Step out of the cave and into the light

Is man-cave mentality contributing to the crisis in men's mental health?

11th May 2018

A room or space in a house that is occupied solely by a man is often called a “man cave”. It’s an area where a fella might want to kick back and indulge in hobbies that, for some reason, need a special gender-segregated zone.

Okay, so the man in question wants some “me time”. That’s fair enough; everyone needs some space occasionally, whether it is to read, play videogames, watch the football, or do anything else for that matter. But why are women not allowed a “woman cave”? What if two gay men live together? Do they need separate caves? And what if more men, say, five, live together, as many do as students? Do they timeshare the cave, is there a rota?

This, of course, stems from gender stereotypes. In a very heteronormative living situation, in which a man and a woman are a cohabiting couple, more often than not the woman will decorate the house. And, to be honest, I think a lot of men either believe this is the woman’s job, or can’t be arsed to decorate a whole house. This was certainly the case with me, I left it all to my girlfriend, partly because I know she’s good at it and will make the house look nice (perhaps because women tend to be judged more harshly on the appearance of their home), and partly because I’m lazy and I knew I’d half-arse it.

The problem isn’t actually with the man caves themselves, it is with the mindset that often comes with them

In another household, this could lead to a man wanting a space that he has designed and filled with things that he enjoys but that his partner may not. Like a dragon, the man fills his cave with all his favourite shiny things, often sporting memorabilia, masculine iconography and grown-up toys.

However, the problem isn’t actually with the man caves themselves, it is with the mindset that often comes with them.

In a shared house I lived in, we had some “Man Cave Rules” put up on a poster in our living room as “banter” for the lone woman we shared a house with. This is where problems began to arise. Some rules seemed almost contradictory to traditionally masculine traits — “no small dogs” (they are apparently now associated with Paris Hilton rather than being man’s best friend) or “nothing on TV other than sports” (what about uber-masculine war films?) — some are frankly ridiculous — “no drinks that aren’t beer” (LADS! LADS! LADS!).

And then there came the dangerous “no talking about feelings”.

Talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s part of taking charge of your wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy

Now personally I love ALL dogs, enjoy watching films and TV that aren’t sport-related, and absolutely require a brew in the morning (that’s tea, to non-northerners). But “no talking about feelings”? This is the biggest problem. This is toxic masculinity.

Now, the words toxic masculinity may be a turn-off — some of you may have already stopped reading — but it is a problem. For those who don’t know, toxic masculinity is essentially the problems with society’s pressures of “being manly”. So, the social pressures and expectations that men should be dominant, strong, and not talk about their emotions. This can harm men, and anyone around them, and could be a factor in why men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women.

While talking will not solve everything, it is healthy to do so among friends, to check you’re all doing okay, and be there to help when needed

“Talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s part of taking charge of your wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy,” says the Mental Health Foundation, a charity aiming to combat mental ill health through understanding, and it urges everyone to talk more about how they feel.

Obviously, just talking about mental health won’t solve all the issues of those suffering, as, thanks to Jeremy Hunt and Conservative policy, mental health services are losing more and more funding every year.

Men need to feel free to talk about their feelings rather than be crushed under the pressure of being “manly”

But talking about your feelings among friends and within relationships can help you to live and feel healthier, and it is easier to seek help when you are comfortable asking those around you for it. And while talking will not solve everything, it is healthy to do so among friends, to check you’re all doing okay, and be there to help when needed.

Though plenty of people, like the guys at Broverwatch or Andy’s Man Club (AMC), are trying to destigmatise talking about deeply personal stories, ideas, and feelings (Broverwatch does it with videogames, AMC with group sessions), there is still an expectation that men shouldn’t do so. After all, women are the emotional ones.

The idea of a solitary area for a man to sit in, do his hobbies, and ignore the rest of the world could be dangerous, as it reinforces society’s ideas that men should not show emotion. Community, friendships, feelings, and emotions all occur naturally in everyone’s brains, whether you identify as male, female, neither, or both.

So, ignore Rule #5 of the Man Cave Manifesto, and be sure to talk to each other, especially when it’s about how you’re feeling.

11th May 2018