Helen Bach Column: Proud to be an 'auntie' - even if it gets me banned from the gym..

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I've never been to South Korea and I'm unlikely to go - I've not flown since 2001 when I was in the USA when 9/11 happened, and a fear of flying and environmental concerns mean I've not been on a plane since. Anyway, it was with a mixture of amusement and outrage that I read about a gym there which has put up a sign saying 'only cultivated and elegant women allowed' and 'off limits to ajummas'.

Ajumma is a term for older women, similar to 'auntie' – and before any youngsters reading this start to feel smug that this won’t apply to them, it’s for those aged late-30s onwards!

The term has dual meaning though, and is also used for behaviour viewed as rude or obnoxious. This gym has tried to ban what it calls misbehaving ‘aunties’, and has reignited a debate about discrimination against older women in South Korea.

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On this basis, ordinary middle-aged women like me wouldn’t be allowed to go in there. Now I’m not going to lose sleep about being banned from a gym in a faraway land, but it did start me thinking about how different countries perceive women and ageing, and the terms that are used.

Photo by Danielle Cerullo on UnsplashPhoto by Danielle Cerullo on Unsplash
Photo by Danielle Cerullo on Unsplash

I would have said that we have a fairly healthy attitude towards older women in this country, and the term ‘Auntie’ is used as a term of respect here and in many cultures.

I grew up calling my Mum’s close friends ‘Auntie’, as it was too informal to call them by their first names and too formal to call them ‘Mrs SoAndSo’.

Apparently the gym owner has tried to defend his stance, and said he’s had issues with soap and towels being taken because ajummas ‘tend to like free stuff… are stingy with their own money but not with other people’s’.

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In my experience, that’s not something limited to age or biology; just to clarify, I might bring home the miniature soap from a hotel room if it’s a particularly good brand, but I’d never take the towels!

But to use a term for older women as a general insult about behaviour just isn’t on.

P.S. a reminder from this 'auntie' to vote on 4th July and remember your photo ID.

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