Don’t Call Me a Mistress


Language Matters: Alamy

Language matters. When newspapers call women mistresses or “homewreckers”, they are not just using an identifying term. They are also making a value judgement about what happened in a relationship – a judgment that often places the blame on women, even though there are two people involved in an affair.

So writes Jessica Valenti of the Guardian in an article entitled “Why we need to lose biased words like ‘mistress’ for good.” Her argument based on Paula Broadwell’s campaign to get news media to stop using that word to characterize (and vilify) her relationship with ex-CIA director, David Patraeus, goes something like this: ‘Mistress,’ which has no male counterpart is one of those words used to blame women for behavior of two consenting adults, presumably male and female, that society condemns.

When we use words that prop men up for the same behavior that we disdain in women, we are sending a very particular message, one that causes harm whether you’re a reporter writing for readers or a parent talking to your kids.

She throws in other loaded terms targeting women like spinster and Oxford Dictionary’s ‘rabid feminist’ as a word definition example along with the usual words used against men to suggest womanly behavior like ‘bitch’ and ‘pussy’ that she concludes are sexist, outdated and harmful. 

So let’s lose “mistress” and words like it. Our language should reflect the world we want, not antiquated ghosts of sexism past.” 

She’s right. The word “mistress” has no male counterpart and denotatively and connotatively female words used to ascribe enculturated female behaviors as insults are loaded with history’s carryover sexist world. She’s also right that “language matters.” 

But history also matters, for that matter. So, rather than cut ties with history by eliminating language that survives the ephemeral fashions, behaviors and ideas of long ago, why not use language to educate people? Rather than deny distasteful history, say, slavery or holocaust, by eliminating the hate words that derived from those horrific institutions and events (nigger, kike, etc.), how about we teach people to be aware of how we use language and why? 

Jill McCorkle writes in the essay, “Cuss Time,” the story of how she resolved her nine year old’s forbidden fruit fascination with profanity by allowing him a 15 minute cuss time each day, a free-to-say-anything break in the day to let it all out. Risking a bad parent label (or even a referral to child protective services, I would imagine), she allowed her son the freedom to swear like a sailor rather than censor his language and lose the power, resource and history of language by eliminating words from her son’s vocabulary. She writes:

 Word by single word, our history will be rewritten if we don’t guard and protect it, truth lost to some individual’s idea about what is right or wrong. These speech monitors–the Word Gestapo (speaking of words some would have us deny and forget)–attempt to define and dictate what is acceptable and what is not.

Valenti also opens her article with language parenting by mentioning her careful language selection, words she wants her children to use like firefighter instead of fireman. I believe these two authors hold the key to the problematic power inherent to language: teach children by mindful use and education rather than by a negative, censorship. The children wield the power to change future language, meaning, action and society.

(Thanks to Laura Steuer of  infidelity counseling network for sending this article my way). 

Wild, Weird and Wonderful: Trip inside my vagina

Okay, so it’s not my vagina, much to the disappointment or relief of my readers.

So much to be said here but the video says it all. What every growing girl should know, beginning with honest names about body parts, celebrated not shamed. Had I been taught about orgasm as a child, or at least exposed to the concept  pre-understanding, I would not have had to go through unnecessary anxiety and sexual misgivings affecting my relationships.

Why is this such a difficult matter, educating ourselves and our children about their bodies so that they may be more responsible and responsive adults? Why must the idea of a “love your body” explicit video be so revolutionary?

Huffpost’s Poussy Draama’s Mobile Doctor’s Office is Challenging Sex Ed Norms in America merits a reading even if only for the video and colorful pictures injected into an investigative journalism piece on wacky personalities with the right message.

Author Priscilla Frank introduces Poussy Draama, a performance artist, gyno specialist and educator who roams the country introducing those ready to learn to love the beloved female body (enough loving of men’s has been the story of HIStory, she claims), not the one that merely makes babies but the one that has so much more power and pleasure.

She enlightens youngsters through her bizarre videos and also appears live to help groups of women take pictures of their cervixes when she is not celebrating all of the names for vagina. Hey, why wasn’t my personal favorite, twat, on that list? Must be a French thing.

 The bizarro TV show, aimed to teach kids about sexuality and consent, features tripped out vagina suits, lots of rainbows and even more body positivity. Poussy Draama — the babe on the right, in the video above — is a performance artist, a sexologist, an alter-gynecologist and a witch. Not witch, like, black hat and broomstick, though. Witch like witch doctor or healer. “What I do hasn’t much to do with magic,” Draama explained to The Huffington Post. “It’s witchcraft, in the way of empiric, experimental and politically engaged healing.” 


Although in medium and technique Draama’s work is all over the map, her subject matter consistently revolves around educating others on sexuality in an un-authoritative, open-minded and, duh, feminist manner. “Womxn are overrepresented and underrepresenting,” Draama said. “You know what I mean? And as an artist, I don’t wanna play the ‘male-gaze game’ so I have to be careful, cause everything tends to drive you to do so.” (Note: The spelling of “womxn” is intentional, per Draama’s choice.)

The risk takers who challenge the “norm” by exposing sedimented attitudes expose themselves to ridicule even as they gather fame. You know those insecure ones (you know who you are) who do not like to be discomfited will doff off old Poussy as a whack rather than appreciate her creativity and spirit for a good cause.

Fingers crossed for her (riffing on the article opener there).