It’s a terrible trope of family sitcoms, Super Bowl commercials, and any other area that our culture has let toxic masculinity run wild: the husband, usually dressed in cargo shorts and a visor, explains to his wife why he needs a space that can serve as his “man cave,” a place where antiquated, troglodyte mentalities can thrive. It’s insulting, it’s tacky, and (surprise!) it comes with a fundamentally dark origin story.
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A man cave, for the uninitiated, is defined as a space within your home that is the exclusive domain of the “man of the house” for him to decorate and do with as he pleases. As such, its furnishings typically showcase the trifecta of chic—billiards, booze paraphernalia, and black leather—and tout fine finishes like “Parking for Packers Fans Only” and neon Miller High Life signs. Sounds benign enough, right? Let’s unpack this garbage a little further.
The term “man cave” first cropped up in 1992 in John Gray’s Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, earned itself a hashtag circa 2008, and gained a foothold over the last 30 years as the number of women working outside of the home grew. Couple that with an increase in the number of men taking on shared childcare responsibilities, as well as a decrease in popularity in male-only private clubs, and the response has been some men creating a space in their own homes they feel can be exclusively their own. Literally, advances for women in the work force and academia birthed this malignant dude dwelling. According to Paula Aymer, professor of sociology at Tufts University, man caves can be looked at as the “last bastion of masculinity.” Because, you know, the patriarchy is super low key everywhere else.
Some would have us believe that man caves are not a recent cultural shift, but that they represent who men inherently are as creatures. The official Man Cave website, because of course such a thing exists, states, “We believe that every Man (sic) has a basic, primal, instinctual need to have a space to call his own. It’s his territory.” And Sam Martin, author of Man Space: A Primal Guide to Marking Your Territory says it doesn’t matter if that territory is a whole room, a chair, or a corner, just as long as she agrees to let you do whatever you want in that space. It’s not about solitude after all: Man caves come from a place of control. And that makes them even uglier than that Steelers-themed kegerator or Barcalounger ever could.
Man caves come from a place of control, and that makes them even uglier than that Steelers-themed kegerator or Barcalounger ever could.
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Speaking of decor, the Man Cave website would like to politely clarify that it’s not that women are bad, it’s that women trying to decorate is bad. “Women are allowed (though some insist it’s by invitation only) they just do not have decorating authority,” it says. That sentiment boiled down is essentially: “I gave her the whole house, don’t I get this one little room?” No, Al Bundy, you didn’t “give” anyone anything. While you’re hanging your “No Girls Allowed” sign on the clubhouse door, you might do well to remember that marriage is a partnership between two people, and the home they create together is supposed to be based on mutual respect, and by extension, mutually shared tastes. In the event those tastes don’t overlap, the argument that you’re doing everyone a favor by quarantining your collection of beer cans, taxidermied antlers, and hockey trophies in one place shouldn’t be necessary. My husband’s crazy clock, lacrosse helmet, and banjo are all on display in our apartment, not because I like them, but because they’re important to him. Marriage is compromise, plain and simple.
Speaking of the person you love, if you have to sequester yourself from your spouse, you need to seriously reexamine your relationship. I’m not saying that you should never have any time away from your significant other—hell, I’m married and we live in a studio apartment, so I get the need for a little separation now and then. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t need a designated space to hide out. Call me crazy, but I actually like the person I married, so if we’re home together we like to be just that: together. It’s necessary and healthy to have your own interests. But falling down the rabbit hole of a Yours and Mine spatial mentality in your home is a slippery slope, and relegating a garage, basement, or spare room for someone’s exclusive use is the most divisive, ridiculous thing since DJ and Stephanie Tanner split their room down the middle with tape.
And just so we’re clear: She Sheds are bullshit, too.
Seclusion in any form, be it in your basement or beyond, sabotages mutual respect in your home. There’s really only one person in your household for whom it’s acceptable to mark his territory: the dog.