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Why We Really Do Need Agony Aunts

Felicity King on the decline of the Auntie.

Last week I became an unofficial Auntie. One of my best friends had a beautiful baby girl and I spent four hours running manically around shouting “BABY! BABY BORN!” until my housemates wanted to tranquilise me.  We see births all the time on the TV and yet, despite being one of the most natural and common occurrences in the world, it is also this miracle that we can never quite believe in till we see it first-hand. I’m a girl, I know what equipment I’ve got going on downstairs and yet I just can’t figure out how a baby comes out of it. I guess I thought it was all just a massive ruse. Women didn’t actually give birth- it was all a myth, like Santa Claus. There is no way Santa Claus can make it round the world in only one night and there is definitely no way that a seven pound baby is coming out of there, if you know what I mean. I can tell you that much, anyway.

I comforted myself with the thought that at some point, before I left university, I would be invited to a female only screening of childbirth. As we all sat there, mouths open, squeezing our thighs together in case any sperm had escaped a nearby male and was heading our way, out would come some joker from ‘Stitch up’ shouting: ‘JUST KIDDING. THE WORLD WOULD NOT PUT YOU LADIES THROUGH THAT. BABIES GET DELIEVERED BY THE STORK, YOUR VAGINAS ARE OFFICIALLY SAFE.’ I’ve been waiting for that moment for years and it hasn’t happened. What has happened is my friend has had a baby and I’m going to be an Auntie Fizz.

Aunties used to be massive, like Pokemon cards. Everybody had them. My dad, for example, had billions of Aunts. Hardly any of them were blood related, they were mostly just friends of his parents, but they took an active role in his life and he remembers them fondly. Indeed, in the past Aunts had an incredibly important, privileged and recognised position in the family, as we can see from any Austen or Bronte novel.  Now the Auntie, or at least her significance, is dying out. She is an endangered species; (cue ‘The Gladiator’ soundtrack and a voice over asking for just £2 a month).

Think of Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. If you haven’t read it, or at least seen the BBC version, (not the Keira Knightley version, I would have serious words with that version, if I could look at it and not burst into tears,) well then, I don’t know what you’re doing with your life, to be honest, and I have little else to say to you. If you have seen it you will be aware that poor Lizzie finds sanctuary from her ridiculous family in her wonderful Aunt Gardiner. The final line of the novel reads: and ‘with the Gardiners, they were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them; and they were both ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards the persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them.’ Yeah, see that? Colin Firth diving into a lake happened because of an Auntie. Women of the world, seriously, bow down to Aunt Gardiner for she has given us a great visual gift. Jane Austen herself said, ‘I have always maintained the importance of aunts’ and we should listen to Jane Austen, she seriously knew her shit. Hers was the mind that envisioned Mr Darcy for the first time; we should listen to that mind.

It’s not just my dad and Jane Austen that recognise the importance of Aunts, though. Steve Biddulph is a bestselling author and psychologist and if you won’t listen to me (which is probably reasonably sensible considering I didn’t believe childbirth was an actual real thing until last week) you should definitely listen to him. He has just released a new book called Raising Girls in which he calls for an ‘aunties army’ to get more involved in the life of our teenage girls. According to Biddulph, Britain’s teenage girls are facing a crisis. I’m a reasonably young girl, at least I was once, so I can and do see his point. Rates of self-harm and eating disorders in teenage girls are at their highest ever. There is an epidemic of low self-esteem  and, surrounded on all sides by photos of airbrushed celebrities, it is no wonder we all wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and just want to go live in cave with a blind mole as our only companion.

Obviously the reasons we girls are so confused these days are multiple and complex and not going to be solved, as they were in Jane Austen’s time, by our nice Aunt Gardiner taking us for a tour of the Peak District. However, what these girls definitely need are positive role models. Healthy, successful, normal women who can take them out for coffee and answer the awkward sex questions a girl can just never ask her mother. We, as a society, need to look after one another more. Families are incredibly important and, whether blood related or not, young people need to grow up with a sense of love, support and belonging.

My friend has just had a baby and I have just become an Auntie Fizz and so I have hereby decided (in no way to enhance my own sense of self –importance) that being an Auntie (or an Uncle) is one of the most important jobs in the entire world, ever, and definitely more important than being the President of the United States.  At the end of the day, the more people there are to look out for and support a child as they open their eyes to the world for the first time and think ‘oh god, I was so much better off in that womb’, the better.

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