The market for man cave paraphernalia is probably a small niche. But, many people I’ve talked to spend an inordinate amount of money on an odd array of trinkets and tchotchkes that help them symbolically authenticate these spaces. Most of the people I contact to ask about their man caves, man dens, or whatever they call them talk with me or write with me first about the sign outside of the room. Literally hundreds of these signs are for sale. Some can be customized with names, but most are not. And some men produce their own signs or have signs produced for them by others. Not every man cave has a sign. In fact, the ones with signs often feel a lot less authentic than those without. But, signs are a feature of a “type” of cave, to be sure.
The signs remind me of images we culturally associate with boys’ bedroom doors. The “Keep Out!” sign with a skull and cross bones. Indeed, this is where the signs are placed. They’re not in the man cave, they are a designation of the space that stands just outside. They symbolically welcome some and exclude others—similar to the “no girls allowed” signs we think of as characteristic of boys’ clubhouses (or Calvin and Hobbes’ tree house). When I started this man cave project, I wasn’t initially all that interested in what exactly was in the caves. I’m collecting photographs of some, documenting the objects and considering room setup, décor, and the placement of different kinds of objects within the rooms. But, I was and am much more interested in the ways these spaces fit into the relationships of the people in whose homes the caves reside. But, now that the project is underway, the stuff has captured my attention as well. And these signs are just one very small piece.
There’s a small body of work on the sociology of smell that deals with gender. Scents, their cultural meaning, and our experiences of them are culturally mediated processes (here, here, and here). What women and men ought to smell like is, in some ways, just another of the various ways in which we are all held accountable to recognizable performances of gender. Controlling one’s own scent is a small part of this process. And controlling the scent of your home–perhaps in different ways for different spaces within the home–is a piece of gendering our social environments as well.
Yankee Candle stores are always fun. I generally find myself in one some time in winter or fall when I want my house to smell like I just baked something with apples in it or like a fir tree had an accident in my living room. Like a great deal of stores dedicated to selling niche home décor, Yankee primarily caters to women. Desiring your home to smell like “Fluffy Towels,” “Autumn Leaves,” a “Bahama Breeze,” or “Home Sweet Home” is something that many people likely classify as a “feminine” desire (regardless of the gender of the desirer in question).
Like a number of products catering primarily to women, Yankee has developed a “men’s line.” I’ve always thought that gendering scents has been somewhat ridiculous–that the line between perfume and cologne was less clear than it’s often depicted. Smells don’t have a gender, do they?
There is not actually a great deal of literature on “man caves,” “man dens,” and the like–save for some anthropological and archeological work using the term a bit differently. There is, however, a substantial body of literature dealing with bachelor pads. The “bachelor pad” is a term that emerged in the 1960s. It was a style of masculinizing domestic spaces heavily influenced by “gentlemen’s” magazines like Esquire and Playboy. Originally referred to as “bachelor apartments,” “bachelor pad” was coined in an article in the Chicago Tribune, and by 1964 it appeared in The New York Times and Playboy as well.
It’s somewhat ironic that the “bachelor pad” came into the American cultural consciousness at a time when the median age at first marriage was at a historic low (20.3 for women and 22.8 for men). So, the term came into usage at a time when heterosexual marriage was in vogue. Why then? Another ironic twist is that while the term has only become more popular since it was introduced, “bachelorette pad” never took off–despite the interesting finding that women live alone in larger numbers than do men. I think these two paradoxes substantiate a fundamental truth about the bachelor pad–it has always been more myth than reality (see here, here, here, here, and here). Continue reading
Mike Messner has written a few pieces that I do not teach courses on gender without. One of them is an article about the opening ceremonies of a American Youth Soccer League in which his son participated–“Barbie Girls Versus Sea Monsters: Children Constructing Gender” (2000).* What I love about the article is Messner’s simultaneous attention to structure, culture, and agency. He does this in a way that is beautiful in its simplicity.
The following is the scenario Messner witnessed and wrote about. The opening ceremony for this league asks players to come dressed in uniform and with banners (if they have them), and beyond attempting to create a community, the event seems designed to help the young boys and girls feel like athletes. Each team walks around the track at the local high school football field behind their banner as they are announced. The boys’ team that Messner discusses (the “Sea Monsters”) is sitting together, proudly looking at their large banner of a sea snake appearing to eat a soccer ball. A girls’ team (the “Barbie Girls”) enters pulling a wagon with a large Barbie doll standing on a rotating platform and dancing and singing along to Barbie-themed music coming out of a boom box. While at first the boys seem entranced, smiling (and perhaps even wanting to take part), eventually, enough of the boys notice each other noticing the Barbie parade going on and they take action. One of the boys yells out, “NO BARBIE!” and they are on the move, jumping around, and bumping one another. The girls do a good job of not noticing, but “NO BARBIE!” ends up serving as a chant that unites the Sea Monsters in solidarity.
One of the most interesting parts of this analysis to me is that Messner also pays careful attention to the adults in this interaction and examines how they make sense of this behavior. It’s a great example of Thorne’s concept of “borderwork.” The adults take this moment as an opportunity to reflect on just how different boys and girls are. Messner illustrates how much work it is to actually think of boys and girls as completely different sorts of creatures. Continue reading
Homes have always illustrated a great deal about those who inhabit them. And changes in architectural design reflect much more than simply new techniques and styles. They also reflect changing relationships between groups of people. Victorian architecture is famous for a number of things, but one of my favorites is the notion that rooms really ought to only have one purpose.* One of my favorite ways that this is illustrated is by highlighting the lack of a bedside table in most bedrooms in the 1800s in England. Reading (or anything else for that matter) was an activity that was best undertaken in a separate (and more appropriate) room of its own.
To accomplish this, larger houses had an extraordinary number of rooms. Smaller houses were forced to shift furniture around depending on what was going on that particular day. While one of the premises of modern architectural design involves breaking down walls and opening up space, the Victorians were much more concerned with erecting walls and closing spaces off. There are all sorts of remnants of this time still present in homes today – though they are often put to separate use. For instance, parlors are still present in many homes. They’re typically small rooms near the front of the house where household guests would have congregated, and within which Victorian forms of courtship took place (see Bailey on courtship here). But few of us use these spaces as they were originally intended. They feel impractical by today’s standards.