How does it happen, Lisa Belkin asks, that we have no good terms to designate a married woman’s lover?
Married men have mistresses, concubines, favorites and courtesans.
Why is there no equivalent for a man who is shagging a married woman?
Normally, one would respond that such terms do exist. We call such men gigolos, lovers or boy-toys.
Aside from the fact that these terms are derogatory, they are not, Belkin intuits, strictly equivalent to their female counterparts.
She does not put it this way, but mistress is a semi-official, semi-public title, even a form of honorific. In fact, a married woman’s honorific, Mrs., is an abbreviation for Mistress.
As we saw in the Petraeus-Broadwell affair, an alpha male’s mistress gains prestige and status. Paula Broadwell provoked the current crisis by guarding her position as No. 1 concubine jealously.
By comparison, a gigolo is a hired lover, not someone with whom a woman wants to be identified publicly. A boy-toy is, by definition, a plaything. The term lover does not specify the fact that the woman is married.
Unfortunately, Belkin undermines her own analysis by whining about the injustice of it all. She seems to believe that the absence of a term like "mastress" signifies a flaw in our culture.
In her words:
Given that one can not be a mistress without a... someone... what does it say about our culture that we haven't given that role a name?
Unless Belkin is prepared to show that all or a large number of other cultures do have terms for a married woman’s lover she is indulging in sloppy thinking.
Language usage is arguably the freest of free markets. It is extremely difficult for tyrants to change the way people use language. Surely they have tried, but if language is normally used in a specific way there is probably a good reason for it.
To chalk it up to a conspiracy or to pretend that married women are being repressed because there is no term for their lovers bespeaks a failure to understand the issues.
For all Belkin knows, conferring a semi-honorific title on a married woman’s lover would make it more difficult for the woman to cheat.
I do understand that an incipient cultural tyranny like feminism has been warring against kinds of language usage that it has deemed offensive, and that its adepts have been trying, and often succeeding, to force people to use words in a way that they find comforting. In my view, the free market will out.
The most obvious reason why there is no semi-honorific for a woman’s lover is that women who possess a modicum of wisdom prefer not to advertise the fact that they have lovers.
Going public or even semi-public would compromise their access to sexual pleasure, for reasons that have everything to do with human nature and nothing to do with the vast right wing conspiracy.
First, consider the humiliation factor. If a man’s wife is known to be cheating he instantly acquires the title of cuckold, along with the horns that denote his lowered status.
Some men know in their hearts that their wives are cheating and choose to suffer in silence. If, however, the information becomes public knowledge they often feel obliged to take action.
I recognize that many so-called advanced thinkers dismiss Darwin, but, for those who accept science, the difference is easily explained:
If a man has a wife and a mistress, when either woman bears a child, the child’s paternity would not, in principle, be in question.
On the other hand, if a woman had two male lovers, and if each one knew about the other, then her child’s paternity would always be in question.
This might lead to her being alone and her child being fatherless.
I am not saying that women have never cheated or that men have not been tricked into thinking that a child is their own when he or she is not. I am saying that once the fact becomes public knowledge, the situation will severely disfavor the woman.
Obviously, modern science has made removed some of the risk, but the human genome has evolved over millennia. The existence of contraception or paternity tests has not repealed human nature.
And then there is male pride. Since a married woman’s lover is clearly not the man who is supporting her, protecting her or providing for her, bearing a title that designates his failure to do so would deprive a man of his pride.
Few men are proud of being kept by a woman. Gigolos and boy-toys know that their status is lower than that of a husband. Normally, they do not want to advertise the fact.
If a man is supported financially by a woman that suggests that he has not been successful competing against other men in the marketplace or the arena.
If he is not proud of himself, then being publicly labeled as a married woman’s lover, even in a semi-official way, might force him to break off the relationship in order to save face.