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Where the Aunts Are

Family, Feminism, and Kinship in Popular Culture

Patricia J. Sotirin

Publication Year: 2013

While the aunt is one of the most iconic and beloved figures in popular culture, the societal role and importance of real-life contemporary aunts are difficult to pin down. In some settings, she is the sole supporter, caregiver, or surrogate mother and exceeds her familial function as an aunt. In others, she subtly—or not so subtly—transgresses the assumed narrative of feminine identity. Surveying characters from Aunt Bee and Auntie Em to Bernie Mac's Aunt Wanda and House of Payne's Aunt Ella and countless living, breathing aunts across the country, Where the Aunts Are re-visions the ideals of family, femininity, and kinship and, in the process, offers a hopeful and progressive recognition of the multiple possibilities of womanhood in modern culture.

Published by: Baylor University Press

Cover

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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 3-6

Contents

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pp. vii-8

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

The authors extend their heartfelt thanks—as always—to our feminist colleagues in the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language, and Gender (http://www.osclg.org) for their tremendous encouragement...

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Introduction: What’s Up with Aunts?

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pp. 1-13

The aunt is a familiar, often well-loved, and sometimes notorious character in popular narratives about family, femininity, and kinship: maternal Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith Show, matriarchal Aunt Vivian from...

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1. (Not) Like a Mother: Black and White Maternal Aunts

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pp. 15-36

“My aunt is like a mother to me.” In this chapter, we explore this commonplace analogy between the aunt and the mother. Both real-world descriptions and popular culture depictions promote this analogy between the aunt...

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2. “Othered” Aunting: Race, Class, and Institutionalized Misogyny

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pp. 37-57

The legacy of the mammy aunt in the United States is troubling and persistent.1 Although thought of as part of the history of the pre–Civil War American South, the black mammy figure maintains a tenacious hold on current cultural...

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3. Like a (Bad) Mother: Neotraditional and Malevolent Aunts

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pp. 59-74

Aunt figures are surprisingly prevalent in contemporary popular culture aimed at women—the so-called chick genres of film, television, and popular fiction, typically involving romantic heterosexual and maternal fantasies. We contend that...

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4. Wisdom and Witchcraft: Magical Aunts and Nieces

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pp. 75-95

Among the most intriguing of the popular aunt figures are those whose explicit identities are as powerful benevolent witches who share feminine knowledge—both magical and mundane—with their niece(s). Witch aunts are featured in a wide variety of popular texts...

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5. Eccentric Aunts: Sanity, Sexuality, and Spectacle

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pp. 97-114

Unruly, disorderly, hysterical, eccentric images of women reveal longstanding Western cultural fears and fascinations with transgressions of the feminine and the female.1 Feminist theory has celebrated the transformative potential of the feminine...

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6. Commodifying the Aunt

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pp. 115-131

A surprising number of businesses identify their products and services— from pretzels to pet-walking—with the aunt, most explicitly by using that kinship title in the company name. A quick Web search for “aunt” will turn...

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Conclusion: The Impact of Aunts

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pp. 133-151

Our feminist re-visioning of aunts in popular culture situates the aunt as a rallying point for progressive feminist issues and as a site of struggle over our collective sense of what women, femininity, family, kinship, and social life...

Appendix I: Aunt Websites

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pp. 153-158

Appendix II: Popular Sources

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pp. 159-163

Notes

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pp. 165-208

References

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pp. 209-236

Index

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pp. 237-244


E-ISBN-13: 9781602586666
E-ISBN-10: 1602586667
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602583306
Print-ISBN-10: 1602583307

Page Count: 252
Illustrations: 5
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1

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Subject Headings

  • Aunts.
  • Families in mass media.
  • Women in mass media.
  • Women in popular culture.
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