Alone Time is Necessary, Not Selfish
My dad had a couple of man caves, in his time. He had a boat, where most of my favourite childhood memories took place. He had the whole garage, which was stunningly masculine as our house was literally carved into the side of a mountain. I’d go downstairs and he’d be doing his exercises against a back-drop of sheer rock, refusing to give in to the fact that he was in his sixties. He also had a tendency for chopping wood topless, which I think both exasperated and thrilled my mum in equal measure.
I don’t doubt that my dad needed to have some space or arena in his life that was just for him. He needed a place where he could go and tinker, his mind free to do other things, unbothered by the constant hum of daily life.
My mum had a small room at the top of the house that she had fought for throughout her married life. I can count on one hand the number of times I remember her escaping up there, because my dad took it as a rejection of his company if she needed time alone. I guess she had the kitchen, but that’s always a family room and a thorough fare. I would imagine that cooking loses its relaxing sheen when your kids (namely me) are crying that they hate all green things and just want chicken nuggets please.
Now, my mum spends a great deal of time alone. And honestly, I think she loves it. Just like I love spending time alone. I don’t think needing a space just for you should ever be a gendered thing, but it always has been. Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, all the women in history who have actively absented themselves from society, if only for a few hours, and been viewed as lesser for it.
Men needing time alone is seen as a given. A shed at the bottom of the garden, a boat, a vegetable garden. Do we assume that men need more time to think? To be a healthy adult requires, in my opinion, quite a lot of introspection. Do women’s inner lives require less examination?
Historically, women have almost always taken on more of the burden of domesticity. Women now have careers and love affairs and are still expected to run a household. Make sure his shirts are ironed before work and then you can focus on you. And of course, I’m generalising. But even if we assume that men and women are bearing equal loads, then logically women deserve just as much time and space to be alone as men.
When I think of women who were burned at the stake for being witches, I always imagine that they were women quite like my friends and I. Women who were clever. Women who liked going for walks barefoot and who maybe talked to themselves a little. Who read strange books, kept lovers instead of husbands and who refused to slot into the little spaces allocated to them.
When women demand time to be alone and to focus on themselves and their dreams, they’re seen as selfish and greedy. I wonder if people are threatened by it, by the way women would grow and the things they would create if you just left us alone for an hour or two. If you get a shed at the bottom of the garden, I want a witch’s cottage.