February 16, 2011

Man Caves and Mom Caves

new sallyBy Sally Raskoff

According to an article in the New York Daily News, the newest trend in home design and consumerism is the Mom Cave, a place for moms to retreat to have some quiet time. This is in contrast to an earlier trend of Man Caves, where men have a refuge to celebrate all things masculine including sports, cars, and bodily functions. What can these “two trends” tell us about our society?

Our consumer culture is driven by trends, and media outlets and production centers work together to get their services and products to the consumers who want them.

The first thing I noticed was the gendered aspect of the name of these trends. “Man” Caves can be had by any man yet “Mom” Caves seem distinctly for women who are mothers, not for all women.

According to a USA Today story, designer Elaine Griffin “coined the term mom cave with HomeGoods,” has teamed up with this retailer to market Mom Caves. She acknowledges that “It's really a woman cave but mom cave sounded better.”

While Ms. Griffin says that any woman can have a Cave, the marketing suggests otherwise.

Mom Cave’s marketing, reinforces the societal norm of motherhood. If a woman can be a mother, she might be rewarded with a Mom Cave where she can retreat to have some time to herself. Women who have not achieved motherhood are denied this apparent reward.

clip_image002Why does Mom Cave sound better than Woman Cave? It might be because of the age-old societal fears about women’s bodies, thus “woman cave” sounds a bit too closely resonant with (and our societal ignorance of) women’s anatomy. In our dominant culture, the word “Mom” isn’t as associated with bodies as “Woman” is.

In defining the Mom Cave, the “need to nurture oneself after nurturing everyone else” presumes that relatives and other people are present in the household. This reinforces our societal norm that women should be married and have children. Can’t women who are childless and single and live alone or with roommates have a “Mom” Cave? It seems they don’t deserve a Mom Cave since apparently they aren’t fulfilling their nurturer role.

If you look at photos of Mom Caves, it is readily apparent that the Moms are supposed to really like pink and pillows! This is a limitation of the designers’ and marketers’ visions, I suppose, but it does reinforce traditional societal gender coding that associates girls with pink, fluff, and frills and boys with blue, rough, and tumble. This resonates with our social norm of the feminine as passive and decorative and the masculine as dominant and active.

The Man Cave is illustrated with dark wood paneling, sound proofing, and images or functions related to barbeque, sports, cars, cigars, porn, and loud music. File:Man cave.jpgThere are now websites devoted to selling man cave accessories and furniture (and there is even a TV show).

Note the difference in items to furnish the respective caves: Mom Caves are filled with items and colors with that would look appropriate in little girl’s rooms while Man Caves are darkly masculine centers that would not be appropriate for little boys’ rooms. This reinforces our normative view that men are powerful adults (even if they act like immature teenagers) and women are childlike and passive, rather than autonomous and adult.

The Man Cave articles specifically demand a door that can be closed to give privacy. Some also mention the need for sound proofing to create a totally separate space from the rest of the household. However, the Mom Cave articles suggest alternatives to an entire room, like a nook or an under stairway location. It is apparent that women’s need for personal space isn’t as important as that of men. Thus, our societal norm of gendered power is again reinforced-- men get entire rooms but the women (moms) might only be entitled to a nook. (Sounds like Harry Potter’s abusive childhood….)

When we think sociologically about this “cave” phenomenon, it’s also important to consider social class. To be able to devote an entire room to a Man or Mom Cave, one must have living space that has such space available or have the funds to build it. Caves are not accessible to those living in smaller spaces or to those who can’t afford to create one.

I am reminded of Virginia Woolf’s "A Room of One's Own" and the stark contrast that the Mom Cave offers to Woolf’s vision. While the essay focuses on the need that women have for a separate space in which to write (as well as financial resources), it can be read less literally as an examination of the subordinate location of women in society and the need for “space” in which to reach one’s potential. The marketer’s vision of the Mom Cave does not seem to offer that possibility; instead, it seems more like a place to take a “time out” so as not to upset the status quo.

One more issue that comes to mind is that by having totally separate Caves for men and women, we are reinforcing the norm that men and women are oppositional and very different from one another. This separation of spheres keeps us from seeing the similarities men and women share and obfuscates the possibility that our definition of gender as two polar opposites is problematic.

It reinforces our societal gender norms and normalizes the idea that men and women are from such different places that they couldn’t possibly interact with each other in a relaxing manner nor might they have similar interests in activity or décor.

Perceiving gender as two polar opposite categories reinforces the societal power structure in which men as a group are dominant over women as a group. The ideas of masculinity and femininity are intricately linked as relationships of power with masculine as powerful and feminine as powerless.


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It had been pointed out to me, when I first read about this in recent days, that there were 'mom caves' in the past. If you look at older house plans, back when there were more stay at home mothers/wives, there were 'sewing rooms', which were more than just places to sew. My mother had a sanctuary like that, as did hers. You're imposing your current world view with a rather old custom. And if you're going that far, there weren't always 'dens' in the older homes, or 'libraries'. But 'sewing rooms'? There was always room for something like that. It was a priority.

I'd also like to add that the only reason this is news, I think, is we are ending the era of the 'McMansion', horrible, huge homes, with no privacy nor quiet space, just big, "open floor plans". Some of those places have pitifully small bedrooms in comparisons to the giant 'great rooms' 'family rooms' without even a wall for someone to cook in peace.

My wife has a craft room and an exercise room in our house. I can go in the exercise room but the craft room has a strange repellent that keeps me out.

"Mom cave" is a catchy term but I think it is a clever name for an old tradition.

