THE NERVOUS HOUSEWIFE
ABRAHAM MYERSON, M.D.
LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
Published November, 1920
Set up and electrotyped by J.S. Cushing Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.
CHAPTER PAGE I INTRODUCTORY 1 II THE NATURE OF "NERVOUSNESS" 17 III TYPES OF HOUSEWIFE PREDISPOSED TO NERVOUSNESS 46 IV THE HOUSEWORK AND THE HOME AS FACTORS IN THE NEUROSIS 74 V REACTION TO THE DISAGREEABLE 91 VI POVERTY AND ITS PSYCHICAL RESULTS 116 VII THE HOUSEWIFE AND HER HUSBAND 126 VIII THE HOUSEWIFE AND HER HOUSEHOLD CONFLICTS 141 IX THE SYMPTOMS AS WEAPONS AGAINST THE HUSBAND 160 X HISTORIES OF SOME SEVERE CASES 168 XI OTHER TYPICAL CASES 199 XII TREATMENT OF THE INDIVIDUAL CASES 231 XIII THE FUTURE OF WOMAN, THE HOME, AND MARRIAGE 244 INDEX 269
How old is the problem of the Nervous Housewife?
Did the semi-mythical Cave Man (who is perhaps only a pseudo-scientific creation) on his return from a prehistoric hunt find his leafy spouse all in tears over her staglocythic house-cleaning, or the conduct of the youngest cave child? Did she complain of her back, did she have a headache every time they disagreed, did she fuss and fret until he lost his patience and dashed madly out to the Cave Man's Refuge?
We cannot tell; we only know that all humor aside, and without reference to the past, the Nervous Housewife is surely a phenomenon of the present-day American home. In greater or less degree she is in every man's home; nor is she alone the rich Housewife with too little to do, for though riches do not protect, poverty predisposes, and the poor Housewife is far more frequently the victim of this disease of occupation. Every practicing physician, every hospital clinic, finds her a problem, evoking pity, concern, exasperation, and despair. She goes from specialist to specialist,—orthopedic surgeon, gynecologist, X-ray man, neurologist. By the time she has completed a course of treatment she has tasted all the drugs in the pharmacopeia, wears plates on her feet, spectacles on her nose, has had her teeth tinkered with, and her insides straightened; has had a course in hydrotherapeutics, electrotherapeutics, osteopathy, and Christian Science!
Such is an extreme case; the minor cases pass through life burdened with pains and aches of the body and soul. And one of the commonest and saddest of transformations is the change of the gay, laughing young girl, radiant with love and all aglow at the thought of union with her man, into the housewife of a decade,—complaining, fatigued, and disillusioned. Bound to her husband by the ties the years and the children have brought, there is a wall of misunderstanding between them.
"Men don't understand," cries she. "Women are unreasonable," says he.
What are the causes of the change? Did the housewife of a past generation go through the same stage? Ask any man you meet and he will tell you his mother is or was more enduring than his wife. "She bore three times as many children; she did all her own housework; she baked more, cooked more, sewed more; she got up at five o'clock in the morning and went to bed at ten at night; she never went out, never had a vacation, did not know the meaning of manicure, pedicure, coiffure. She was contented, never extravagant, and rarely sick."
So the average man will say, and then: "Those were the good old days of simple living, gone like the dodo!" To-day,—well, it reminds me of a joke I heard. One man meets another and says: 'By the way, I heard that your wife was the champion athlete at college.' 'Ah, yes,' said the husband; 'now she is too weak to wash the dishes.'
Is the average man's impression the correct one? Or are we dealing with the incorrigible disposition of man to glorify the past? To the majority of people their youth was an era of stronger, braver men, more wholesome, beautiful women. People were better, times were more natural, and there is a grim satisfaction in predicting that the "world is going to the dogs." "The good old days" has been the cry of man from the very earliest times.
Yet read what a contemporary of the housewife of three quarters of a century ago says,—the wisest, wittiest, sanest doctor of the day, Oliver Wendell Holmes. The genial autocrat of the breakfast table observes: "Talk about military duty! What is that to the warfare of a married maid of all work, with the title of mistress and an American female constitution which collapses just in the middle third of life, comes out vulcanized India rubber, if it happens to live through the period when health and strength are most wanted?"
And then, if one looks in the advertisements of half a century ago, one finds the nostrum dealer loudly proclaiming his capacity to cure what is evidently the Nervous Housewife. In America at least she has always existed, perhaps in lesser numbers than at present. And one remembers in a dim sort of way that the married woman of olden days was altogether faded at thirty-five, that she entered on middle life at a time when at least many of our women of to-day still think themselves young.
