‘And this …’ the estate agent paused for dramatic effect, ‘is the Master Bedroom!’
In emphatically stressing the word ‘master’, his right arm stretched out, moving in a sweeping motion as if to signal great space. I peered in. The room was compact. It could, perhaps, just about take a double bed with bedside tables on either side. I had difficulty in appreciating his misplaced enthusiasm. Was this it: the principal bedroom in the flat? But what irked me more was his use of automatic jargon in calling the main bedroom, the ‘master bedroom’.
Throughout my quest to find a new flat, I increasingly found the term ‘master bedroom’ an ubiquitous problem.
The word ‘master’ comes from the Latin magister, meaning chief, head or director. Historically, master has been used to describe a man in an authoritative, disciplinarian position: a school master or, the more sinister term, slave master comes to mind. The term ‘master bedroom’ first appeared in the early 20th century to denote that the room was reserved for the master of the household, who almost always was a man. Given the word’s history, however, steeped with an uncomfortable combination of hierarchical, racial and sexist connotations, surely it no longer fits in today’s lexicon?
It’s not only the uncomfortable, if not unacceptable, historical associations which make the term ‘master bedroom’ inappropriate, it’s the inherently male implications in the term which ought to make it abhorrent to society today. Does it imply a woman cannot have a bedroom, let alone a house? Does a single financially independent and self-sufficient woman want a house with a ‘master’ bedroom’? My cohort of millennial women are set to become the most financially independent generation in history and so why should we, while looking to rent or buy a property, want a master bedroom? Does it imply that we cannot claim ownership of a property or rent without a male? Do we want a ‘mistress bedroom’? No … Just think of the connotations that implies! Indeed, would anyone want to live in a property where one room is purportedly to be occupied by a dominant male. The term ‘master’ has to be binned into Room 101.
On a less politically charged note, describing the main bedroom as a master bedroom does not meet expectations. The phrase is meant to inspire an image of a room of grandiose and sumptuous proportions. The ‘master suite’ is used when the room benefits from an attached bathroom, and if lucky a cupboard as a ‘dressing room’. None of the flats I visited met those criteria. From one where the wall between the kitchen and the main bedroom was little more than reinforced cardboard, to another where I could see shafts of light coming through the disintegrating wood of the windowpane, the privacy and comfort of the ‘master bedroom’ was truly lacking. To top it all, when I viewed a bijou flat which was once the attic of a grand Victorian villa, the master bedroom was where the servants would have once slept! The irony was not lost on me.
Why keep up pretences by insisting on using the term ‘master bedroom’? For all sorts of reasons, historical, social, linguistic, whatever, call the bedroom what it is: a bedroom! In 2013, a number of estate agents in America’s capital, Washington DC, began using the term ‘owner’s bedroom’. Quite what they did for rental properties I don’t know, but while I would not usually advocate an Americanisation of terminology, they were on the right track. ‘Bedroom one’ will do, ‘owner’s bedroom’ is fine, ‘main bedroom’ is acceptable, but please, let us confine ‘master bedroom’ to the archaic realms of the past where it belongs.