I converted the little box room, by removing the unused bed, repainted the walls and installed some shelving. I sourced an antique writing bureau to help create atmosphere and encourage me to get into the writers frame of mind. I purchased an unusual rug and filled the room with trinkets and other ‘cool stuff’ to make it a place I would want to spend time in. It was only when I told friends and colleagues of my new study, and the topic of my studies that they christened it as a man cave, and ever since, that is how I have jokingly referred to my study.
Recently, I came across the work of another sociologist Dr Tristan Bridges, whom is a masculinities scholar working in the United States. His current research is exploring man caves in couple households (in other words, houses where couples cohabitate). Bridges is interested in how men and women talk about, use, justify, and decorate man caves. In February 2014, Bridges posted a blog on the significance of man cave signs (click here to read), which really got me thinking about my own man cave and it’s meaning within my own home.
In a blog, Bridges examines the language used on man caves signs, and provides a number of examples to illustrate how man cave signs are really about designating spaces within the home as male spaces. Examples of man caves signs that Bridges’ uses include; ‘Caution – Entering the Man Cave’, ‘No Girls Allowed’, ‘Man Cave – Enter at your own risk!’ and ‘What happens in the cave, stays in the cave’, and so on. An interesting perspective that Bridges shares on man cave signs is that that they might for some men, in heterosexual relationships, symbolically say something about their wives, in that they (the wives) are ok with a dedicated male space within the home. The segregation of spaces by gender is nothing new, however, the commercialization of male spaces as man caves is.
Many homes have man caves, however, they are not always named as such, and in many cases they take the forms of sheds, attics and garages. However, men do seem predisposed to having spaces that are clearly marked as male domains. Gentlemen’s clubs, men’s associations, and men’s sheds – all places named as male spaces and all exclude women. Some might retort that women also create female only domains, however, in such instances this has not always been their choice and may have been due to exclusion or coercion by men.
Maybe the demarcation of spaces as male spaces has something to do with a territorial instinct. However, if this were the case, men would not share these spaces with other men. Many men are quite social, and enjoy homosocial bonding (hanging out with other men) in homosocial settings (social settings of same sex only). Rather, most masculinities scholars would suggest that exclusively male spaces are about power and legitimizing a specific type of masculinity. It does raise the question of why we gender certain spaces? I think this stems from the deep-rooted gendering that occurs in other aspects of life - from clothing to toys, behaviours to jobs; we strongly demarcate those that are feminine or masculine.
The purpose of man caves are various; for some they maybe a sanctuary, for others a space to indulge in extravagant hobbies or they may be just a room to store ‘stuff’. In my case, my man cave is a simply a study – a cool study in my opinion, but it is not an exclusively male space. It is not out of bounds to my wife nor is it somewhere I retreat to for escapism. My wife is most certainly allowed in my man cave, and she often joins me to see what I am working on. I think she is only too delighted to have a dedicated space in which she can banish me and my obscurities (cool stuff) to!
On a final note, the very term ‘man cave’ deserves greater reflection, and may reveal an undertone within contemporary social commentaries about men. The very use of the word ‘cave’ is ironic and brings to mind hairy Neanderthals wielding clubs and dressed in animal hides. Although many men who have man caves (of the exclusive kind) may well be not so distant relatives of Neanderthals, for many other man cave owners I believe this irony is unfair. Men are often depicted in primitive ways on TV (Homer Simpson is a perfect example) or within social media, and although I believe there is no harm in a bit of joking and fun, media messages are powerful. The naming of such spaces as man caves may well be just tongue & cheek fun, however, it is still important to be aware of the subtle messages that can be transferred through language. Either way, the commercialization of certain spaces as man caves serves to reinforce notions of gender difference that are less than helpful and can perpetuate problematic normative behaviours and attitudes; such as the mans place is the garage and the women’s is the kitchen.
Although I may be one of many men who have a man cave, I hope that I am far from being a cave man!
© C. Darcy, April 2014
Bridges, T (2013) On the Significance of Man Cave Signs, Url: http://inequalitybyinteriordesign.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/on-the-significance-of-man-cave-signs/