herstory

So I was having a conversation with a friend about the phenomenon of 5-7 (cinq à sept); that’s the magic hour of the late afternoon when nobody is too sure where anyone is. According to an old French tradition, that time of day was perfect for visiting mistresses. It’s still a magical hour – when cheese and wine parties are set up or an after-work drinks session.
Besides the way in which the world moves around after work and before home, what got me fascinated was that there doesn’t seem to be a word for a male mistress.
Think about it. A man has a mistress, but what does a woman have? A manstress? A mister?
Neither of those sound quite right – ‘I’m off to see my mister’. Sounds like a husband.
As for manstress, well that just sounds stressful.
Some words can be used, but aren’t always accurate; such as toy boy or bit on the side. Toy boy describes a much younger man, and ‘bit on the side’ just sound seedy. Mistress at least has an aura of mystery, or even a bit of dignity. Lover is probably one of the most suitable words, but it doesn’t quite put the man into a category.
Is this the English language being misogynistic? Are married women discouraged from having affairs simply by not supplying them with a word to call their affair?
Where’s the respect? Where’s the power? Are we still, after all these years, putting women on a strangely purist pedestal?
There are quite a few series going around at the moment that illustrate the power of women – from Vikings with very strong warriors to Game of Thrones with a number of manipulative yet powerful women. In ancient Venice, there was a term that’s actually quote pretty: cicisbeo, which basically describes a man who accompanies a married woman to various events, with the husband’s consent of course, and may or may not give her sexual favours.
In a different conversation, another friend asked me what women really want. The first thing that came to mind was ‘respect’ and ‘to be seen’. That being seen concept is imperative. When a woman feels she’s just filling in a blank and could be replaced by anyone else who sort of fits the profile, she’s not going to hang around for long.
Being really seen is in the little things – like what chocolate she actually likes as opposed to which brand you always buy her. You see, if you as a man think you’re being sweet by buying her chocolate, but in fact buy her a brand she has expressly said on numerous occasions she doesn’t like, then that’s simply not good enough. She’s not going to feel seen.
Maybe that’s why women take lovers, for want of a better word.
To be seen, even if it is just between five and seven during the week.
A woman’s desires, wants, dreams and needs may be slightly different from a man’s, but they still need to be filled.
Not that I’m advocating married people having affairs, but I do think a modern name should be brought into our language to describe this man who is for a time, giving a married woman the opportunity to explore another side of her sexuality and to be seen. After all, we’re constantly creating new politically correct words to all sorts of maladies and conditions, so why can’t we have a good word for things that happen every day, to so many people. And if you happen to be in some kind of open relationship, wouldn’t you like to be able to call your wife’s cicisbeo something sensible?

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