It becomes interesting and necessary at this point to trace the evolution of the home, because this is to trace the evolution of our housewife. We are apt to think of the home as originating in a sort of cave, where the little unit—the Man, the Woman, and the Children—dwelt in isolation, ever on the watch against marauders, either animal or human. In this cave the woman was the chattel of man; he had seized her by force and ruled by force.
Perhaps there was such a stage, but much more likely the home was a communal residence, where the man-herd, the group, the clan, the Family in the larger sense dwelt. Only a large group would be safe, and the strong social instinct, the herd feeling, was the basis of the home. Here the men and women dwelt in a promiscuity that through the ages went through an evolution which finally became the father-controlled monogamy of to-day. Here the women lived; here they span, sewed, built; here they started the arts, the handicrafts, and the religions. And from here the men went forth to fish and hunt and fight, grim males to whom a maiden was a thing to court and a wife a thing to enslave.
Just how the home became more and more segregated and the family life more individualized is not in the province of this book to detail. This is certain: that the home was not only a place where man and woman mated, where their children were born and reared, where food was prepared and cooked, and where shelter from the elements was obtained; it was also the first great workshop, where all the manifold industries had their inception and early development. The housewife was then not only mother, wife, cook, and nurse; she was the spinner, the weaver, the tanner, the dyer, the brewer, the druggist.
Even in the high civilization of the Jews this wide scope of the housewife prevailed. Read what the wisest, perhaps because most married, of men says:
She seeketh wool and flax, And worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchant ships; She bringeth her food from afar. She considereth a field, and buyeth it. With the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, And maketh strong her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good. Her lamp goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the distaff And her hands hold the spindle.
* * * * *
She is not afraid of the snow for her household: For all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh for herself coverlets, She maketh linen garments and selleth them, And delivereth girdles unto the merchants.
No wonder "her children rise up and call her blessed" and it is somewhat condescending of her husband when he "praiseth her." All we learn of him is that he "is known in the gates when he sitteth among the elders of the land." With a wife like her, this was all he had to do.
This combination of industrialism and domesticity continued until gradually men stepped into the field of work, perhaps as a result of their wives' example, and became farmers on a larger scale, merchants of a wider scope, artisans, handicraftsmen, guild members of a more developed technique. Woman started these things in the home or near it; man, through his restless energy, specialized and thus developed an intenser civilization. But even up till the nineteenth century woman carried on all her occupations at the home, which still continued to be workshop and hearth.
Then man invented the machine, harnessed steam, wired electricity, and there was born the Factory, the specialized house of industry, in which there works no artisan, only factory hands. The home could not compete with this man's monster, into which flowed one river of raw material and out of which poured another of finished products. But not only did the factory dye, weave, spin, tan, etc.; it also invaded the innermost sphere of woman's work. For her loaf of bread it turned out thousands, until finally she is beginning to give up baking; for her hit-or-miss jellies, preserves, jams, it invented scientific canning with absolute methods, handy forms, tempting flavors. And canning did not stop there; meats, soups, vegetables, fruits are now placed in the hands of the housewife "Ready to Serve," until the cynical now state, "Woman is no longer a cook, she is a can opener." With all the talk in this modern time of women invading man's field, it is just to remark that man has stepped into woman's work and carried off a huge part of it to his own creation, the factory.
Thus it has come to pass that in our day the housewife does but little dyeing, spinning, weaving, is no longer a handicraftsman, and in addition is turning over a large part of her food preparation and cooking to the factory.
But the factory is not content with thus disarranging the ancient scheme of things by invading the housewife's province; it has dragged a large number of women, yearly increasing in number and proportion, into industry. Thus it has made this condition of affairs: that it takes the young girl from the home for the few years that intervene before her marriage. She is thus initiated into wage-earning before she becomes a man's wife, the housewife.
This industrial period of a girl's life is important psychologically, for it profoundly influences her reaction to her status and work as homekeeper.
Of even greater importance to our study than the influence of the factory is the rise of what is known as feminism. Of all the living creatures in the world the female of the human species has been the most downtrodden, for to every wretched class of man there was a still inferior, more wretched group, their wives. She was a slave to the slaves, a dependent of the abjectly poor. When men passed through the stage where woman's life might be taken at a whim, she remained a creature without rights of the wider kind. Men debated whether she had a soul, made cynical proverbs about her, called her the "weaker vessel," and debarred her from political and economic equality, classing her up to this very moment in rights with the idiot, the imbecile, and the criminal. Worse than this, they gave her a spurious homage, created a lop-sided chivalry, and caused her to accept as her ideal goal of womanhood the achievement of beauty and the entrance into wifehood. After they tied her hand and foot with restrictions and belittling ideals, they capped the climax by calling her weak and petty by nature and even got her to believe it!
