Friday, January 3, 2014

Invading the Man Cave

By Joy Pullmann

My dad is in the basement as I write, grinding something that reverberates throughout the house. He and my husband are taking a week to finish as much of our ugly basement as possible. The plans are glorious: a guest room and second bathroom. But the process has so far been pretty messy. 

Having my dad around for a week is unusual, as he and my mom live eight hours away, so the differences in our house are pronounced enough for me to observe them. One is the voracity with which he and my husband can and do talk football. I'm treated to stacks of football talk when my brother-in-law visits every few weeks, too, and again the difference in conversation in our household is jarring. I never knew there could be so many details and statistics to pore over in such a basic-looking game. I mean, it's a bunch of fat guys smashing into each other repeatedly. But not to my men. It's psychological, social, tactical, physical, and more. I suppose I get this detailed and loquacious when you get me talking about literary criticism or education theory, but not about many "girl things" like cooking or crafts, both of which I enjoy. Perhaps I just don't know comparatively many detailed things about sewing or baking.

It's not just football, though. My husband and some of his man friends also like to intricately discuss theology, which also is a signal for me to leave the room before I pass out from boredom. I don't think theology is necessarily a manly topic like football quite evidently is, but at least in our seminary town, more men get into it than women.

There's been some talk on the Internets lately about "the male friendship crisis," or that men's relationships have deteriorated over the past several decades. Some people say it's because men just need to become more like women: more apt to discuss people and feelings rather than objects and ideas. Others say it's because there's nowhere men can go be men together and let down their guard without the unnerving presence of women. I'm sure there are many combined reasons, but if we're picking between two I lean towards the latter.

Here's Bill McMorris in The Federalist:
The erosion of “male space,” as psychologist Helen Smith convincingly argued in her otherwise problematic book, “Men on Strike,” has played a key role in the social isolation of men. “Our culture has steadily made it almost obscene for men to congregate on their own together,” Smith writes. “Men are discouraged and actively made fun of or denied the ability to be in all-male groups by the law and by the disapproval of certain segments of the culture.” 
One thing that never occurs to Wade is that women have an easier time forming intimate relationships because men aren’t trying to elbow their way into their heart-to-heart sessions. Men do not enjoy this luxury in the days of public shaming against the likes of (formerly) all-male Augusta National. 
I have a friend—a close one in fact, but we’d never say that aloud—who no longer goes to bars because he can’t enjoy a drink with Rihanna playing in the background. 
I used to be one of those women who disdained "man time." In college, my then-fiance was really into the idea, partly because he was in a men's music fraternity (dry house and an actual reason for getting together, so quite different from the typical frat scene). I was an equal opportunity disdainer, because I've never been much for "girl time," either. "Why do people who happen to have the same body parts have to feel a unique connection?" I thought. Plus, it was offensive to be excluded based on my body parts. I felt like the guys were essentially holding a secret club I couldn't join. So I tried a few times, but was either so thoroughly bored or disgusted I gave up that idea. Man time, like football and theology to me, really isn't that fetching.

Besides, being a man is, in its essence, membership in a club women can't, by definition, join. It's the same for being a woman. No man can understand what it's like to birth a child or have a period. Women will never as a class have high upper-body strength or facial hair (thank goodness). So maybe it's time to just let the men be men together.

Image by Tal Atlas.

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