Today’s Man Caves Were Our Grandfather’s Woodsheds

Men of my generation created the “man cave”. We created this “man-space” because of our need, and of our unquenchable desire, to have a place, an area, even if only a corner of the basement, where we can be undisciplined, and unsupervised by the fairer sex. This practice has been passed down to our progeny and has become so common that it has become ingrained in today’s society. Today’s man caves are often highly developed to include big boy toys such as a pool table, or pinball machines, the obligatory bar with a working refrigerator and microwave oven, a big screen TV, and enough comfortable seating for all the buds to help you consume all your bud, while watching Tommy Terrific decimate the opposing team’s secondary. Ribald jokes are told, often the same joke several times….milking every last guffaw before moving on to another target of hilarity. This is what we call “male-bonding”. We speak with passion and with conviction, to our significant other, of our need to male-bond for mental health purposes. Many ladies view this practice of ours to be, essentially, on the same level as boys who must, for some unknown reason, carry a frog in their pocket.

It’s that Mars-Venus thing.

Wikipedia tells us:

“A man cave or manspace, is a male sanctuary, such as a specially equipped garage, spare bedroom, media room, den, or basement. It is a metaphor describing a room inside the house where “guys can do as they please” without fear of upsetting any female sensibility about house decor or design.”- Paula Aymer of Tufts University calls it the “last bastion of masculinity“.

An aside here- We men always love it when women dictate to us what is masculine, or what it means to be a “real man”. Perhaps another reason we feel so adamant about having a man cave, eh? Just a thought-. I know, I know, we men are not suppose to do that unsupervised either.

Wikipedia continues with this quote:

“While a wife may have substantial authority over a whole house in terms of design and decoration, she generally has no say about what gets “mounted on the walls” of a man’s personal space. Since it may be accepted that a woman has input on the decoration of the rest of the house, a man cave or man space is in some sense a reaction to feminine domestic power.

Man caves have multiple purposes: they are a place to be alone, to be away from women and from female sensibilities, to indulge in hobbies, and to hang out with male friends. It is, loosely, a male-only space to retreat to watch sports matches, or play video games.” According to psychiatrist and author Scott Haltzman,

“it is important for a man to have a place to call his own, referring to a male area to which to retreat. Some psychologists claim that a man cave can provide refuge from stressful surroundings and be beneficial to marriage. Rules are relaxed; it is a place where other people’s sensibilities about standards of cleanliness are not necessarily observed; as one man said, “You spill a beer there or leave a hamburger overnight, who cares?” In a sense, for married men, it is a way to recreate some of the space and freedom of their bachelor days since it was like a “pad” similar in feeling to a frat house game room or a college dorm room where people could come and go “as if they owned the place.” It is where a man doesn’t have to be on his best behavior, where no women are around, and where “no one is going to make you watch your p’s and q’s” and “no one is going to ask you to explain yourself”. Writer and handyman Sam Martin explained:

“Men have had an identity problem since the women’s movement. They have tried to figure out who they’re supposed to be. For a while women wanted them to be more sensitive, so they were more sensitive. Then women wanted them to be more manly. One of the things I discovered is when men have their own manspace, what they put inside of it is really an expression of who they are. Manspace is about establishing an identity for a man. Our premise is that women have control of the look and the feel of the house and that left guys wanting more. Anybody who has a specific interest or hobby or work or collection is going to want a space to indulge that.”

—Sam Martin, in the Chicago Tribune, 2007

I think we all get the idea. We poor men must be allowed to preserve our own identities, us men being so sensitive and all. This is why we carry a frog in our pocket when we are 6 years old.

I mean really, seriously (something I rarely ever practice), all of this should be taken with a grain of salt and with proper recognition that we tend to over-state just about everything in life these days. It’s pretty simple-we men hang on to just a wee bit of that little boy that each of us were oh so many years ago, and it manifests itself into male-bonding-rowdiness, which can be a controlled and a reasonably safe experience within the confines of our man cave. We men are happy to have such a place to be little boys again, and at the same time appreciate the women in our lives who provide us with a few ground rules, a clean home, children, and the nurturing we all are so desperate for. For their part, women, even though disgusted by the ol’ frog in the pocket mentality of their man, also find it somewhat charming that he has hung onto to a piece of his inner-little-boy. I think this ying/yang between the sexes is as timeless as anything we humans have experienced in our history.

When I was a kid growing up on the farm, men didn’t have man caves…they had either a woodshed, or a barn, or both. Now the woodshed, of course, was multi-purposeful, meaning, it wasn’t always the sort of male bonding one wanted to experience, when invited to join your elders there. Same with the barn, as a youngster, you might be expecting an opportunity to hang with the elders and partake in their male bonding, which typically included ribald stories and incredible adventure yarns of hunting and fishing events of the past, so amazing, that they could never be duplicated by my generation, only to find a barn shovel shoved into your hands. The price of admission for us youngsters to these incredible yarns, told by my elders and their friends, in a sort of round-robin style, whilst drinking Pup’s brew and sitting on grain pails, was to shovel the ..ahem…manure and put it on the pile outside the back of the barn.

I suspect this practice helped launch the political aspirations of many of my generation.

In any event, the womenfolk never ever set foot inside these hallowed least not while those spaces were infested with us frog carrying boys who (tch-tch-tch-sigh) never seem to really outgrow such silliness. While the divide between the men and women of my family was always clear on such matters, it was never a point of contention or argument. It was understood and expected, by both the men and the women, that there were rules, and as long as we men recognized and adhered to those rules in the home, and with the children, the women would overlook the antics we men would sometimes find irresistible in the smelly old woodshed or barn. Even though there were no big screen TV’s, or a microwave, we managed to have “our space” and we did this without losing sight of our responsibilities to our family, our children, or our lady.

Today, my little Casa is, in it’s entirely, a “man-cave”, because I have only the cat to worry about pleasing (he’s a male, in case you’re wondering). I do enjoy those times when the buds stop by for a BBQ or to watch the game and enjoy a frosty cold beverage, a few wild and absolutely untrue stories, but there is still a piece of that little boy with a frog in his pocket inside me, that misses those days in the smelly tie up of my grandfathers barn, listening to him and my other elders telling such fantastic adventure stories that would keep my imagination highly stimulated for hours on end, that I have to agree with my elders predictions…my generation has never been able to duplicate it

Mitch Littlefield

About Mitch Littlefield

I was born into a large family in the mid 1950s, in Belfast, Maine. My family owned and operated three working farms during my childhood, and the entire family worked these farms. It is these formative years, this family, those farms, and that way of life that is the background for these stories.