It Takes Two To Have An Affair Yet Only The Woman Is Labeled Mistress, Why?

Did the man not have a part to play in the extramarital affair? Why is it 'just an extramarital affair' for the man & 'mistress' for the woman?

In theory, if we look at the world today, we certainly have changed. We have come a long way from ‘that’ outdated mindset but still, there are patriarchy, sexism, misogyny, and many things wrong left.

I agree that the position of women in society has progressed. Today, we live in a world where women are leading in many areas. They are creating history, breaking barriers.

Yet one question that I still cannot wrap my head around is, why are women still degraded with labels and terms that are not just insulting but sexist as they don’t seem to have an existing male counterpart.

Only women are marked with insulting labels, why?

The question came into my mind while reading about Dr. Kamla Choudhary and how the media recognizes her as Vikram Sarabhai’s mistress.

The word mistress irked me because while Kamla Choudhary was a doctorate from the US, one of the first four recruits of Ahmedabad Textile Industry Research Association and a part of the founding faculty of IIM. Her whole identity and her achievements are brought down to that one label, ‘mistress’.

Why does that eight-letter word overshadow all of her hard work?

The history of the word Mistress

At first, when you read mistress it doesn’t seem quite different from any other titles like Ms., Mrs, etc. But in our society it is a derogatory term used for women in extramarital affairs, imposing that their nature is immoral. It implies that the woman is behaving outside the guidelines of what is socially acceptable. That she might be morally questionable because she doesn’t fit into society’s perception of a ‘woman’.

In her the autumn issue of History Workshop Journal, Cambridge University historian Dr. Amy Erickson talking about the history of the word mistress writes- “Few people realize that ‘Mistress’ is the root word of both of the abbreviations ‘Mrs,’ and ‘Miss,’ just as Mr is an abbreviation of ‘Master.’ The ways that words derived from Mistress have developed their own meanings is quite fascinating and shifts in these meanings can tell us a lot about the changing status of women in society, at home and in the workplace.

Never miss real stories from India's women.

Register Now

In her book ‘Rage Becomes Her: an exploration of women’s anger throughout history, Soraya Chemaly perfectly describes- “Mistress is one of a parcel of terms that serve to dehumanize, objectify and subjugate.”

Mistress is not just a descriptor but a derogation of women’s individuality

Is it only the woman having the affair?

It takes two people to have an affair and yet there is no such term for a man, he is just a man having an extramarital affair. There are no terms made for men as if it’s so normal that it doesn’t even require a term.

Double standards, isn’t it?

The word is sexist for sure but more than that it diminishes women’s individuality when they are brought down to just being someone’s mistress. As if they have no identity outside that affair or if not related to a man.

The bigger problem with the word is not just its intent but its implication, By calling a woman mistress, she is being labelled as a threat, an outsider who seduced a married man.

Why is it only the woman facing these labels? What about the man? Did he not have a part to play in the affair?

The degradation of women is a long-prevailing problem in our society, which almost everyone is aware of yet we haven’t seen any change. And the term Mistress is just one of them.

There are yet more insulting words applied to women (and not men) as a result of cultural double standards. Those profanities and disparaging terms somehow are mostly related to women and are still used today.

In no way do I mean to apply that there should be a male equivalent word to it but that there shouldn’t be labels for either. As an intellectual society, I am sure we are more than capable of seeing the adverse nature of these labels.

Terms like mistress aren’t just words, they are labels that dehumanize and objectify women. It is time that we stop saying that we respect women and yet keep using derogatory terms that shame only women.

In a world where women are making their own mark, it is shameful on society’s part to try and bring them down by using such lewd labels or weighing our worth relative to a man, instead of us an individual.

We are our own person, we have our own identity and our names and our work should be enough to identify us.

Image source: a still from the short film The Affair/DrishyamFilms, YouTube

Liked this post?

Join the 100000 women at Women's Web who get our weekly mailer and never miss out on our events, contests & best reads - you can also start sharing your own ideas and experiences with thousands of other women here!


About the Author

Mrigya Rai

A student with a passion for languages and writing. read more...

26 Posts | 57,019 Views

Stay updated with our Weekly Newsletter or Daily Summary - or both!

All Categories