What’s a Male Mistress?
The other day someone asked me for the male equivalent of “mistress.”
Naturally, I shot back “master,” but that was not the answer. My questioner wanted a word that was the male equivalent of:
woman having sexual relations on a regular basis and being supported by man not her husband
The word that comes closest in meaning is gigolo:
1 : a man living on the earnings of or supported by a woman;
2 : a professional dancing partner or male escort
The film title Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo undermines the use of even this word to mean “male prostitute” by suggesting that a gigolo could be female–as if a man being paid for sexual favors is acting like a woman.
The master/mistress pair is one of many examples of words that were once more or less exact equivalents, but which parted company because of gender-based prejudices that govern the language.
Linguist Julia Penelope located 220 English words meaning “promiscuous woman,” but found only 20 for “promiscuous man.”
Another researcher, Muriel R. Schultz, found 500 slang terms for “prostitute.” She found 65 slang terms for “whoremonger” and “pimp,” but those are words for men who sell women for sexual purposes.
Other words, like “tramp,” differ in meaning according to whether they’re being applied to a man or a woman. Calling a man a tramp is to imply that he lacks a regular job and place of residence. Calling a woman a tramp is to call her a whore.
Originally, master and mistress were equivalent words for persons having control or authority over others. Mistress in the sense of “a woman who employs others or has authority over servants” is from 1426. By 1430 the word had taken on the sense of “kept woman of a married man.”
In some school situations the words are still equivalents as synonyms for “teacher,” but in general usage, if you say “Sally is his mistress,” the meaning is clearly sexual. On the other hand, a sentence such as “Sam is her master,” would be meaningless out of context.
“A lot of ink is spilled over the use of “he” when both men and women are meant, but not a lot of public awareness focuses on habitual use of words like “bitch” on television and in conversation as if they were acceptable synonyms for ‘woman.'”
Words for a promiscuous woman are invariably derogatory, but words for a promiscuous man are frequently perceived as compliments: stud muffin, Romeo, ladies’ man.
The reason for this tendency of feminine words to take on negative, sexual connotations is the cultural attitude that men are human beings for whom sex is only one aspect of their existence, while women cannot be thought of apart from sexual functions.
Here’s an exercise for you:
For the duration of a day or two, try using only the word “woman” or “man” when you wish to refer to one or the other. No dudes, bitches, chicks, jerks, s.o.b.s or the like.
If your intention is to identify the man or the woman as a sexually promiscuous person, use the word promiscuous.
Or, you may want to choose from two word pairs that have managed to hang on to their equivalent connotations for centuries now:
adulterer/adulteress – married person who has sex with person other than legal spouse
fornicator/fornicatress – unmarried person who has sex with other unmarried person
Meanwhile, I suppose the male equivalent of “mistress” in the sense of “kept woman,” must be “kept man.”