I've read about man caves and never thought about a woman cave because everyone thinks the whole house is a woman's. Not fair, but true. And then, ironically, I thought that Master Bedrooms and sleeping together may be a fairly modern invention. The cave people probably each had their cave alcoves. And then the outdoors.

This is a very interesting concept of mom caves as opposed to man caves. It is a very neat thing to think about. It's almost like they want a sense of equality having their own little get away.

"Can’t women who are childless and single and live alone " have caves? No, they already live in a sanctuary. The "man" in man cave is ironic, meant to say that a father and husband loses some of his masculinity when he is domesticated. Yes, "dad" cave is much more descriptive because any male who lives alone or with male roommates already lives in a man cave. The use of "man cave" is obviously meant as an expression to something that was lost, the domesticated male's masculinity, and not as a comparison to the female version.

The author doesn't really seem to understand the point of man caves. If she did she would realize it undermines her theory. Man caves arose in response to married men not having a say in how their house was set up. Interior design is considered a feminine endeavor and men are forced to live in houses filled with room designs they would never choose. The man cave is the only part of the house (plus the usually non-climate controlled garage) he can legitimately have a say in its looks and content. The author also overlooked the derogatory allusions of the term "man cave" - with men bereft of women reverting back to uncivilized cavemen.

I think if you have the money why not, I guess for some of these people man/mom caves help them get away to a quiet spot and relax for sometime. Mom and man caves are just like kids rooms in a way to get away and deal with your stress.

While I agree with your analysis, and I think the whole concept of Man Caves or Mom Caves or any kind of "caves" is completely asinine, I think your explanation of why the marketing geniuses(?) behind the Mom Cave settled on that name is off the mark. I don't think it's because they were afraid of vaginas. I think they chose that name simply because it's somewhat alliterative and therefore literally sounds like "Man cave."

I think that this idea of a 'mom cave' is really good. I think that it is great for people to have alone time as well as spend time with their families.

I think man/mom caves can be good and a nice escape for a little while. Sure, not everyone needs or should have one but if you have an extra room in the house why not use it for your own little space. The mom caves are a little different because it is mainly for women who have children but I think any woman can have a cave also. Because even if you don't have kids you just might want to have a little space to call you cave.

I think a "Mom Cave" is a good idea, but I think a better name would be "Woman Cave." This makes the idea sound more inviting to everyone not just mothers. I do think this is a good concept though for women, because there has been the "Man Cave" for a while, and its fair women to now also have the opportunity to have a place of their own.

This is the first I've heard of the mom cave and honestly I'm not a fan of the name, before I even read the lists of reasons that the mom cave is different than the man cave. It does automatically assume that all women have to take on the nurturer role. I'd rather call it a woman cave and have the innuendos to a woman's anatomy. I feel like this is another highly reinforced expectation of society and I'm not a huge fan, because I want to make decisions based on where I want my life to go, not because of what's expected of me.

It sounds terrible that the dead gender stereotypes are still around and these den ideas only reinforce it. I admit I'm a guy but I still find it extremely unfair to women. And speaking hypothetically why can't men have all the pink and frill in our man caves?! Not that I want it or anything

I think the author went way too far...it's not that serious. The point is- it is nice to have a private space for yourself- if you are a man, dad or both; woman, mom, or both! :-) If all you have is a nook, or a closet and you wish that to be your sanctuary, go for it. If you are fortunate enough to have an entire room- go for it! Enjoy your home as you please.

I think this whole idea of "Mom Caves" is just a reincarnation of a previous tradition bearing the same concept and purpose. In today's modern and past-paced world, I think women are also entitled to their own unique comforts and terms!

When I heard the term "Mom Cave", I thought the same thing! Why is it for "moms"...why not for women in general? And yeah, if you are single and live alone you don't need a "cave" whether a man or woman...that's true like some of the comments say. But, what if you are married with no children? Wouldn't it be nice for women as well as men to have a "cave" to go off and have their own space? To quietly read a book or be loud and play music/videogames/band instruments...or do arts/crafts...or perhaps just to be alone with their own thoughts?

I don't think this is just a male thing. Also, my husband has had a hand in deciding every part of what goes in our house. So I resent this thought that women do all the decorating and therefore control the rest of the house. I don't think that happens as much as it used to. Isn't that up to the guy...whether he participates in how the house looks? If he doesn't want anything to do with it, then he shouldn't complain that he doesn't like how it looks.

I can see how "Woman Cave" isn't the best term, but there are many others that could be used:

Woman Sanctuary
Woman Haven
Woman Retreat
Woman Chamber
Woman Preserve
Woman Resort
Woman Suite
(you can substitute "Lady" "Gal" for "woman")
Or if you like Alliteration
Gal Grotto
Lady Lair
Duchess Den
Queen Quarters

their design aesthetic, but on the whole our global style is just that: global. It's becoming more difficult to tell a Manhattan apartment interior from one in downtown Moscow. It's just the state of our increasingly diverse modern life.

This is very interesting,but i think we should have one common place for every one, i don't believe in having separate rooms for every gender.

What started off as man cave for me is now a teenage daughter cave! The daughter cave is certainly not pink and fluffy though! I also agree with Daniel - whatever terminology you use, they can be places of fun enjoyed by al the family.

a bit challenging when the men and women try to create different niches and yet aim to stay together

Great ideas especially if you live in your own home.

This is great! I can now barter with my wife. She can build her own mom cave and i can build my own ultimate man cave. That's a fair deal. Right!

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