It is not my intention to trace the rise of feminism. Brave women arose from age to age to glorify the world and their sex, and men here and there championed them. Man started to emancipate himself from slavery, and noble ideals of the equality of mankind first were whispered, then shouted as battle cries, and finally chiseled with enduring letters into the foundations of States. "But if all this was good for men, why not for women—why should they be fettered by illiteracy, pettiness, dependence; why should they be voiceless in the state and world?" So asked the feminists. The factory called for women as labor; they became the clerks, the teachers, the typists, the nurses. Medicine and the law opened their doors, at least in part. And now we are on the verge of universal suffrage, with women entering into the affairs of the world, theoretically at least the equals of man.
But with the entrance of woman into many varied professions and occupations, with a wider access to experience and knowledge, arose what may be called the era of the "individualization of woman." For if any group of people are kept under more or less uniform conditions in early life, if one goal is held out as the only legitimate aim and end, in a word, if their training and purposes are made alike, they become alike and individuality never develops. With individuality comes rebellion at old-established conditions, dissatisfaction, discontent, and especially if the old ideal still remains in force. This new type of woman is not so well fitted for the old type of marriage as her predecessors. There arises a group of consequences based psychologically on this, a fact which we shall find of great importance later on.
Women still regard marriage as their chief goal in life, still enter homes, still bear children, and take their husband's name. But having become more individualized they demand more definite individual treatment and rebel more at what they consider an infringement of their rights as human beings. Also, and unfortunately, they still wish the right to be whimsical, they continue to reserve for themselves the weapons of tears, reproaches, and unreasonable demands. This has brought about the divorce evil.
Briefly the "divorce" evil arises first from the rebellion of woman against marital drunkenness, unfaithfulness, neglect, brutality that a former generation of wives tolerated and even expected. Second, it arises from a conflict between the institution of marriage which still carries with it the chattel idea—that woman is property—and a generation of women that does not accept this. Third, it arises from the ill-balanced demands of women to be treated as equals and also as irresponsible, petty, and indulged tyrants. Men are unable to adjust themselves to the shattering of the romantic ideal, and the home disintegrates. Though divorce is the top of the crest of marital unhappiness, it really represents only the extreme cases, and behind it is a huge body of quarreling and divided homes.
We shall later see that our Nervous Housewife has symptoms and pains and aches and changes in mood and feeling that are born of the conflict that is in part pictured by divorce. Divorce is a manifestation of the discontent of women, and so is the nervousness of the housewife.
There arises as a result of this individualization of woman, as a result of increasing physiological knowledge, the hugely important fact of restricted child bearing. The woman will no longer bear children indiscriminately,—and the large family is soon to be a thing of the past in America and in all the civilized world. The-woman-that-knows-how shrinks from the long nine months of pregnancy, the agony of the birth, and the weary restricted months of nursing. Had the woman of a past time known how, she too would have refused to bear. In this the housewife of to-day is seconded by her husband, for where he has sympathy for his wife he prefers to let her decide the number of children, and also he is impressed by the high cost of rearing them.
One gets cynical about the influence of church, patriotism, and press when one sees how the housewife has disregarded these influences. For all the religions preach that race suicide is a sin, all the statesmen point out that only decadent nations restrict families, and all or nearly all the press thunder against it. It is even against the law for a physician or other person to instruct in the methods of birth restriction, and yet—the birth rate steadily drops. An immigrant mother has six, eight, or ten children and her daughter has one, two, or three, very rarely more, and often enough none. This is true even of races close to religious teaching, such as the Irish Catholic and the Jew.
One can well be cynical of the power of religion and teaching and law when one finds that even the families of ministers, rabbis, editors, and lawmakers, all of whom stand publicly for natural birth, have shown a great reduction in their size, that has taken place in a single generation.
Is the modern woman more susceptible to the effects of pregnancy,—less resistant to the strain of childbearing and childbirth? It is a quite general impression amongst obstetricians that this is a fact and also that fewer women are able to nurse their babies. If so, these phenomena are of the highest importance to the race and likewise to the problem of the new housewife. For we shall learn that the lowering of energy is both a cause and symptom of her neuroses.
If then we summarize what has been thus far outlined, we find two currents in the evolution of the housewife. First, she has yielded a large part of her work to the factory, practically all of that part of it which is industrial and a considerable portion of the food preparation.
Second, there has been a rise in the dignity and position of woman in the past one hundred and fifty years which has had many results. She has considerably widened the scope of her experience with life through work in the factory, in the office, in the schoolhouse, and in the professions. This has changed her attitude toward her original occupation of housewife and is a psychological fact of great importance. She has become more industrial and individualized, and as a result has declined to live in unsatisfactory relations with man, so that divorce has become more frequent. In part this is also caused by her inability to give up petty irresponsibility while claiming equality. Finally, the declining birth rate is still further evidence of her individualization and is in a sense her denial of mere femaleness and an affirmation of freedom.
