The Decline of Male Space


Once upon a time, the world belonged to men.


Because men had exclusive power in both private and public life, they controlled their surrounding environment and the way in which space was designed and decorated. Consequently, the world was once a very masculine place.

Thankfully, we've made progress in the area of gender equality and women have brought their influence to bear in both the home and the workplace. However, as with many other areas of modern life, the pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other; instead of creating a world that's friendly to both male and female space, we've created one that benefits female space at the expense of male space.

What's behind the decline in male space and the proliferation of female space? It's actually a complex and interesting story that goes all the way back to 18th century. Below we'll explore some of the factors that have contributed to the near eradication of male space in both public and private life.

Decline of Male Space in the Public Sphere

For most of humanity, the public sphere was solely a man's domain. Up until as far as the 19th century, it wasn't even appropriate for women to visit outside the home without a man accompanying her.

However, in the last 100 years, areas designated as male space have shrunk because of changes in attitudes towards gender and anti-discrimination laws.

In this section we discuss five public spaces that were once exclusively for men: the workplace, the bar, the barbershop, the gym, and the fraternal lodge/social club.

The workplace. Perhaps the largest male space in public life was the workplace. For many families in the West, the Industrial Revolution created a strict division of labor where men worked in a factory or office and women stayed home to take care of the children. If women did work, they largely did so in “female” industries like textile factories. As a result, the workplace was a predominately male space with rules and a culture that favored male sensibilities.

When women started to enter the workforce in greater numbers during the 1950s and 60s, many men saw it as an encroachment into their space and resorted to crude sexual harassment as a way to keep women u201Cin their place.u201D Thanks to laws during the Civil Rights era and an increasing sensitivity and desire by businesses to create non-hostile workplaces, such harassment is seen for what it is and shunned by most males today.

The Bar. For centuries, a man could visit a bar and be in the exclusive presence of other men. Because drinking was seen as a corrupting influence on the u201Cpurity and innocenceu201D of women, bars were completely off limits to ladies (exceptions were made for prostitutes, of course). Out of the presence of women and children, men could open up more and revel in their masculinity over a mug of cold ale. However, the bar as a men's only hangout would quickly see its demise during the dry years of Prohibition.

By banning alcohol, Prohibition forced drinking underground. Speakeasy owners, desperate to make a buck, accepted all drinkers into their establishments, regardless of gender. Moreover, the economic and political empowerment women experienced during the 1920s and 30s made drinking by women more acceptable. By the time Prohibition was repealed, the female presence at the local watering hole had become a common appearance.

World War II only further eroded the male exclusivity of bars and pubs. As more women entered the workforce, it became acceptable to socialize with their male co-workers in taverns and lounges after work.

Today, there aren't many bars around that cater only to men (gay bars being an obvious exception). Instead, bars have become a place where the sexes come together to mingle and look for a special someone (even if just for the night.)

Barbershops. Back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, barbershops were bastions of manliness, and one could be found on every corner. At the barbershop, a man could get a sharp haircut, enjoy a relaxing shave, and take part in some manly banter with his barber and the other customers. Unfortunately, several factors led to the decline of barbershops. Perhaps the biggest factor was the rise of the unisex salon. Places like u201CSuperCuts,u201D which were neither beauty salons nor barbershops, catered to both men and women. Many states' licensing boards accelerated this trend by ceasing to issue barber licenses altogether in favor of offering a unisex u201Ccosmetologistu201D license to all those seeking to enter the hair cutting profession.

Unlike the bar or workplace, the barbershop hasn’t been infiltrated by women; most ladies prefer the salon and wouldn’t dream of having Old George take the clippers to their head. Rather, barbershops have simply become harder to find. Even if you do find one, don’t be surprised if Old George has been replaced with Georgia.

Boxing Clubs and Gyms. Like bars, boxing clubs and gyms were once exclusively male-only haunts. In the time of women-free gyms, men could focus solely on building their bodies and not worry about impressing the ladies. They were dark, dingy places, that smelled of sweat and exhaustion. Free from the sound of Lady Gaga blasted over the speakers, the only noise was of grunts and the clanging of weights. However, in response to the women's movement, many states and cities passed ordinances prohibiting male-only businesses and clubs. As a result, women advanced on gyms along with step classes and leotards.

Despite these anti-discrimination ordinances, many states have overlooked the proliferation of female-only gyms like Curves that have opened up across the country. Even when men bring lawsuits challenging these all-women establishments, they're often dismissed. This unfortunate double standard has only aided in the decline of male space and the rise of female space.

Old school boxing clubs have also been in decline for several years. For many men growing up in the 1920s and 1930s, visiting the boxing gym as a boy was as normal as playing video games is for boys of today. The decline in the number of boxing gyms parallels the decline in the popularity of the sport itself. And some of the boxing clubs that are left have understandably looked to stay afloat by offering “boxing cardio” classes that appeal to women. However, the popularity of mixed martial arts among young men may spur the creation of new male space in the form of MMA gyms. Few females have found an interest in learning the ground and pound.

Fraternal Lodges and Social Clubs. Fraternal lodges and all male clubs and restaurants have a long and storied history in the United States and in other countries in the West. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, men flocked to fraternal lodges, like the Freemasons and the Odd Fellows, in order to take part in male fellowshipping. At one time in American history, 1 in 4 men belonged to a fraternal lodge of some sort. However, by 1950 membership began to decline as the demands of family life and work increased, leaving men little time for lodge life. Moreover, under pressure from women’s rights groups, some lodges allowed women to join their ranks. But for the most part fraternal lodges remain all-male. Their biggest problem is just recruiting new and younger members.

In addition to fraternal lodges, male only clubs and restaurants served as a place where a man could enjoy a nice rib-eye with their bros and get candid advice on their career and family life. But male-only clubs would start to feel the squeeze when the U.S. Supreme Court held in 1987 that states and cities may constitutionally ban sex discrimination by business-oriented private clubs. With this green light from the Court, many states and cities started cracking down on male-only clubs and restaurants. New York City was especially vigorous in prosecuting male-only clubs. Perhaps the most famous instance of a once male-only club being forced to open membership to women was the New York Athletic Club. Founded in 1868, the club contained dining rooms, bars, an indoor pool, and a block long gym. Facing legal pressure, the New York Athletic Club opened it’s membership to women in 1989 with mixed feelings on the part of members. Despite the legal and societal pressure, a few-male only clubs still exist in the U.S.

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