Where Men Hide

Where Men Hide by James Twitchell and Ken Ross, photographs. Columbia University Press, 2008 paper.

 

James Twitchell, UF, is reflecting on Ken Ross’s photographs of men’s hiding places. Twitchell looks at traditional men’s lairs, their disappearance, the possible reasons why, and then proposes some newer ones. He argues, however, that these newer hiding places have less power to shape male cultural life than did the older.

 

Perhaps the most striking ‘male cave’ of old was the fraternal order, the Masons, Odd Fellows, Elks, Order of Moose, Knights of Columbus, Woodmen of America, to name the most popular. They gave opportunities to get away from both the job and family life. Twitchell agrees with Robert Putnam (Bowling Alone) that their passing represents a significant loss of male community.

 

The causes of their demise are complex. American men are working longer hours. And in their free time, they have been induced to spend more “quality time with their families.” They have found a more convenient ‘retreat,’ their La-Z-Boy recliner located in front of the television set.

 

In recent decades barbershops have been transformed into “hair styling salons” and are often bisexual. They were once a male hiding place, providing opportunities for loafing and for convivial conversations across varying backgrounds. The only women who ventured into those barbershops were mothers bringing their sons for a first haircut.

 

On the other hand, Twitchell notes that home workshops continue their popularity as hiding places. The inhabitants of these warrens may be leisurely restoring an old car or making furniture. More commonly workshops are equipped to undertake home repairs. The do-it-yourself craze does not, however, account for the elaborate work-benches and collections of specialized tools there lovingly displayed.

 

The home office as hiding place? That would seem a contradiction. Men cannot be escaping from either home or office by retreating to their home/office. Yet hideouts they are despite their smart phones and internet connections.

 

Getting away from both home and office on wheels has been a form of hiding, Twitchell reminds us. The open road has always beckoned the man on his motorcycle. Sports utility vehicles? Yes and no. When first introduced in the 1970s, SUVs were presented in ads as opportunities for males to strike out by themselves. A SUV could take on any back road and even go off-road in quest of adventure and escape. But nowadays the SUVs and their drivers have been domesticated. Moms find them convenient for hauling kids to soccer.

 

One of the newer hiding places, Twitchell proposes, is the phenomenon of men’s religious organizations, for example the Promise Keepers and their stadium rallies. Menfolk have never regularly attended church in the same numbers as women. In order to induce them to do so, mega-churches have explored the male-only prayer meetings. This may be an instance of men hiding out, but this men-only worship and the place in which it occurs is hardly hidden.

 

These men’s groups are intended to ‘keep the faith,’ while perpetuating traditional notions of maleness. The Promise Keepers encourage men to share life’s experiences with other men, and in that way they resemble older occasions when men hid. Yes, they provide opportunities for male bonding, but not at the expense of their wives and children. Family values are part of their credo. For good or ill, the movement, and therefore this particular hiding place, has lost steam in the new century.

 

Is the disappearance of men’s hiding places the result of a prolonged assault on the part of women? If so, Twitchell believes, this is only indirectly so. Rather the male cave is disappearing because the male, who once found hiding out essential for maintaining his peace of mind, is perhaps finding it less necessary – and certainly less possible

 

 

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