Throughout history, whenever humans have built large societies people have sought their own spaces. In ancient Greece large ornate houses sometimes had rooms called Androns, dedicated as a reprieve for men to retreat to.
Men would slink away to this room reserved only for them to study or just relax in; it was a place for a man to practice a hobby, read a book, host political meetings and handle policy in private, or to be by oneself.
Both men and women sought this occasional solitude, in very different areas of the house. Some of these ornate houses furnished with an Andron, were also furnished with a Gynaeceum; a room reserved for the women of the house.
Often situated very central, this is where the wives would spend some of their evenings with the single women in the area or the female slaves who lived in the house.
But, what exactly is a man cave, and why does it matter? The modern day equivalent to ancient Greece’s Andron, or early Europe’s Cabinet is the man cave. Usually a garage or basement or shed that the man of the house has reserved for himself and perhaps his male friends.
The man reserves all responsibilities in his man cave, from cleaning and maintaining to the design choices and the art that’s hung on the walls. While sociologists are actively researching the phenomenon of man caves, and their feminine counterparts, “she-sheds” or “girl-caves,” their usefulness to the modern person is not fully understood.
One possible explanation for why these caves keep showing up in civilized society is that while we humans are social creatures to begin with, sometimes we need that bit of solitude.
What is the purpose of a man cave?
Man caves are a place where a man can go to be himself, without the pressures he might feel from his partner to act a certain way.
It doesn’t have to be some room that is stereotypically male like the garage or the shed outback, any place that anyone reserves for themselves becomes a sort of man cave for that person.
A little girl posting a “No Boys Allowed” sign on her bedroom door has just declared her room her very own “man cave”; a place she reserves for herself.
Sometimes when you share a living space, it can be frustrating if you feel like you’re supposed to act a certain way.
Particularly if gender norms have dictated that the house’s interior decoration is handled by the woman of the house; leaving the exterior of the house to the men; living inside a house that doesn’t reflect half of its residents can leave those residents feeling lonely or isolated, adrift.
This is where the solution of a “man cave” comes into play for both the men and women of the house.
And it’s not a new solution either. In ancient Greece, the men, and very often the women, were given a room to themselves. A room reserved for entertaining members of the same sex, or lounging away from judging eyes.
This allows the owner of a man cave a sense of ownership over their space. Reflecting their personality in every object, everything being unequivocally theirs. This ownership can do wonders for the psyche.
Of course you don’t need to have your own space to have ownership of your space. Many people are able to share homes and share ownership of the house.
Why does a man need a man cave?
If you walked into someone’s man cave and asked them why they have it, they’re likely to give you one of a few different answers.
They might say that they needed a space to lie low, to get away from the world; they might mean that they needed to get away from their life partner, or they might literally mean the world.
Another owner of a man cave might tell you that they needed a space all to themselves, where no one has any input on what art goes on the walls, what’s on the TV, how clean it is, or anything but them.
Having a space like this can end up creating a space that is entirely reflective of the owner of the space.
This can help a person explore themselves, discover new passions and interests and devote time and more importantly, space to them.
Sociologist Tristan Bridges, an assistant professor in the sociology department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, while researching man caves interviewed many men and couples about the man caves in their houses.
During one interview, a man said, “I feel like someday guys from my neighborhood will congregate here after work and we’ll share a beer and chat.”
When Bridges asked the man who these men would be, the man said, “I don’t know.” After that Bridges began focusing also on the role of loneliness in the male world.
There are many reasons why someone would want to have a man cave. Many of us remember wanting those moments in our adolescence where we wanted a place to run away, where we could shut the door behind us and no one was allowed to bother us.
Many people leave their parents’ homes where that is a palpable burden, straight into a shared home, either with roommates or a significant other, and often that luxury of having your very own space is not guaranteed in these new living arrangements.
Even though human beings are social creatures, I think everyone can agree that there will always be times when we need a little bit of solitude. Men especially are taught by their families and society that their emotions need to be handled in private, alone.
My personal opinions on whether or not that is a healthy way to process emotion is less important than providing a space for someone to experience that healing solitude.
Why do they call it a man cave?
In 1992, a Toronto home consultant named Joanne Lovering wrote a humorous piece offering different names for rooms in the house.
The basement was dubbed “The Man Cave,” playing at the fact that a lot of married men will spend their free time in the basement.
This phrase was then was picked up by John Gray and mentioned in the popular book, “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus” and the phrase caught hold of modern day vernacular.
It caught on so well that in 2007 seven a TV show was created to show the renovation of exclusively man caves. Entitled, Man Caves, (what else would it be called?) the TV show’s crew change unfinished basements into full service sports bars with pinball tables and flat screen TVs.
Now it’s been pleasantly accepted by the culture, and if you ask a random stranger on the street if they knew what a man cave was, if they didn’t already know what it was, they will have probably at least heard of it.
Choosing Your Man Cave
You’ve decided that you want a space of your own, maybe you need a break from your wife or mother-in-law, or mother, whatever the reason you know this is something you want.
Each individual’s man cave would look differently to someone else’s.
Just as we all dress differently, and act in unique ways, if tasked with making a man cave, the man cave we make will be different any other man cave made by any other person, because we are unique individuals.
