dress and behave as they please, and nobody can tell them what is age appropriate.
Today, like men, women can be as old as they feel if they are not intimidated by social expectations. Sari Botton, who ran a series called Fine Lines on aging for the website longreads.com, wrote in her introduction, “Why a series on age and aging? Because we live in an age-obsessed culture, but also one in which each generation seems to define “adulthood” differently than the one before it. Particular attitudes and milestones are no longer necessarily associated with reaching certain birthdays. It’s as if somewhere along the way, the Baby Boomers burned the guidebook for what you’re supposed to achieve when, and the generations to follow have been making up their own rules. This is also a personal obsession of mine — ever more so as I get older. I’ve always had a strange relationship to time and aging, and wonder constantly what each period of my life is supposed to mean. Perhaps it’s because I seem to be living off-script, without children (or grandchildren) helping me mark the passage of time. I often wonder, How old am I supposed to act? How old am I supposed to feel? Because at any given time, how I act and feel never quite match the numbers.”
So, cougars and thornbacks of the world, unite, reclaim your Aunty-ness and wear it with pride.