Stephen Greenfield, a creative photographer in Cleveland, Tennesee yesterday came to the good Doctor with this problem:
“I’m trying to sort out what a male lover is called (not gigolo, boy toy, or pool boy) that corresponds to the feminine mistress, simply a female lover seen by a married man—not a kept woman, merely a woman a married man sees from time to time, sex just being a part of the equation.”
“What is the term when a married woman has an unmarried male lover? Geez, you would think that might have been settled long ago, but my research turns up nothing except debates about what is a mistress and long, dry dissertations written from a woman’s point-of-view of glass-ceilings, power, money, you name it, and they all claim it.”
The male lexical counterpart of mistress is master. Notice how this word has not developed in the same direction as mistress. Why not?
If I haven’t written on this topic before, I’ve discussed it for 30 years in my introductory linguistic courses. The fact of the matter is, English and most other Indo-European languages contains FAR more pejorative terms for women than for men. Notice that even two of the words for “lover” that Stephen cites, boy toy and pool boy, reflect pejoratively on the women who have them more so than on the toys and boys themselves. Gigolo is the exception because it refers to deceitful, unreliable men.
Let’s begin with a few relatively clean pejorative surrogates for woman: bimbo, cow, clothes-horse, crone, dog, fishwife, floozy, frump, hag, harlot, harpy, hussy, milf, moll, nag, prude, shrew, siren, skirt, spinster, tart, temptress, wench, witch, working girl. Prejudice against women is a flagrant characteristic of the English vocabulary.
There is no comparable list of pejorative words referring exclusively to men (i.e. not referring equally to men and women) that rivals this list. Of course, we can easily build a comparable list of pejoratives referring to homosexual men. However, they are accused precisely of being feminine by homosexophobes. This has long been an argument of the existence of a strongly male-dominated society.
Given this fact of English, why would we need a word referring to a male lover other than lover? Again, notice that a male lover is something to be admired unpejoratively while the pale penumbra of shame always hovers over the female lover.