THE NATURE OF "NERVOUSNESS"
Preliminary to our discussion of the nervousness of the housewife we must take up without great regard to details the subject of nervousness in general.
Nervousness, like many another word of common speech, has no place whatever in medicine. Indeed, no term indicating an abnormal condition is so loosely used as this one.
People say a man is nervous when they mean he is subject to attacks of anger, an emotional state. Likewise he is nervous when he is a victim of fear, a state literally the opposite of the first. Or, if he is restless, is given to little tricks like pulling at his hair, or biting his nails, he is nervous. The mother excuses her spoiled child on the ground of his nervousness, and I have seen a thoroughly bad boy who branded his baby sister with a heated spoon called "nervous." A "nervous breakdown" is a familiar verbal disguise for one or other of the sinister faces of insanity itself.
It should be made clear that what we are dealing with in the nervous housewife is not a special form of nervous disorder. It conforms to the general types found in single women and also in men. It differs in the intensity of symptoms, in the way they group themselves, and in the causes.
Physicians use the term psychoneuroses to include a group of nervous disorders of so-called functional nature. That is to say, there is no alteration that can be found in the brain, the spinal cord, or any part of the nervous system. In this, these conditions differ from such diseases as locomotor ataxia, tumor of the brain, cerebral hemorrhage, etc., because there are marked changes in the structure in the latter troubles. One might compare the psychoneuroses to a watch which needed oiling or cleaning, or merely a winding up,—as against one in which a vital part was broken.
The most important of the psychoneuroses, in so far as the housewife is concerned, is the condition called neurasthenia, although two other diseases, psychasthenia and hysteria, are of importance.
It is interesting that neurasthenia is considered by many physicians as a disease of modern times. Indeed, it was first described in 1869 by the eminent neurologist Beard, who thought it was entirely caused by the stress and strain of American life. That not only America, but every part of the whole civilized world has its neurasthenia is now an accepted fact. Knowing what we do of its causes we infer that it is probably as old as mankind; but there exists no reasonable doubt that modern life, with its hurry, its tensions, its widespread and ever present excitement, has increased the proportion of people involved.
Particularly the increase in the size and number of the cities, as compared with the country, is a great factor in the spread of neurasthenia. Then, too, the introduction of so-called time-saving, i.e. distance-annihilating instruments, such as the telephone, telegraph, railroad, etc., have acted not so much to save time as to increase the number of things done, seen, and heard. The busy man with his telephone close at hand may be saving time on each transaction, but by enormously increasing the number of his transactions he is not saving himself.
The keynote of neurasthenia is increased liability to fatigue. The tired feeling that comes on with a minimum of exertion, worse on arising than on going to bed, is its distinguishing mark. Sleep, which should remove the fatigue of the day, does not; the victim takes half of his day to get going; and at night, when he should have the delicious drowsiness of bedtime, he is wide-awake and disinclined to go to bed or sleep. This fatigue enters into all functions of the mind and body. Fatigue of mind brings about lack of concentration, an inattention; and this brings about an inefficiency that worries the patient beyond words as portending a mental breakdown. Fatigue of purpose brings a listlessness of effort, a shirking of the strenuous, the more distressing because the victim is often enough an idealist with over-lofty purposes. Fatigue of mood is marked by depression of a mild kind, a liability to worry, an unenthusiasm for those one loves or for the things formerly held dearest. And finally the fatigue is often marked by a lack of control over the emotional expression, so that anger blazes forth more easily over trifles, and the tears come upon even a slight vexation. To be neurasthenic is to magnify the pins and pricks of life into calamities, and to be the victim of an abnormal state that is neither health nor disease.
The more purely physical symptoms constitute almost everything imaginable.
1. Pains and aches of all kinds stand out prominently; headache, backache, pains in the shoulders and arms, pains in the feet and legs, pains that flit here and there, dull weary pains, disagreeable feelings rather than true pains. These pains are frequently related to disagreeable experiences and thoughts, but it is probable that fatigue plays the principal part in evoking them.
2. Changes in the appetite, in the condition of the stomach and bowels, are prominent. Loss of appetite is complained of, or more often a capricious appetite, vanishing quickly, or else too easily satisfied. The capriciousness of appetite is undoubtedly emotional, for disagreeable emotions, such as worry, fear, vexation, have long been known as the chief enemies of appetite.
