I always had a vague idea that "distaff" referred to a woman specifically in the role of wife. Turns out it just means female more generally, or specifically maternal. MW11 gives the example phrase "distaff executives"; okay, if it just means "female" then that makes sense, but it sounds somehow condescending to me.
As does the usage that made me go look the word up in the first place:
A distaff trio sued Scott's firm in a Bay State court[....]
--"Scott's Wal-Mart Told To Stock Morning-After Pill," article in Forbes, 15 February 2006
A WisCon panel description recently included the phrase "The antidistaff companions and compatriots of the Lady Poetesses[....]" From context it was clear that "antidistaff" meant "male" rather than "anti-female."