I'm a little late to the game, but I was corrected this weekend when I used a term apparently frowned upon by real estate and PC factions. Fortunately, my daughter-in-law is more au courant than I. It may help that her mother is a Realtor. It may also help that she and my son live in Portland which is young, trendy and culturally light-years ahead of most things 60 miles west.
The two of them are buying a house, and she asked for my thoughts on a bathroom renovation — rather a specialty of mine. I haven't yet seen the house, so I'm unfamiliar with the layout. Said bathroom is large with a double vanity, shower and separate soaking tub. I asked if this was the master bath, and the question was met with some hesitation. BIG faux pas, unbeknownst to me. She tried to talk her way around it, telling me it was the "primary" bathroom, but then reluctantly conceded that we were no longer supposed to use the term "master" bathroom or bedroom.
I immediately understood. "Oh, because it's sexist!" That made complete sense.
"Because it's racist." Laughter in the background alerted me that my son was loving this conversation. I don't know which he was enjoying more — my obtuseness on the matter or his wife's discomfort with having to school me.
A quick internet search revealed that the term has a history neither racist nor sexist. "Master bedroom" was employed as a marketing tactic for the 1926 Sears & Roebuck catalog to sell their kit houses, and it caught on. But in the wake of the George Floyd killing and ensuing Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 there has been much debate in Realtor circles about the term and what it connotes.
Make that certain Realtor circles. I spoke with a local Realtor who was unaware of the controversy. Then again, as mentioned, we are in somewhat of a cultural time warp, always stuck a year or two behind more urban and suburban dwellers. That said, the word "master" remains in the MLS database.
My husband is a master electrician, which is the highest level of certification. His New Hampshire electrical license says "MASTER" in giant letters! His Maine license is less grandiose, although "master" is still clearly noted. But ... if he's a master electrician, what does that make me? Let's not go there.
A few years ago, I was horrified when my husband, on the phone with his supply house, ordered a dimmer system and referred to master and slave switches. It turns out this is a standard term in the electrical field, as it is in engineering and computing as well. Apparently the term is now being re-evaluated. My question is what on earth took this long?
And what are we to do about so many other terms? Masterpiece, master key, masturbate? Quite the conundrum!
The master bedroom/master bathroom change is seen by some as a socially conscious choice, as if somehow the rephrasing will alter the climate. While industry organizations are grappling with the labeling issue and its perceived connotations, I have to agree with John Legend who tweeted, "Real problem: Realtors don't show black people all the properties they qualify for. Fake problem: calling the master bedroom the master bedroom. Fix the real problem, Realtors."
It seems as though swapping out "master" for "primary" is little more than rebranding, and rebranding and conformity to rebranding is what "wokeness" is too often about. Putting a shiny new face on issues systemic in nature doesn't begin to address real problems that need not new packaging but disemboweling. What we really need is some sort of master plan.
There's a flip side — a dark side, if you will — to young, hip, urban Maine. A few years ago, I was chatting with a manager at the Ocean Point Inn in East Boothbay, and I asked the name of the alluring offshore island with the charming cottages. His discomfort with the question was evident, and after some hemming and hawing he quietly uttered "Negro Island." My jaw dropped.
In July of 2020, property owners voted unanimously to rename Negro Island. Again, what took so long? No matter. It's now Oak Island. All I can say is, thank goodness they didn't pull a Jackson and rename it Negro Island!
Jonna Carter lives in South Conway with her husband and five crazy rescue dogs.