With this change of appetite goes a host of disorders manifested by "belching", "sour stomach", "logy feelings", etc. What is back of these lay terms is that the tone, movement, and secreting activity of the stomach is impaired in neurasthenia. When we consider later on the nature of emotion, we shall find these changes to be part of the disorder of emotion.
3. So, too, there is constipation. In how far the constipation is primary and in how far it is secondary is a question. At any rate, once it is established, it interferes with all the functions of the organism by its interference with the mood.
The following story of Voltaire bluntly illustrates a fact of widespread knowledge. Voltaire and an Englishman, after an intimate philosophical discussion, decided that the aches and pains of life outnumbered the agreeable sensations, and that to live was to endure unhappiness. Therefore, they decided that jointly they would commit suicide and named the time and the place. On the day appointed the Englishman appeared with a revolver ready to blow out his brains, but no Voltaire was to be seen. He looked high and low and then went to the sage's home. There he found him seated before a table groaning with the good things of life and reading a naughty novel with an expression of utmost enjoyment. Said the Englishman to Voltaire, "This was the day upon which we were to commit suicide." "Ah, yes," said Voltaire, "so we were, but to-day my bowels moved well."
4. The disturbed sleep, either as insomnia or an unrestful, dream-disturbed slumber, is a distressing symptom. For we look to the bed as a refuge from our troubles, as a sanctuary wherein is rebuilded our strength. We may link work and sleep as the two complementary functions necessary for happiness. If sleep is disturbed, so is work, and with that our purposes are threatened. So disturbed sleep has not only its bodily effects but has its marked results on our happiness.
5. Fundamental in the symptoms of neurasthenia is fear. This fear takes two main forms. First, the worry over the life situation in general, that is to say, fear concerning business; fear concerning the health and prosperity of the household; fear that magnifies anything that has even the faintest possibility of being direful into something that is almost sure to happen and be disastrous. This constant worry over the possibilities of the future is both a cause of neurasthenia and a symptom, in that once a neurasthenic state is established, the liability to worry becomes greatly increased.
Second, there is a special form of worry called by the old authors hypochondriacism, which essentially is fear about one's own health. The hypochondriac magnifies every flutter of his heart into heart disease, every stitch in his side into pleurisy, every cough into tuberculosis, every pain in the abdomen into cancer of the stomach, every headache into the possibility of brain tumor or insanity. He turns his gaze inward upon himself, and by so doing becomes aware of a host of sensations that otherwise stream along unnoticed. Our vision was meant for the environment, for the world in which we live, since the bodily processes go on best unnoticed. The little fugitive pains and aches; the little changes in respiration; the rumblings and movements of the gastro-intestinal tract have no essential meaning in the majority of cases, but once they are watched with apprehension and anxiety, they multiply extraordinarily in number and intensity. One of the cardinal groups of symptoms in a neurasthenic is this fear of serious bodily disease for which he seeks examination and advice constantly. Naturally enough, he becomes the choicest prey for the charlatan, the faker, or perhaps ranks second to the victim of venereal or sexual disease. The faker usually assures him that he has the disorders he fears and then proceeds to cure him by his own expensive and marvelous course of treatment.
What has been sketched here is merely the outside of neurasthenia. Back of it as causative are matters we shall deal with in detail later on in relation to the housewife,—matters like innate temperament, bad training, liability to worry, wounded pride, failure, desire for sympathy, monotony of life, boredom, unhappiness, pessimism of outlook, over-aesthetic tastes, unfulfilled and thwarted desires, secret jealousy, passions and longings, fear of death, sex problems and difficulties and doubt; matters like recent illness, childbirth, poverty, overwork, wrong sex habits, lack of fresh air, etc.
Fundamentally neurasthenia is a deenergization. By this is meant that either there is an actual reduction in the energy of the body (as after a sickness, pregnancy, etc.) or else something impedes the discharge of energy. This latter is usually an emotional matter, or arises from some thought, some life situation of a depressing kind.
It is necessary and important that we consider these two aspects of our subject a little closer, not so much as regards the housewife, but over the wider field of the human being.
The human being, like every living thing, is an instrument for the building up and discharge of energy. He takes in food, the food is digested (made over into certain substances) and these are built up into the tissues,—and then their energy is discharged as heat and as motion. The heat is the body temperature, the motion is the movement of the human body in all the marvelous variety of which it is capable. In other words, the discharge of energy is the play of our childhood and of our later years; it is the skill and strength of our arms, the cleverness of our hands, the fleetness of our feet, the joyous vigor of our love-making, the embrace; it is the noble purpose, the long, hard-fought battles of any kind. It is all that is summed up in desire, purpose, and achievement.
