A few days back, I wrote a post about the pathology of male loneliness and social isolation. Based on that post’s comments and emails, I clearly have addressed something that is rarely discussed amongst middle-age, post divorce guys. In reading the comments and emails, I was reminded of a social movement for men in Australia – The Shed Movement. In Australia and the UK, the shed is a like a detached outbuilding where men go to do projects such as fixing a lawnmower or restoring an old motorcycle. Such spaces are firmly masculine. The American equivalent might be a garage workshop or basement. The space is not for passive masculinity such as playing video games or watching sports. The shed is where a man can be productive in his projects. It is not necessarily a man cave.
The Australian Mens Shed Association (AMSA) is a very positive response to a public health issue that impacts men very directly. Here is the description of the AMSA from their website:
So what is so special about this new type of Men’s Shed? Most men have learned from our culture that they don’t talk about feelings and emotions. There has been little encouragement for men to take an interest in their own health and well-being. Unlike women, most men are reluctant to talk about their emotions and that means that they usually don’t ask for help. Probably because of this many men are less healthy than women, they drink more, take more risks and they suffer more from isolation, loneliness and depression. Relationship breakdown, retrenchment or early retirement from a job, loss of children following divorce, physical or mental illness are just some of the problems that men find it hard to deal with on their own.
Good health is based on many factors including feeling good about yourself, being productive and valuable to your community, connecting to friends and maintaining an active body and an active mind. Becoming a member of a Men’s Shed gives a man that safe and busy environment where he can find many of these things in an atmosphere of old-fashioned mateship. And, importantly, there is no pressure. Men can just come and have a yarn and a cuppa [cup of tea] if that is all they’re looking for.
Here’s the kicker that I found shocking. The Shed movement in Australia is funded by the government. Yes, there are private donations and patrons. However, the Australian government has recognized that the social well-being of men directly impacts their health. There needs to be spaces where men are free to be themselves without the sometimes negative impact of women. Of course the Shed movement is supposed to be open to women, but I suspect that few women want to be in a workshop where things are decidedly masculine.
The AMSA website has really nailed the problem with men, especially those over a certain age:
Because men don’t make a fuss about their problems, these problems have consistently been either ignored or swept under the mat by both our health system and our modern society. It’s time for a change and the Men’s Shed movement is one of the most powerful tools we have in helping men to once again become valued and valuable members of our community.
Here in North America, there really isn’t such a shed tradition nor would any politician have the stones to recommend something like this. Instead, men are turning to the Internet to share information and to discuss issues that are uniquely masculine. This is not a perfect approach. Digital connections can only go so far. Men must be able to be together doing things that interest them. The Shed movement is doing exactly that. I urge my readers to peruse the AMSA website and, in particular, watch their videos. This organization is directly addressing masculine social isolation. Granted, they do focus on retired guys but I think post-divorce guys could equally benefit from such an organization.
A large demographic cohort of retired men is going to have a profound impact on North American culture. There will be public health issues and political issues. If not addressed by our society, such issues will have serious negative impacts in terms of public policy and public funding. I know that my younger readers are not exactly keen on the Baby Boomer generation. It doesn’t matter their feelings on the aging demographics. Politicians will have no restraint when dipping in the wallets and handbags of the younger generations looking for more funding for an aging and still politically powerful demographic group. Wouldn’t it just be better to find a way to keep men healthier before their social isolation kills them slowly and expensively?