Where your man cave will be will depend largely on what spaces you have available. Many people opt for use of the garage or basement, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that someone might have a room in a house all to themselves; teenagers often do.
Often, men are relegated to the “masculine” spaces, like the shed out back with the work spaces, where a man can tinker like a man, but this is ultimately a choice of the individual’s preference, their personalities, and the people they share the house with.
As always you should be considerate, making sure that if what you’d like to use the space for is playing video games loudly and violently cursing out your opponents on the other end of the screen, you might not want to set up your man cave across from a baby’s room for instance.
Loud hobbies might want to be relegated to an area further away from the house like a shed.
Some people build special buildings for their man cave if they have the resources and land area. But regardless of where you build your man cave, making it your own is the fun part.
Designing Your Man Cave
The possibilities at this point are endless. The design of your man cave should reflect who you are, if you’re struggling for ideas, here are a few starting points that might spark inspiration for you.
What are your hobbies? Do you like to collect coins? Why not curate a space to keep your collection, and why not display your collection?
Do you enjoy alcohol? Who doesn’t? A popular option is to build your very own bar. Build it yourself or shop around for the necessary ingredients, and have it installed. Fill it with the best whiskies you can afford, with special glasses especially for this home-bar.
Decorate the walls with art that you enjoy. Or if you’ve always wanted to experiment with art, set up one corner of the space with an easel and learn to paint, or find an old potter’s wheel and learn to throw clay.
Maybe you’re someone who likes to host the poker game, you could set up a mini casino in your basement or backyard shed. Or maybe you just want a nice place with a couch and a TV where you can unwind from the day in your own space.
Man caves offer a lot of people, not just men, opportunities to express themselves by designing a living space. It makes available to anyone with a space of their own the ability to devote space to themselves.
Whereas some people might find themselves living in what feels like someone else’s space, man caves, or she sheds, whatever you want to call them, give a person a sanctuary where they can go to be undisturbed, in which they are the king or queen.
How would you design your cave?
Man Caves and Masculinity
In western society, people tend to identify themselves and others according to gender norms; men are supposed to behave this way, and women are supposed to act that way and do those things. This idea has seeped into every corner of western culture, and indeed cultures all across the world.
The reality is far more complicated, showing that gender, and thus gender norms fall on a spectrum; rather than being just one of two options, there are an infinite number of combinations of “masculine” traits and “feminine” traits resulting in something that may resemble one or the other, but may resemble both, or neither.
Very interesting and useful information for today’s age, but how is this at all relevant to man caves?
In today’s society, men are very often asked to deal with their emotions by holding it in; and under no circumstances show those emotions in public to other people, in other words, they’re asked not to deal with their emotions, opting instead for some version of “bottling it up.”
When someone who is taught not to express their emotions in public, has not private space to explore and manage those emotions, it can lead the person feeling overwhelmed.
Often the person may not be aware of this process, and would only be able to tell you that they were “feeling off,” but sometimes what helps, is to provide a space for this person to go to; like a safe haven or a sanctuary for them to explore themselves or to simply get away from it all.
This, is where man caves come into play. A person’s man cave is solely their own; designed and decorated by the owner of the man cave.
A living room that can be exactly what the person wants it to be, including a space for all of their hobbies and interests, not needing to make space for any one else, or consider any one else’s tastes or opinion in the designing of the man cave.
Man caves provide a space for someone in modern day society to experience a healthy solitude if they would like to, or they can use the man cave to entertain, hosting parties or poker nights.
They’re spaces meant to fulfill something that’s been missing from someone’s life, and their purpose should be tailored to the user of the man cave, and nothing else.
People can sometimes feel isolated in a crowded room, even if they’re actively participating with others.
Sometimes this can be helped by finding time for true, necessary solitude; good quality time with yourself where you can explore your emotions, and experiment with new forms of expression like playing a musical instrument, or painting or writing.
We being social creatures, caring about what other people think about us is important to us. This can lead to us editing our personalities when we’re around other people.
But finding or carving a space where you can be truly yourself, regardless of what anyone else thinks, is the most useful tool on the tool belt of self exploration.
It allows you to make mistakes of personality, try on mannerisms and ways of being, not to see how other people might react to them, but instead to see how you react to them.
It allows you the opportunity to make fledgeling pieces of art that you won’t want to show anybody; or you can go to the lengths of soundproofing your man cave to compose musical scores that you can play as loudly as you want to, without the fear that anyone will hear you.
Man caves exist because people need to be alone sometimes, they need their own privacy and solitude sometimes, either to explore and experiment with themselves emotionally or creatively; or perhaps it can be a place where someone can go to get away from it all, or a place where you can live out the glory days of college football.
As mentioned above Tristan Bridges, who has studied man caves, has found them an interesting lens through which to view male loneliness.
This gender normative emotional repression leads to many men feeling isolated from those around them.
Leading to the example given above of the man who was asked how he would like to use his man cave, answering that he’d want to use it to entertain his guy friends.
When pressed who specifically he would like to entertain, he could not give an answer.
While more qualified minds than mine could speculate on what this means for men’s relationship with loneliness, I believe it’s a common enough truth to say that most men struggle to connect on an emotional level with other people.
Whether man caves are a solution to that problem, or simply evidence of that problem’s existence, I could not tell you. What I can tell you, is that there are as many kinds of man caves as there are people in the world to design them.
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