Now all these things may be impeded by actual reduction of energy, as in tuberculosis, cancer, or in the lassitude of convalescence. In addition there are emotions, feelings, thoughts that energize,—that create vigor and strength of body and mind. Joy rouses the spirit; one dances, laughs, sings, shouts; or the more quiet type of person takes up work with zeal and renewed energy. Hope brings with it an eagerness for the battle, a zest for work. The glow of pride that comes with praise is a stimulus of great power and enlarges the scope of the personality. The feeling that comes with successful effort, with rewarded effort, is a new birth of purpose and will. And whatever arouses the fighting spirit, which in the last analysis is based on anger, achieves the same end.
There are deenergizing emotions and experiences as well, things that suddenly rob the victim of strength and purpose. Fear of a certain type is one of these things, as when one's knees knock together, the limbs become as it were without the control of the will, the heart flutters, and the voice is hoarse and weak. Fear of sickness, fear of death, either for one's self or some beloved one, may completely deenergize the strongest man. Then there is hope deferred, and disappointment, the frustration of desire and purpose, helplessness before insult and injustice, blame merited or unmerited, the feeling of failure and inevitable disaster. There is the unhappy life situation,—the mistaken marriage, the disillusionment of betrayed love, the dashing of parental pride. The profoundest deenergization of life may come from a failure of interest in one's work, a boredom due to monotony, a dropping out of enthusiasm from the mere failure of new stimuli, as occurs with loneliness. Any or all of these factors may bring about a neurasthenic, deenergized state with lowering of the functions of mind and body. We shall discover how this comes about farther on.
What part does a subconscious personality take in all this and in further symptoms? Is there a subconsciousness, and what is it?
In answer, the majority of modern psychologists and psychopathologists affirm the existence of a subconscious personality. One needs only mention James, Janet, Ribot, McDougall, Freud, Prince, out of a host of writers. Whether they are right or not, or whether we now deal with a new fashion in mental science, this can be affirmed—that every human being is a pot boiling with desires, passions, lusts, wishes, purposes, ideas, and emotions, some of which he clearly recognizes and clearly admits, and some of which he does not clearly recognize and which he would deny.
These desires, passions, purposes, etc., are not in harmony one with another; they are often irreconcilable and one has to be smothered for the sake of the other. Thus a sex feeling that is not legitimate, an illicit forbidden love has to be conquered for the sake of the purpose to be religious or good, or the desire to be respected. So one may struggle against a hatred for a person whom one should love,—a husband, a wife, an invalid parent, or child whose care is a burden, and one refuses to recognize that there is such a struggle. So one may seek to suppress jealousy, envy of the nearest and dearest; soul-stirring, forbidden passions; secret revolt against morality and law which may (and often do) rage in the most puritanical breast.
In the theory of the subconscious these undesired thoughts, feelings, passions, wishes, are repressed and pushed into the innermost recesses of the being, out of the light of the conscious personality, but nevertheless acting on the personality, distorting it, wearying it.
However this may be, there is struggle, conflict in every human breast and especially difficult and undecided struggles in the case of the neurasthenic. Literally, secretly or otherwise, he is a house divided against himself, deenergized by fear, disgust, revolt, and conflict.
And the housewife we are trying to understand is particularly such a creature, with a host of deenergizing influences playing on her, buffeting her. Our aim will be to analyze these influences and to discover how they work.
I have stated that in medical practice two other types are described,—psychasthenia and hysteria. These are not so definitely related to the happenings of life as to the inborn disposition of the patient. Nor are they quite so common in the housewife as the neurasthenic, deenergized state. However, they are usually of more serious nature, and as such merit a description.
By the term psychasthenia is understood a group of conditions in which the bodily symptoms, such as fatigue, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, etc., are either not so marked as in neurasthenia, or else are overshadowed by other, more distinctly mental symptoms.
These mental symptoms are of three main types. There is a tendency to recurring fears,—fears of open places, fears of closed places, fear of leaving home, of being alone, fear of eating or sleeping, fear of dirt, so that the victim is impelled continually to wash the hands, fear of disease—especially such as syphilis—and a host of other fears, all of which are recognized as unreasonable, against which the victim struggles but vainly. Sometimes the fear is nameless, vague, undifferentiated, and comes on like a cloud with rapid heartbeat, faint feelings, and a sense of impending death. Sometimes the fear is related to something that has actually happened, as, fear of anything hot after a sunstroke; or fear of any vehicle after an automobile accident.
There is also a tendency to obsessive ideas and doubts; that is, ideas and doubts that persist in coming against the will of the patient, such as the obscene word or phrase that continually obtrudes itself on a chaste woman, or the doubt whether one has shut the door or properly turned off the gas. Of course, everybody has such obsessions and doubts occasionally, but to be psychasthenic about it is to have them continually and to have them obtrude themselves into every action. In extreme psychasthenia the difficulty of "making up the mind", of deciding, becomes so great that a person may suffer agonies of internal debate about crossing the street, putting on his clothes, eating his meals, doing his work, about every detail of his coming, going, doing, and thinking. A restless anxiety results, a fear of insanity, an inefficiency, and an incapacity for sustained effort that results in the name that is often applied,—"anxiety neurosis."
