It has been said that there is no greater test of a relationship than navigating the life-altering choice between a Krunst and a Gertllös throw rug. Couples know that the word “IKEA” is Swedish for “Shop and Fight.”
Last month, in a ham-fisted effort to minimize spousal unit tension, an IKEA in Sydney, Australia temporarily installed Manland. Much like Smaland, IKEA’s bubble room and crafts centre for children, Manland is filled with stimulating diversions (foosball, hot dogs) for men unable to shop without a meltdown. “Some men may pretend to enjoy the shopping experience,” a reporter enthused in a news clip on Australian TV. “We all know they’d prefer to be playing an Xbox or watching the footy than pushing a trolley!” Word! High five!
The set of assumptions behind Manland doesn’t flatter either sex. Once again, here comes the baby-man meme, wherein men are unable and unwilling to participate in the rote side of domestic life. These are the same guys who steal breakfast cereal from their kids in ads or are played by Jim Belushi on sitcoms.
Upholding the clichés of masculinity – real men hate shopping and love Space Invaders – doesn’t make men manlier; it makes them seem a little pathetic. To be a man – or any kind of adult – is to participate fully in your relationship and muster up a civil opinion on a bath mat from time to time. Manland is a country populated by the lowest form of manhood: the whiner who can’t even put aside his own (adolescent) proclivities for an hour to help his wife carry a Shrömpfken – one that he’s probably going to enjoy sleeping on himself.
I’m not sure what’s less appealing: a man who wants to go to Manland or a woman who wants to “drop off” her husband there. Every baby-man in pop culture has his counterpart in the eye-rolling/arms-across-the- chest bemused female killjoy. Manland perpetuates the myth that ladies love shopping only slightly more than they love demoralizing their husbands.
Perhaps there are those whose perfect Saturday includes Swedish meatballs and picture frames, but I suspect that almost no one actually wants to go to Ikea , regardless of gender. You go because your apartment makes you, and your partner goes because you live in the same apartment. Love, sex, connection – that stuff is easy. But doing unpleasant activities together is what makes a relationship; multiply it by infinity and it’s a marriage. If you can’t conquer the un-fun parts together, then good luck when someone gets cancer.
Of course, there are alternatives to Manland: Come up with two separate lists and divide and conquer. Or invent a robot butler that can do the shopping. But special accommodations along the most reductive gender lines – I look forward to my pedicure room at Rona – don’t do relationships any favours.
Manland is really a relocated “man cave” – that corner of the home reserved for guy solitude that might include a stripper pole or an electric guitar as wall art (real-world examples from the site mancavesite.org and the U.S. cable makeover show Man Caves, which is co-hosted by a guy called “The Goose”).
There’s nothing wrong with a private area to ponder one’s place in the universe (or drink). Everyone deserves to shut the door on the noise of a life well-lived. But the rise of the man cave, and its spillover into IKEA, suggests that men are feeling elbowed aside, their masculinity threatened. Men have been forced underground – or at least into the basement. But it’s a touch difficult to see “invisibility” as a male issue. The (small) number of women in senior management positions at Canada’s biggest companies has barely moved in the past decade. And in 2010, less than 30 per cent of Canadian MPs were female; our Parliament is behind 25 other nations in terms of makeup of women.
Yet, dear men, if you really do feel emotionally displaced at this point in history, how exactly is playing with your Pez collection in the garage going to help you regain a foothold in the culture?
In the essay A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf wrote of the necessity of privacy and money for a truly fulfilling creative life – each tough to come by for women of her time. She described walking past a library at Oxford in contemplation: “I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in.”