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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

what if a gal doesn’t want movies as her mistress?

Plus: Hollywood rapes women, a boob-ilicious tale, and how to get fired on network TV.

Yup, it’s the latest installment of The Week in Women, my regular column over at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists.


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  • This is the first time I’ve clicked over to your WiW column just to figure out what the HELL you are talking about in your headline. :)

  • Grinebiter

    I confess that I have been known to refer to my computer as my mistress, although since I don’t have a wife, that doesn’t really qualify as an illicit thrill. On the other hand, the use of “mistress” to signify a concubine with her own pad is a modern meaning. It used to mean girlfriend, or even unrequited beloved, cf. John Donne, Marvell’s “To his Coy Mistress” and so forth.

    Since the Courtly Love phenomenon the 12th century, we have rhetorically modelled erotic relationships on the feudal bond of obedience to a liege. Which is why the name for unmarried female partner is the same as for female employer or slaveowner; ‘dame’ and donna’ are both derived from Domina. The same does not apply in reverse; BDSM folks and ironists aside, a woman does not generally call her lover her ‘lord and master’.

    This fetishing submission did not and does not, of course, accurately reflect economic and other realities. Much ink has been spilt on the question of just what those troubadours thought they were doing.

    It is this sense we met in for example “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. Even so, it doesn’t quite transpose. “The Moon is a Harsh Boyfriend”? Nah. “The Moon is a Harsh Master” would work for both sexes, as expressing the conditions of life there, but loses the erotic connotation.

    I think the bottom line is that we humans may have a need to balance dominance and submission. It’s probably a Jungian thing. The best clients of the dominatrix are judges and other high-powered men. If, therefore, we ever had a society in which women were the owners, kept harems and so forth, then they might develop a make-believe culture of submission to and worship of their toyboys, and then you might get a precise analogue to “mistress”, and so a woman might use this figuratively for her main intellectual interest in life. Or she might not, hard to tell……

  • Paul

    Artists who are paid well are those that appeal to the establishment; who that establishment is varies. “Courtly love” was supposed to appeal to women nobility, such as Eleanor of Aquitaine, who were willing to support them. When bards wished to appeal to male nobility, you had male oriented stories. Courtly love was usually chaste, for the noble woman was usually married. These situations reflected daily life in the typical castle, in which the knights and male servants outnumbered the women. It could be quite the source of tension. It was during this time that the bards introduced the romantic triangle to the Arthurian legend, which before had been Arthur kicking lots of medieval butt until he died of betrayal, because such a stud can really only be slain from behind.

  • Grinebiter

    I don’t really agree with “usually chaste”, that is the Victorian view of Courtly Love. Some of the texts make it quite obvious that this was a game with rules, one of which was that the lady should reward devoted service, just as the lord should. Otherwise, in both cases, the vassal could make a diffidatio. Moreover, some troubadours claim that peasant women have to be taken by force, because they won’t play by the noble rules and put out when the flattery (niceness?) contract is fulfilled.

    You’re right about the tensions, though, the castle was quite the sexual hotbed; George Duby sees CL as a scam run by the lord, dangling his woman before the knights (but not too low); if so, that was a very dangerous game to play. Being Duby, he never condescends to footnote the sources, so it’s hard to judge. Then you get the Oedipal angle, given that noble sprogs were fostered by their maternal uncle, so that the Lady is in fact Auntie.

    There are innumerable aspects to this, and I’ve never seen a monovariable explanation that works.

  • MBI

    Huffington Post and TMZ really do have very little separating them some time.

  • I confess that I have been known to refer to my computer as my mistress, although since I don’t have a wife, that doesn’t really qualify as an illicit thrill.

    And way before that, there was the classic Scholar’s Mistress, a term which may or may not have been invented by the late sci-fi author Fritz Leiber–the same author whose short story “The Automatic Pistol” apparently still had an enormous impact on the ongoing gun control debate.

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