Quote of the Day: On Man Caves and Masculinity
Quote of the Day: On Man Caves and Masculinity
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard of man caves. Virtually every home design show on television will mention man caves. If you have married friends, it’s likely not unusual to hear about the husband being granted a man cave. Man caves are everywhere these days. They’re a perfect little spot for men to hide from their families and have time just to themselves. Everything about the man cave revolves around the man himself: the decor, the entertainment, the furniture. But are man caves another symptom that we are losing masculinity? Is it a sign that men are no longer stepping up to their role as husband, father, and provider? According to Brandon McGinley at Acculturated, the answer is yes.
What differentiates the man cave from these more traditional male spaces is that workshops and studies are designed to accommodate a particular, elevating interest. These rooms are only isolated inasmuch as the activities proper to them are best pursued without distraction. With the man cave, however, the isolation from the family—the escape—is the primary purpose of the space. The man cave, therefore, is the image of the traditional male space without its substance.
Of course, a workshop or study could become an escape—a place to hide from family duties or to indulge selfish habits. But this would be a misuse, or abuse, of a space set aside for humane recreations. By contrast, the man cave by its very name announces that it is for me. Whatever happens in the room is merely an artifact of my desires and my personality.
The implication is that the rest of the house—the joint bedroom and the nice kitchen and the kids’ messy quarters and the other TV room—cannot adequately serve me and my precious individuality. (Women, apparently, are not such fragile snowflakes that they need their own room to express themselves. After all, she has the kitchen, right?) Worse, the man cave implies antagonism between the father’s masculine identity and his family identity and duties.
Setting aside a space specifically as a masculine escape from the family signals that masculinity and family life are in tension. Whereas the mother can actualize her full identity in family life, the father, by this logic, can only do so away from family life. This reinforces two damaging notions: first, that the father’s “natural environment” is not in the home participating in communal life, and second, that the family is nothing more than a group of individuals pursuing their own self-interest and self-actualization—and that those interests and identities, especially between the father and his wife and children, are necessarily in conflict.
Both of these notions corrode the cohesion of the family, whose strength as a social unit emerges from and depends on the effacing of the self in the service of community. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of strangers living together.
To be sure, the family cannot be the alpha and the omega of a man’s identity. But neither can it be so for a woman. We all have interests and hobbies and little sanctuaries, physical or psychological, that give us respites from the exigencies of family life and that inform our self-understanding. That’s natural and good. But these aspects of our individual identities should not be placed in conflict with the family identity. After all, personality is most fully expressed not in isolation, but in community.
As McGinley points out, male-only spaces are by no means a new plague on American society. Consider the Victorian era, where after dinner women would sit in the library and talk, while men would go to the study to smoke and drink — no women allowed. The man cave is just the latest reincarnation. But the biggest difference seems to be not that man caves exist, but the implication that the rest of the home is specifically female.
Who designs and decorates the majority of homes today? Women do. All too often, women decorate their homes however they wish, with little concern for their husband’s opinion on the matter, because women always know best. The kitchen is the wife’s domain. So is the living room, the bathroom, and the bedrooms. Men have been effectively shut out of the home by women, so the only thing they have left is the man cave. So while yes, McGinley is right that men may be losing masculinity through the rise of man caves, he fails to understand the reason very well may be women.
Yes, the rest of the house should be seen as the place that serves the husband. He shouldn’t have to retreat to his man cave to feel like himself. But who is it that fails to make the husband part of the home? It’s part of our culture now, really. Women make the decisions. Watch HGTV and you’ll see countless men chuckle, “Happy wife, happy life” as they decide to pass on their own wishes in favor of that of their wives’. The choice of counter tops and cabinet colors, hard wood floors vs. tile, may not seem like important decisions worth fighting over. But if a husband doesn’t have any say in his own home, then how is it we can expect him to feel comfortable there? Men may be losing masculinity, but it’s because women are robbing them of it, a little at a time.
We see this culturally all the time. Commercials portray dads as clueless oafs (bonus points for being overweight), while their wives are immaculately put together, smiling in a chagrined manner as they clean up the mess that their idiot husbands left for them. Sitcoms are often the same. The husband is lazy, overweight, and does nothing to help around the house. Wives are skinny and beautiful. They’re also nagging shrews, constantly pecking at their husbands and letting them know that they’re a disappointment. Modern feminism has taught women that they don’t need a man for anything, that they can do anything a man can do (and do it better!), and not to let men trample all over them. Feminists told women in the 50s and 60s that being a housewife equaled being a slave, that they were completely subservient to men, and that it needed to stop. Women needed to take charge! Well, take charge they did, and they flipped the script completely. Now men are the ones who are slaves to their wives’ whims, unwelcome to be themselves in their own house, and yet we can’t understand why men want to have one room — just one room — to have for themselves? The better question might be why they have to be relegated to just one room.
Masculinity may well be in danger in today’s culture, but who is to blame for it? Certainly men are, because they were party to the demasculinization of American men. It didn’t happen to them; they were willing participants. But women cannot do everything they can to emasculate men, and then turn around and moan about how there aren’t any real men left. Women can’t make the entire house their territory, and then complain about how man caves are immature. If we want to make a case against man caves, then we need to look at who the real culprits are: women. Because until women start treating men as equal partners in their lives, their homes, their marriages — and not like a very large child that they have to take care of — well, how can we really blame men for shrinking away?