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Where the Aunnts Are: Family, Feminism, and Kinship in Popular Culture

The aunt is a familiar and well-loved figure in popular narratives about family, femininity, and kinship: Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffin Show; Aunt Petunia in the Harry Potter books and movies; Dorothy's Auntie Em, breakfast icon Aunt Jemima, Bewitched's Aunt Clara, eccentric Auntie Mame, to name a few. Each offers a particular narrative of feminine identity and agency and a particular model of aunting relationships and practices set within—though often obscuring—their highly specific social, historical-political, and cultural contexts. Sotirin and Ellingson argue that the contingent and transgressive potential of the aunt figure in the popular imagination offers an important feminist resource for challenging and rearticulating conventional understandings and practices of family, care, and kinship. Accordingly, the project opens new possibilities for alternative configurations of feminine identity and domestic life.


Given current public discussions over women's roles, inequities in domestic arrangements, changing family configurations, lesbian/gay marriage and parenting, and the fate of feminism, it is timely to offer a hopeful and progressive rearticulation of women's possibilities in the guise of a familiar family figure: the aunt.