I want to introduce you to a new hero of mine, a man named Johnny Shanahan. Johnny runs barber shops in Ireland and Great Britain. He decided that he wanted his shops to be male only. This has predictably created considerable resistance from those who felt it was sexist. Johnny won’t back down. Good on him. Johnny offers more than just a haircut. In some of his shops a bar is available, some offer poker, some cigars and the welcomed male banter. Johnny is standing up for the rights of men to gather in a male only space. He sees the obvious benefit for men to gather together. I don’t think it is a stretch to guess that Johnny also thinks men are good.
But why does Johnny even need to provide such a service for men? Well, because we have seen a systematic dismantling of male spaces over the last 40 years. The prominent justification is that women are facing discrimination by being excluded from the men’s spaces with the implication that men are using all of their male only spaces to network and market and thus leaving women out and disadvantaged. Framed in this manner male only space was deemed sexist and the demands followed that male spaces need to change and incorporate women. There may be an ounce of truth in this idea but that is no reason to dismantle ALL male spaces. The feminist demonization of men strikes again and the public has followed along like a little puppy dog.
At the same time that men’s spaces are being outlawed, women’s spaces are seen as sacred and rather than being opened to men have been expanded as women only. Due to this 40 years of dismantling of male space and the opposite expansion of female only spaces there are very few places left that men can gather and just be men together.
Let’s give some examples of the dismantling of male spaces.
Our gyms at one time were primarily male spaces for men to gather, work out, and compete but now gyms must be open to both genders. But wait, what about Curves? Yes, women only gyms are acceptable and are often a very successful endeavor providing women only spaces in gyms like Curves and Pink Iron.
Men’s and boys sports teams have been largely opened to girls to participate while girl’s teams are off limits to boys and men.
There were numerous colleges that were male only providing the young men with an experience of an all male environment. As of 2008 only three all male liberal arts colleges remained. However, there are nearly fifty all female colleges and no one seems to mind or get upset. Male space is dismantled as sexist while female space is expanded and blessed.
At one time women were restricted from men’s locker rooms and only men were allowed inside. Now that has shifted and females are allowed into male locker rooms after games even though the males are in a state of undress. At the same time female locker rooms are always off limits to men and male reporters.
Barbershops at one time were places that were men only. That has shifted and now they are mostly unisex. Thanks to Johnny and others that is starting to shift.
The military, fire department and police were all male only at one time. But today they are populated by both sexes with the previous physical requirements to do the job often lowered for the express purpose of allowing women to participate. At the same time professions like teaching and nursing continue to be dominated by women and no one says a peep.
The YMCA, the young men’s christian association, was once for boys but it has accepted girls and is now for all children. The YWCA, the young women’s christian association remains for girls and women.
Title IX has been a great help to young women getting important athletic experiences but it has come at a severe price to the men and boys. Over 2200 male athletic teams have been sacrificed for the sake of Title IX leaving the young men without a similar athletic experience and a huge lack of male space. This is particularly hard on boys since they are more likely to find and maintain relationships on their sports teams.
Men’s organizations have taken a similar beating. Most are now about women and men, not just about men. Take the Rotary Club as an example. At one time it was for men only. Then in the late 1980’s the Supreme Court ruled against them and forced the Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, and others to start accepting females. But take a look at the women only organizations. Hundreds upon hundreds of them. We have a national organization to support and promote all of the women’s commissions and another national organization to support and promote all of the women’s groups. All male organizations are a thing of the past while female specific organizations are expanding in a big way.
Women in congress have increased many times over in the last 50 years. What do they do? They start a women’s caucus to support and promote any legislation that might help women and girls. That is all well and good but congress has no men’s caucus. What’s that you say? All of congress is a men’s caucus? Nope, you got that wrong. Not one congressman or senator has an aid specifically for men’s issues but it is nearly guaranteed that each one will have an aid and maybe even a staff of people to focus on women’s issues. Our legislators may be mostly male but these males do their provide and protect routine very well and write legislation that helps women and girls but ignores the needs of boys and men.
At one time our parking lots were spaces for everyone. But now we are seeing more and more women only spaces. And yes the pun is intended, there are No Male Spaces. On a more serious note In many countries they have women only subway cars or buses but nothing similar for men.
So it is easy to see that male spaces have disappeared and today’s generation of young men don’t even miss it since they never knew it existed. “So what” you say? What’s the big deal? Well, start off by just imagining that the same dismantling had happened to women’s groups and left them today without any female spaces. Would that be hurtful to them? Absolutely. Women have always gotten a great deal by gathering in women only groups. Imagine all of that was now available but it was no longer women only, there had to be men involved in every activity as both members and leaders. Can you feel the difference? I bet you can. Women would suffer and likely yearn for women only space.
Now think of what it has done to our men and boys. Men have traditionally found it helpful to meet and be with other men whether it is at the barber shop, the gym, on a sports team, at work, or at a service group. Men tend to find and maintain friendships within these male spaces. The male only camaraderie helps build the man’s sense of self and give him an idea of where he stands among men. The jostling back and forth, the competition, the kidding and the pushing of buttons, and simply the all male shoulder to shoulder time also helps these men. They compete like crazy and then go have a beer. These sorts of things were common place in the male only spaces. Now they are basically extinct except for the spontaneous gatherings that men create. Men like Johnny Shanahan.
Johnny be Good! And so are men.
Tom Golden is the author or three books, Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing, The Way Men Heal, and Helping Mothers be Closer to Their Sons: UnderStanding the Unique World of Boys. Tom was the creator of the youtube channel Men Are Good and served as the vice chairman of the Maryland Commission for Men’s Health. He has been a therapist in private practice for over 30 years.