Men’s sheds: because blokes have feelings, too

I’m home in Sydney for a few weeks, visiting family and enjoying the crisp early spring after a long, sweaty New York summer.

Last week I opened our local paper to find an article about a plan to build and open a men’s shed in my suburb. What is a men’s shed? you’re probably asking if you’re not one of our many Australian readers. (If you are one of our many Australian readers, you might be bored by my explanation of men’s sheds, so please go watch this video of a baby wombat while I break things down for all those Feministing folks not lucky enough to live in the Land of Plenty).

A men’s shed is a space where men of a certain age can go to be with other men. I know that sounds kind of vague, or kind of man-cavey, or kind of like a front for an organization that “helps men reclaim their manhood,” but that’s not it at all. Basically, men’s sheds hope to counter some of the isolation that men often feel when they hit retirement age and have a lot of time on their hands, and seeks to create community for them where they can discuss their problems or learn new skills or just be, and not be alone.

They’ve started springing up around Australia in the last few years, particularly in rural areas. I don’t live in a rural area, but I can see why we’d need a men’s shed around here. As the official site of the Australian Men’s Shed Association puts it:

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.

I think it’s a pretty great concept. I like the idea of using social networks to promote public health (though I’d like to have a bit of a chat with the man who’s quoted in the news report as saying that the new shed in my town is “a huge win… for the wives of the men who will be glad their husband won’t be following them around the house”).

I also really like the way that men’s sheds take an existing element in the culture – the old custom of a shed out the back – and use it to address an existing problem in the culture – the fact that adhering the dominant definition of “masculinity” means not talking about your mental and physical health. As the AMSA puts it, “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.” The hope is that at a men’s shed, men feel safe and free to talk about those problems, and are given the tools to begin solving them.

Australian readers, you should be done with that fabulous video by now. And you’re back just in time to jump into the comments section and tell us about your experience, if you have any, of men’s sheds. Have you been to one? Know anyone who’s been to one? Tell us about it!

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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Join the Conversation

  • Critter

    It’s an interesting idea, but more focus should be on women’s health, not men’s.

    • natasha

      Why exactly for this specific topic? Men’s health is equally important and this seems to be an attempt to address the real issues behind why men have had shorter lifespans through the years. A lot of feminists have said that masculine gender roles cause men to feel emasculated when they address health issues, such as going to the doctor or seeing a therapist. I agree. The way men are discouraged to talk about their feelings can’t be healthy for anyone. This is a very real problem that needs to be addressed. Yes, women’s health matters just as much, but that doesn’t make something like this a problem in my opinion.

    • Sam Lindsay-Levine

      I hear that feminism is not actually a zero-sum game where men and women scrabble in the dust over a limited and fixed set of resources, eternal enemies.

    • Matthew T. Jameson

      Your comment strikes me as kind of odd, given that: a. Men meeting together to talk about their emotions doesn’t, you know, detract from women’s health and b. It seems hard to justify the idea that women’s health needs more attention when women’s life expectancy is significantly greater than mens’. Or maybe, in some tortured, roundabout way, men’s lower life expectancy somehow demonstrates oppression of women . . .

  • Tess Lyon

    I’d just been thinking – man, I wish Feministing had more Australian input/output when this popped up! Right from my own backyard!

    With regard to the Sheds themselves, though – are they strictly age-limited? Or is it open to men of all ages who want to get in on it/are there Mens Sheds for younger men? That’s my only concern. Maybe younger guys want something like it, as well.

    Otherwise, I think they’re fantastic and even though there’s no chance in hell of it happening, I wish my Dad would get involved in one.

    • Matthew T. Jameson

      It’s an interesting question, but does it really matter if sheds are age-limited? Men of different ages experience different stressors, health issues, etc.. Men also sometimes choose to congregate in age-limited spaces (kinda like women . . .). Not sure concern about younger men being left out is an issue, since younger men also have many other venues in which they congregate together (e.g. sport, etc., especially relevant to Australia).

  • Ashley

    This project seems worthwhile. It kind of reminds me of Mankind Project (MKP), though MKP is open to men of all ages.

  • Katy

    I think it seems like a good idea. My experience has been that Australia is a lot more restrictive in its interpretations of masculinity than my home country (Canada).

    Isn’t this the program that the First Bloke (Prime Minister Gillard’s partner whose name I can never remember) is championing?

  • Kell

    I find it a bit odd to see a feminist blog uncritically quoting someone as saying that men’s problems “have consistently been either ignored or swept under the mat by both our health system and our modern society.” Specifically in the area of health, men have traditionally been treated as the default type of human for research purposes and in publicity campaigns in ways that have harmed women. It is a symptom of a patriarchal society that anyone can even say that men’s problems have consistently been ignored by the media and society without anyone noticing why that is not true.

    That being said, of course gender stereotypes harm everyone, including men, and this project describes one way in which they do. But I wonder if the project itself isn’t actually reinforcing gender stereotypes by implying that men are only friends with men and women are only friends with women. It almost seems like the person who made the joke about men not following their wives around the house is just acting up to the expectations of the Men’s Shed concept.