4. the master and the mistress

This is the manuscript blog; new sections added every few days.
Best read in sequence so start with 1 and work your way through
enjoy, get mad, and comment!
~ dale

Just think about the terms Mister and Mistress; like so many other titles they once enjoyed the same status, as each had their role as the head of the house. ‘My mistress’ might have been a term of respect as used in Downton Abbey’ but mistresses attract very different attention these days.

Whenever an adulterous relationship is mentioned in the press, no matter the circumstances, it’s the woman who is defined by her sexuality – as promiscuous, seductive, even evil!

It’s almost impossible for a woman named as a mistress to even make the case that it TAKES TWO TO TANGO. And that she  – is only one half of the equation!

You just need to read the media coverage of the recent General Petreaus / Paula Broadwell extra-marital affair in the United States, and one thing is clear: despite all the changes women have made, and all that has been learnt about the influence of names, we are almost powerless when it comes to presenting the woman’s side of the affair.

Put yourself in Paula Broadwell’s shoes. These two consenting adult individuals were a high status couple, and the airwaves and the ether were alive with references to their affair.  

Endless smutty comments appeared in the press about HIS MISTRESS and there is no doubt everyone knew just what she had been doing!  She was the target for all manner of ‘off’ jokes and jibes. But there were no words in daily usage that could even begin to name any sleazy role he may have played in the relationship.

You can’t call him HER MASTER without prompting further ribald comments about bondage – and this is when you start to realize that there is no meaningful word that women can call on to name his participation in this adulterous relationship.

Men haven’t usually seen fit to name themselves in such a negative way. And any words women may have used to describe men’s behavior have not made it into the public sphere and a dictionary entry.

The General may very well have been the initiator – but had Paula Broadwell suggested that he started it, or stalked her or harassed her – she would have been further scorned and subjected to a great deal more ‘slut talk’.


Paula Broadwell finally apologizes for affair with Petraeus saying she has ‘remorse for the harm it caused’ SHOUTS THE MAIL http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2330333/Paula-Broadwell-finally-apologizes-affair-Petraeus-saying-remorse-harm-caused.html

Few women – or men – would have looked upon such a powerful heroic figure as David Petreaus – the highly decorated American four star general and head of the CIA – as a naïve or neutral player in this illicit sexual partnership. Yet his role in the scandal was seen as a result of ‘poor judgement’ – or in his own words as having ‘screwed up royally’.

No ‘dirty’ words were directed at him as a lecher – as someone who was after a bit of skirt!  Rather there was an element of begrudging admiration for ‘the lucky bastard’.

He was pretty well let off the public hook (though his career was catastrophically concluded). Commentators implied that ‘the poor man’ had a ‘mid-life-crisis’ and was seduced by the wiles of a wanton woman! In all the coverage, I detected no sympathy for ‘the poor woman’. No comments on the distress caused by all the publicity or the impact on her life or work!

And there are no ready-made words available that can get rid of the idea that his fall from grace – WAS ALL HER FAULT.  And no one should be sorry for her.


The ‘names’ we have to cover the meanings of adultery in English, do not allow for these two to enjoy a relationship as equals  – and to take equal responsibility for their behaviour.

If this were just a one-off incident it may not even matter. But this is the systematic pattern of casting women in the wrong – that takes no account of circumstances. Without the word to name the story HOW SHE SEES IT – the language limitations serve as a powerful and insidious way of defining woman as a sex object, and as a means of reinforcing gender inequality without anyone really noticing it.

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