Third, there is a group of impulsions and habits. Citing a few absurd impulsions: a person feels compelled to step over every crack, to touch the posts along his journey, to take the stairs three steps at a time. The habits range from the queer desire to bite one's nails to the quick that is so common in children and which persists in the psychasthenic adult, to the odd grimaces and facial contortions, blinking eyes and cracking joints of the inveterate ticquer. Against some of these habit spasms, comparable to severe stammering, all measures are in vain, for there seems to be a queer pleasure in these acts against which the will of the patient is powerless.
Especially do the first two described types of trouble follow exhaustion, acute illness, sudden fright, and long painful ordeal. The ground is prepared for these conditions, e.g. by the strain of long attendance on a sick husband or child. Then, suddenly one day, comes a queer fear or a faint dizzy feeling which awakens great alarm, is brooded upon, wondered at, and its return feared. This fearful expectation really makes the return inevitable, and then the disease starts. If the patient would seek competent advice at this stage, recovery would usually be prompt. Instead, there is a long unsuccessful struggle, with each defeat tending to make the fear or anxiety or obsession habitual. Sometimes, perhaps in most cases, and in all cases according to Freud and his followers, there is a long-hidden series of causes behind the symptoms; subconscious sexual conflicts and repressions, etc. It may be stated here that the present author is not at all a Freudian and believes that the causes of these forms of nervousness are simpler, more related to the big obvious factors in life, than to the curiously complicated and bizarrely sexual Freudian factors. People get tired, disgusted, apprehensive; they hate where they should love; love where they should hate; are jealous unreasonably; are bored, tortured by monotony; have their hopes, purposes, and desires frustrated and blocked; fear death and old age, however brave a face they may wear; want happiness and achievement, and some break, one way or another, according to their emotional and intellectual resistance. These and other causes are the great factors of the conditions we have been considering.
Of all the forms of nervousness proper, the psychoneuroses, hysteria is probably the one having its source mainly in the character of the patient. That is to say, outward happenings play a part which is secondary to the personality defect. Hysteria is one of the oldest of diseases and has probably played a very important role in the history of man. Unquestionably many of the religions have depended upon hysteria, for it is in this field that "miracle cures" occur. All founders of religions have based part of their claim on the belief of others in their healing power. Nothing is so spectacular as when the hysterical blind see, the hysterical dumb talk, the hysterical cripple throws away his crutches and walks. In every age and in every country, in every faith, there have been the equivalents of Lourdes and St. Anne de Beaupre.
In hysteria four important groups of symptoms occur in the housewife as well as in her single sisters and brothers.
There is first of all an emotional instability, with a tendency to prolonged and freakish manifestations,—the well-known hysterics with laughing, crying, etc. Fundamental in the personality of the hysterics is this instability, this emotionality, which is however secondary to an egotistic, easily wounded nature, craving sympathy and respect and often unable legitimately to earn them.
A group of symptoms that seem hard to explain are the so-called paralyses. These paralyses may affect almost any part, may come in a moment and go as suddenly, or last for years. They may concern arm, leg, face, hands, feet, speech, etc. They seem very severe, but are due to worry, to misdirected ideas and emotions and not at all to injury to the nervous system. They are manifestations of what the neurologists call "dissociations of the personality." That is, conflicts of emotions, ideas, and purposes of the type previously described have occurred, and a paralysis has resulted. These paralyses yield remarkably to any energizing influence like good fortune, the compelling personality of a physician or clergyman or healer (the miracle cure), or a serious danger. The latter is exemplified in the cases now and then reported of people who have not been out of bed for years, but are aroused by threat of some danger, like a fire, reach safety, and thereafter are well.
Similar in type to the paralyses are losses of sensation in various parts of the body,—losses so complete that one may thrust a needle deep into the flesh without pain to the patient. In the days of witch-hunting the witch-hunters would test the women suspected with a pin, and if they found places where pain was not felt, considered they had proof of witchcraft or diabolic possession, so that many a hysteric was hanged or drowned. The history of man is full of psychopathic characters and happenings; insane men have changed the course of human events by their ideas and delusions, and on the other hand society has continually mistaken the insane and the nervously afflicted for criminals or wretches deserving severest punishment.
