Men, once rulers of the world, nowadays have become equals to women and, in some cases, relegated to a back seat. One reaction to this social reality? The man cave. Increasingly common throughout the United States, there are TV shows, websites and books dedicated to these spaces designed by and for men. But why in this era of “Hey, girl!” has a space for male bonding become so important?
University of Dayton sociology lecturer Jeanne Holcomb says, “We’ve seen a shift in terms of some spaces that used to be traditionally masculine spaces aren’t anymore. So the workplace is not necessarily as male-dominated as it used to be. So to some extent we might be seeing a shift out of the workplace into other areas.”
In an informal survey distributed via my Facebook page, 40 of 41 respondents indicated they know anywhere from one to a whopping 50 people with a man cave. Respondents described those spaces as everything from gross, unkempt and stinky to rad, amazing and the “total package” ― a place that keeps men out of strip clubs, where they can “fart with impunity” and examine their “private manly thoughts.” In general, survey respondents noted these spaces give men a place where boys can be boys, where men can relax and unwind without worrying about the carpet matching the window treatments matching the scented candles. Jeremy Forbis, a sociology professor at UD, said he has a woodworking shop in his garage that functions as a sort of man cave, where his male friends can hang out, drink beer and “look at tools.”
“What we’re seeing now is an overall decline in traditional civic engagement,” Forbis says, “Where in the past men could join the Elks, the Rotary Club, neighborhood groups, things of that nature – what we’re seeing is a shift in society. We’re becoming a more mobile society so those roots aren’t nearly as deep as they used to be. This may be a reaction to less involvement in other community groups so they try to recreate some identity and man space within the home.”
Or maybe women just want to get their man out of their space for a minute. Indeed, women are generously allowing men to set up shop in garages, basements and attics across America. My Facebook survey reveals the majority of man caves are in the home ― but not all of them. Some guys are really lucky. Dayton resident George Balog and three of his close friends have a man cave dubbed The Clubhouse in what he calls “an undisclosed location,” near downtown Dayton, on the third floor of an old warehouse.
“We almost got kicked out the very first night we had this space set up,” Balog says, “And we were so exhilarated at having this space, just full of the potential of this place, that we just went a little nuts. It got really loud, it went way into the morning, we were playing Pink Floyd really loud, and somebody taped us, took it to the landlord. We’ve toned it down since then. Thank God they didn’t kick us out.”
Since that nearly tragic incident years ago, the Clubhouse has evolved into the ultimate testosterone-fueled party pad.
“There are concert posters, political stuff, bourbon bottles,” Balog says of the space, “It’s almost like a scrapbook of our lives for the past couple of years, and whenever we go out different places we’ll bring back things. On our trips to Ireland, our trips to New York, our trips to L.A., stuff will come back from those places and go up on the wall. So, it’s kind of like a walk down memory lane in here.”
“One of the nice things about being here, away from where I live, you never know who’s going to knock on that door, you never know what’s going to happen,” Balog continues, “There’s sort of an element of randomness and chaos over here. So it’s kind of like a Las Vegas thing: what goes on here stays here.”
Like so many of the spaces described by my survey respondents, The Clubhouse serves an important role for Balog and the other men who call it their cave.
“You know, you hear the word “bonding.” It’s kind of cliché almost. But you get to see each other in circumstances here, and talk about things here that you don’t talk about in other places. You think back when you had best friends, and most of that comes around high school, sometimes in college, and if you’re lucky enough you have that for the rest of your life. And I think this is an important part of keeping the quality of the friendship. You can be yourself. We travel together,we do a lot of things outside of here but a lot of it is cemented and talked about and strengthened … you know, here.”
Even still, The Clubhouse is not exclusively a boys’ club. The Clubhouse crew hosts vinyl listening parties, champagne and bourbon tastings, and soirees that invariably include impromptu karaoke sessions with groups of people gathered around a vintage mic stand.
Coming to those parties, you can hear music and laughter pouring from the windows while standing in the parking lot three stories below. In those moments, The Clubhouse serves a purpose for men and women alike. So while the man cave may be a staple when it comes to male bonding in the modern age, perhaps it also is a reminder that, in the end, men and women have many of the same needs for friendship ― and fun.