What Does the Associated Press Have Against the Word “Mistress”?

AP has canceled the term "mistress," but it's not the first time this move has sparked backlash

dictionary definition of "lying"
Might we suggest "side piece?"

In a random display of unsolicited advice yesterday, the Associated Press took it upon itself to remind us all not to use the word “mistress” when referring to a man’s illicit lover and managed to anger and confuse the entire internet in the process.

“Don’t use the term mistress for a woman who is in a long-term sexual relationship with, and is financially supported by, a man who is married to someone else,” reads a Tuesday afternoon tweet from the AP Stylebook Twitter account. “Instead, use an alternative like companion, friend or lover on first reference and provide additional details later.”

As many, many readers of this tip were quick to point out, this guidance is confusing — and potentially ill-advised — for a number of reasons. Let’s unpack this bewildering little vocabulary bomb, shall we?

For one thing, many puzzled over the apparent suggestion that a woman in an illicit relationship with a married man is necessarily or even often financially supported by that man. While such arrangements certainly exist — particularly, as at least one commenter noted, in sugar dating scenarios — financial support hardly seems to be a standard proviso of illicit affairs. It would seem most of us were not under the impression that the term “mistress” referred strictly to this very specific kind of extramarital entanglement and were more inclined to treat it as a catchall term for the “other woman” in an affair. According to AP, however, “mistress” either refers specifically to such a woman who receives financial support from her affair partner, or financial support is a more common component of affairs than many of us were aware. Either way, AP seems to know something we don’t.

Many commenters also took issue with AP’s suggested replacements for the now off-limits term, arguing that alternatives like “companion” and “friend” are too vague and likely inaccurate in most situations. After all, as AP should know, words mean things, and those words do not mean the same thing.

Some even took it upon themselves to suggest more appropriate substitutes, like “side piece,” or the more traditional “homewrecker.”

In addition to the confounding nature of the guidance itself, AP’s seemingly random decision to drop this friendly reminder in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon also prompted some head scratching, with some questioning whether they’d missed something salacious in the news cycle.

Moreover, the tweet did not offer any explanation as to why, exactly, mistress had been deemed a problematic term in need of substitution in the first place.

According to AP, however, this guidance is nothing new, and has to do with the term’s lack of gender equality. In an attempt to quell the backlash Wednesday morning, AP clarified that the guidance is “not new,” claiming it was added last year, though earlier reports seem to indicate AP’s anti-“mistress” stance actually dates back to at least 2016. Back then, AP suggested avoiding the term because there was no male equivalent, and advised that “phrasing that acknowledges both people in the relationship is preferred: ‘The two were romantically (or sexually) involved.’”

It also seems this whole kerfuffle cropped up again more recently as well. Back in May of 2020, AP called the term “archaic and sexist,” prompting a very similar response.

Because AP is a thirsty bitch who loves drama, it has apparently seen fit to once again stoke the seemingly ever-hot coals of this controversy, and I guess we all fell for it again like the mindless sheep we are.

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