“Continuing on the somewhat unfortunate trend of gendered living spaces – The Man Cave has now secured an spot in our cultural lexicon – comes the She Shed. Much like their manly counterparts, She Sheds are intended to be rooms that are designed specifically for the woman in mind – basically, they are like miniature, frilly living rooms, where ladies can do lady-things like sew and cook and try on wedding dresses and have babies – you know, the “things women do.”
Though we’re not sure if separate living spaces are particularly healthy for relationships, it’s certainly nice to have a place to get away. “
“Boy gets to play; a man doesn’t” (John Burnside).
It used to be that adulthood and marriage stole our youth, we could no longer play, no longer be free. This caused a destructive resentment that bubbled in so many marriages. The man cave is a space for play. For the play the boy is allowed and the man is not. It is a pressure valve that releases the pent up frustration of our inner child.
What the man cave is also about, this constructed space, is an expression of a very much constructed masculine ideal. It is an attempt to deal with a contradiction at the heart of masculinity in society: Man is expected to be very professionally high functioning whilst very recreationally low-functioning. The ‘beer-sport-girls’ trifecta of pleasure is given to men as their domain and one of male unity and relaxation, but is also more and more a little embarrassing. It is embarrassing because it is simple, hedonistic and base. But embarrassing or not this trifector, and its implied values, environment and activities, are for a certain large group of men the source code of their masculinity and so their identity. The man cave is an environment where these base desires and comforts can be fully expressed and followed without fear of judgement. As Sam Martin found out in researching Manspace: A Primal Guide to Marking Your Territory, it is in a large part the craving for a space devoid of judgement that drives the desire for the man cave; “”no one is going to make you watch your p’s and q’s, no one is going to ask you to explain yourself,” Martin says. “Guys often feel, at their core, like big, loud and smelly oafs. When they’re around other men in private, that goes away,” allowing them “to get to the heart of the conversation.”. A certain dominant ideal of man is constructed to scorn the aesthetic values that the female is constructed to revere
So men feel like they have an inner slob that can either be expressed purely and completely (in the cave) or not at all (in the living room their wife has put together). We build ‘man caves’ and ‘she sheds’, we construct them. And we build ‘man’ and ‘woman’, we construct them. We construct them as different, as from Mars and from Venus, we give roles based on gender and it leaves all caught between an unreal ideal they are supposed to embody and the confusing and complicated reality of an actual person. I’m often left in wonder that any relationships and any marriages work at all, when we are told from the beginning that the genders are polar opposites. Hitchens complains that in Christianity the human is created sick and commanded to be well, well in our modern form of patriarchy men and women are created to be completely separate and then commanded to be together. They are set up to fail. Man caves and she sheds are a retreat from an attempt at a shared uni-gender space back into a gendered comfort zone. The insecurity of male identity is as such that to much time in a space that doesn’t screams ones masculinity back at oneself leaves the male feeling bereft of identity. They need to return to the echo chamber of cartoon masculinity that is the man cave.
I would leave with this: It perhaps used to be that we constructed the man-as-slob and unfulfilled child, and he then got to run rule over the household, often ruining the life of his wife and children, ruining his marriage, and living unfulfilled and frustrated himself. The man cave as an approach to this problem represents an ability to recognize the issues of male-female relations in a world where their identities are constructed as so different, and a progression from the man just dragging his frustrated masculinity violently through the world of his family. It also, however, shows our as yet complete inability to actually transcend the male-female dichotomy, the destructive gender roles that are the core of so much frustration and so much pain. The ‘clash’ between the masculine and the feminine will not be solved by simply separating the men and the women to their own caves, at very least its a sad solution. Maybe men and women are no longer clashing in the living room, but the real issue is the clash, the constructed clash. The war of the sexes, the men are from Mars women are from Venus, the nonsense.