One thing that has become clear to me over the last month is how important language is to maintaining or challenging the status quo. Writer and activist Rachel Cargle has been running an informative series on her Instagram account where she breaks down comments she receives on her social media posts to enlighten others about the ways in which Black people are spoken to that can be minimizing or damaging. I’ve seen some of my own thoughts in the comments she highlights, and it’s been very helpful in recognizing my own biases.
This brought me to question some of the language used in my own industry, specifically the terms “master bedroom” and “master bathroom”. These are commonly used by designers and real estate professionals to denote the largest rooms of this type in a home. I did some digging and found that these terms did not originate during slavery as you might imagine. The term “master bedroom” was first noted in the 1926 Sears catalog and it became widespread after WWII with the baby boom and explosion of suburban housing. America was experiencing a time of prosperity and the middle class was living in larger homes with the luxury of a private space just for parents.
While use of the term “master” in home plans doesn’t have racist origins, it is still problematic. It is absolutely gendered, and implies that the “master of the house” is always male. In light of current events causing us to question harmful traditions, I think it is time for language in my industry to evolve as well.
In 2013 it was reported that homebuilders in Washington D.C. were phasing out the term “master” and replacing it with “owner’s”. As a long-time renter I find this to still not be general enough. I prefer using terms like “main” or “primary” to refer to the largest bedroom or bath in a home.
Another common term that I have been reconsidering is “family room”. Does this term apply to those those of us who live alone? Does it imply that having a family is the norm, or how things should be? I’m still working on how to rephrase this in my own work, but one solution might be to use “casual living room” or “formal living room” to denote these spaces (depending on their function) might be a solution.
The use of a term like "master bedroom" might seem insignificant, but inclusive language has been found to decrease biased perceptions of others. Swapping outdated terminology for something more inclusive is a small change we can all make that, when taken as part of a larger movement, can have major impact.
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Make it fab!