14 November 2009

I'll pass on the man cave

I had a color scheme rejected this week for being "too feminine." I was confused by this because the pooh poohed colors were shades of gray and yellow but I suppose I was pushing someone out of his comfort zone somehow. Ordinarily, having an idea or a plan shot down is no big deal. I mean, it comes with the territory, but what bothered me about this particular rejection was the reason. Even though he really liked it, he couldn't bring himself to commit to it because somewhere in his mind he made up a story that it was too feminine. Too feminine? What the hell does that mean anyhow? The only way that color plan was going to end up looking feminine was if someone painted a vagina on the wall.

That wasn't what my design was calling for by the way.

Anyhow, it led me back to a pet peeve of mine --this idea that there are things that are inherently masculine and other things that are inherently feminine. Colors can't have a gender and sofas aren't segregated by sex. It's just stuff. Judgments about the relative masculinity and femininity of stuff says more about the person who's describing them thus than it does the object in question.

This is feminine:

This is masculine:

Short of physical depictions of gender, anything else is cultural. It's also arbitrary and no more an inherent condition than any other cultural norm you can think of. These norms change all the time and even when they're in place they aren't at all consistent. Here's an example. Conventional wisdom holds and accepts the idea is that depictions of flowers are inherently feminine. I say even that's a load of Bull.

This is an anthurium. Is it feminine?

Here's a Hydranora africana. What would you call it?

My intention here is not to get into some debate about real gender differences and conflicts, what I'm talking about are the made up ones. Generalizations that relegate men to man caves (ugh) and women to kitchens. Moronic ideas that hold women to a standard that says they should be able to create a gracious and tasteful home single handedly. Equally moronic ideas that hold men responsible for car maintenance and outdoor grills.

It's all a load. Those cultural norms may define some people's actual preferences and skills, but I bet they don't describe most peoples'. Lord knows they don't describe mine and I'm somebody who's generally comfortable with most things expected of my gender. I know too that those norms don't define my squirrely client either. Enough stupid HGTV programming about so-called man caves have him convinced that grey and yellow is feminine and that's a shame.

I keep going back to what I always go back to. Your house should look like you live in it. Not anyone else.


  1. What is a 'man cave' anyway, but a glorified teenage boys' room with more expensive toys?

  2. The whole idea makes my head hurt. I think a man cave is a safe place for suburban men to have a say in decor without being accused of being unmanly. It's also a handy way to glorify and market big screen TVs.

  3. I love to visit other countries where that kind of thing just doesn't apply. In Japan young men wear pink all the time without any feminine association whatsoever. In fact, their backhoes and tractors used for public works projects are painted pink and lavender. I can't believe that client had the nerve to tell you that those colors were feminine. What a stupid self-imposed binding he's wrapping around himself.

  4. It is idiotic, but women in the US engage in that same absurd behavior too. I dislike clutter and cutesy flourishes immensely, and I get accused of having designs that are somehow "too masculine" all the time. I'm always dumbfounded by that reaction. It's not as if there are penises hanging on the wall, so how did uncluttered get to be masculine and cluttered feminine? A lot of people need to see the world in either/ or terms but it's so damn limiting.

  5. Oh, and Melody, how about the flowering Hydranora africana in that photo? As a side line, they are pollinated by dung beetles and so they have a special fragrance designed just to appeal to them.

  6. Usually I agree with your posts but today you sound rather pouty about this. Typically, certain color combinations, as well as depictions of flowers in decor, do look "feminine." I don't see what's inherently wrong with that description. And showing photographs of actual (oddball) flowers doesn't undercut that proposition. You have a beef with stereotypes about gender/household roles, but they can't be equated with impressions about whether a particular decor scheme is "masculine" or "feminine" looking.
    Also, are you implying that you know your client better than he knows himself? Because that's what it sounds like. Hmm.

  7. Melody,

    You're engaging in the same behavior the subject of Paul's post is guilty of, with this comment "I can't believe that client had the nerve to tell you that those colors were feminine. What a stupid self-imposed binding he's wrapping around himself."

    Not saying that makes you or him wrong, but to give you some perspective on how all people feel strongly about all things, and specially things related to the home. You feel strongly in one direction, while this client feels strongly in the opposite direction.

