Patron/Matron

So I began this blog with good intentions.  I didn’t mean to leave the first post all by its lonesome for nearly four months now.  Life happened.  That is only ever the excuse.

However, I am finally writing post number two.  It’s exciting.  🙂

I’ve been thinking about the word patron lately, and specifically about the idea of a patron of the arts and about the gender-specific origin of the word patron.  The English language is interesting in its wishy-washy use of gender in relation to words.  Why is it that patron and matron do not mean the same thing, only focusing on one gender or another?  (I recognize that focusing on two genders is problematic, given that not everyone falls into the female-male binary.)

Let’s take a look at their meanings.

Patron, according to Merriam-Webster, means “a person chosen, named, or honoured as a special guardian, protector, or supporter;” “a wealthy or influential supporter of an artist or a writer;” “a social or financial sponsor of a social function;” and six other definitions having to do with status and wealth.

On the other hand, matron, according to the same source, means “a married woman usually marked by dignified maturity or social distinction,” “a woman who supervises women or children (as in a school or police station),” “the chief officer in a women’s organization,” and “a female animal kept for breeding.”

Whereas patron focuses on status and success with relation to wealth and power, matron focuses on what traditionally gives women status in the Western world (marriage, sex, and work).  Given that women are supposed to have equality in our current culture (yeah, we don’t, but we’re not supposed to talk about that), why can’t matron also mean “a wealthy or influential supporter of an artist or writer?”

One of the examples on the Merriam-Webster web site for the use of the word patron is:  “She is a well-known patron of the arts.”  Perhaps it is my past studies of Classical Latin that make me uncomfortable calling myself a patron.  Why couldn’t I be a matron of the arts?  (Well, aside from the wealth aspect.)  Patron contains at its root the Latin word pater (father); matron contains at its root the Latin word mater (mother).  Fathers and mothers perform important (and often underpaid, under-appreciated) roles in society:  raising the children and, essentially, caring for the village, the society as a whole.  We should bring back the caring aspect of these words.  A patron and a matron are not just about wealth or status.  They are about caring for others.

Perhaps the real solution, however, is to change our language to better reflect gender equality…to change the words to reflect a gender neutrality, rather than defaulting to the masculine form of words to be gender neutral (patron, actor, snowman).  Such a change would be a lot of work, but the English language is constantly changing as it is.

Now it’s after midnight, I’m tired, and my thoughts have run out for this post.  For now, anyway.  Good night!

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One thought on “Patron/Matron

  1. Very interesting. I agree with everything you said. However, from everything I’ve learned in my life as an “English” teacher, I think that in American English (and that’s the only language variant I can speak of with any real authority) our changes come about mostly from mistakes becoming generally accepted forms. Attempts to intentionally change the language generally fail, with a few sterling exceptions. About the best ever, IMHO, was the introduction of Ms. in the second feminist movement. Even then, it might have failed if it hadn’t filled such an obvious social need. My theory is that language change is generally due to those two, or to needing new vocabulary for new technology, but that’s just a theory. So here’s a question: what about other languages? How do they change? I know that Chinese has had major changes in its writing system every 500 years or so. I bet there are books about this somewhere…

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