    If the client thinks the color scheme is too feminine, too masculine or just right. is well, their right to their opinion. Their entitled to it, as you are entitled to thinking that he is wrapped in a self-imposing bind. Which may not be a bind to him.

    Imagine how boring the world would be if we imposed one standard set of views on all people.

    Who knows maybe the client really hates yellow(and/or gray), because of a childhood incident. Color Psychology has proven time and again that humans have visceral reactions to color based on their past interactions. Or maybe, his color reaction is driven by the media molding throughout his lifetime (see my reply to Paul below). Or it can be a combination of both.

    Then there's the possibility that he simply doesn't like the color and is using "feminine" as an excuse, hoping that it will bring a quick, and amicable close to that choice.


    I agree with your view that, "A lot of people need to see the world in either/ or terms but it's so damn limiting." And I think it has much to do with how the media shapes and defines cultural views, which in turn becomes the method in which people communicate (the vocabulary they use "pink is feminine, blue is masculine"). As you wrote, women=uncluttered while men=cluttered. Take a look at any commercial running today, boys are shown in filthy, dark, stinky rooms (FEBREZE, Windex, etc) while girls are shown in pristine, PINK, light-filled rooms.

  8. My point is that they only "look" feminine or masculine because of arbitrary judgments about gender. Where the problem with those descriptors comes in is when people allow them to limit their options. My only beef with with stereotypes is when they get internalized and end up preventing people from achieving their potential as human beings.

    I'm not implying that I know my client better than he knows himself. Had you read my post you'd have picked up the line "Even though he really liked it, he couldn't bring himself to commit to it because somewhere in his mind he made up a story that it was too feminine."

    People allow these expectations and accepted norms to influence them all the time. It's a very short line from "That color scheme is too masculine for a woman" to "Don't be too good in math, boys won't like you." It's an even shorter line still from "That color scheme is too feminine" to "people will think you're gay."

  9. Carmen: that's my point exactly. Gender stereotypes, like all stereotypes don't describe individuals. An easy trap designers can fall into is to assume the stereotype is true. I hear it all the time. Colleagues automatically assume that women cook and men don't. Or they assume that men don't care about aesthetics. My point was to spur a conversation in the comments here and also to point out the folly of internalizing expected gender norms when they prevent people from achieving their potential.

  10. I'm not a designer, nor do I have any knowledge of the particular client in question, but I approve of the "man cave". I wish it had a different name but I'm sure that "Bone Zone" or "Dude Room" would figure into the mix anyway. I didn't realize it until I read this post that my dead step-dad had a man cave of his own. A place that was exclusively his that he could fill with his favorite things. My mother was responsible for the decor of all of the houses that I grew up in. After the Harvest Gold and macrame craze of the Seventies, my mother decided that we were going to live in some Better Homes and Gardens take of a country home, complete with motifs of beribboned geese, Amish inspired accent furniture and that very particular shade of blue. There are still arrangements of dried flowers and a butterchurn in her house, as well as ruffles and quilty-patterened things draping almost everything that will sit still. "Look, I live in bucolic splendor. Even my canister set says so." Even my room was assaulted. I had a bedroom (until I developed my own ideas about decorating) that was inspired by mallard ducks and the colors coordinated in shades of black, brown and green. Braided rugs and bedding reflected my mothers idea that I must have been absolutely mad for water fowl and cattails. It looked like a tiny hunting lodge...decorated by a woman. Let's say, for sake of argument, that I took up residence with a female. I know, let me finish... I would probably be surrounded by the things that she thought were very pretty, the taste in fabrics and window treatments would probably not be my own, and there would be photographs of her family members, who I don't particularly like looking at anyway staring at me when I'm trying to relax at home. But I can't relax because she also loves sickening berry-scented potpourri and vanilla everything else. If this were the case, I would take a page from dead step-dad's book and be inspired to build a garage on the side of the house where I could stare at my muscle car, my Harley-Davidson and my Craftsman tool cabinet where my buddies could drink beer and dream of Bone Zones of their own.

  11. Paul, I hear you! In my opinion I feel the 'stereotype zone', sadly has become the 'comfort zone' for many. -Brenda-

  12. Thank you Brenda, I couldn't agree more.


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