Especially striking in hysteria are the curious changes in consciousness that take place. These range from what seem to be fainting spells to long trances lasting perhaps for months, in which animation is apparently suspended and the body seems on the brink of death. In olden days the Delphian oracles were people who had the power voluntarily of throwing themselves into these hysteric states and their vague statements were taken to be heaven-inspired. To-day, their descendants in hysteria are the crystal gazers, the mediums, the automatic writers that by a mixture of hysteria and faking deceive the simple and credulous.
For, in the last analysis, all hysterics are deceivers both of themselves and of others. Their symptoms, real enough at bottom, are theatrical and designed for effect. As I shall later show, they are weapons, used to gain an end, which is the whim or will of the patient.
In order to clinch our understanding of the above conditions we must now consider in more detail certain phases of emotion.
Fear curdles the blood, anger floods the body with passion, sorrow flexes the proud head to earth and stifles the heartbeat; joy opens the floodgates of strength, and hope lifts up the head and braces man's soul.
Man is said to be a rational being, but his thought is directed mainly against the problems of nature, much more rarely against his own problems. It is for emotion that we live, for emotion in the wide sense of pleasure and pride. What guides us in our conduct is desire, and desire in the last analysis is based on the instincts and the allied emotions,—hunger, sex, property, competition, cooperation. The intelligence guides the instincts and governs the emotions, but in the case of the vast majority of mankind is swept out of the field when any great decision is to be made.
We are accustomed to thinking of emotion as a thing purely psychical,—purely of the mind, despite the fact that all the great descriptions and all the homely sayings portray it as bodily. "My heart thumped like a steam engine," or "I could not catch my breath"; "a cold chill played up and down my back"; "I swallowed hard, because my mouth was so dry I could not speak." And the Bible repeatedly says of the man stricken by fear, "His bowels turned to water," with a graphic force only equaled by its truth.
William James, nearly simultaneously with Lange, pointed out that emotion cannot be separated from its physical concomitants and maintain its identity. That is, if we separate in our minds the weak, chilly feeling, the dry mouth, the racing heart, the sharp, harsh breathing, and the tension of the muscles getting ready for flight from the feeling of fear, nothing tangible is left. Similarly with sorrow or joy or anger. Take the latter emotion; imagine yourself angry,—immediately the jaw becomes set and the lips draw back in a semi-snarl, the fists clench and the muscles tighten, while the head and body are thrust forward in what is, as Darwin pointed out, the preparation for pouncing on the foe. Even if you mimic anger without any especial reason, there steals over you a feeling not unlike anger.
In a famous paragraph James essentially states that instead of crying because we are sorry, it is fully as likely that we are sorry because we cry. So with every emotion; we are afraid because we run away, and happy because we dance and shout. In other words he reversed the order of things as the everyday person would see it; makes primary and of fundamental importance the physical response rather than the feeling itself.
This has been widely disagreed with, and is not at all an acceptable theory in its entirety. Yet modern physiology has shown that emotion is largely a physical matter, largely a thing of blood vessels, heartbeat, lungs, glands, and digestive organs. This physical foundation of emotion is a very important matter in our study of the housewife as of every other living person. For it is especially in the emotional disturbance that the origin of much of nervousness is to be found, and that on what may be called the physical basis of emotion.
What can emotion produce that is pathological, detrimental to well-being? We may start with the grossest, simplest manifestations. It may entirely upset digestion, as in the vomiting of disgust and excitement. Or, in lesser measure, it may completely destroy the appetite, as occurs when a disturbing emotion arises at mealtime. This is probably brought about by the checking of the gastric secretions. (Cannon's work; Pavlow's work.)
It may check the secretion of milk in the nursing mother, or it may change the quality of the milk so that it almost poisons the infant. It may cause the bladder and bowels to be evacuated, or it may prevent their evacuation.
It may so change the supply of blood in the body as to leave the head without sufficient quantity and thus bring about a fainting spell; i.e. may absolutely deprive the victim of consciousness. In lesser degree it causes the blush, a visible manifestation of emotion often very distressing.
It may completely abolish sex power in the male, or it may bring about sex manifestations which the victim would almost rather die than show.
It may completely deenergize so that neither interest, enthusiasm, or power remains. This is a familiar effect of sorrow but occurs in lesser degree with the form of fear called worry.
The fact is that emotion is an intense bodily response to a situation which when perceived is the state of feeling. This intense bodily response, involving the very minutest tissues of the body, may increase the available energy, may help the bodily functioning, may stimulate the "psychical" processes, but also it may deenergize to an extraordinary degree, it may interfere with every function, including thought and action. It may surely produce acute illness, and it may, though rarely, produce death.
Moreover, it is extraordinarily contagious. Every one knows how a hearty laugh spreads, and how quick the response to a smile. Indeed, emotion has probably for one of its main functions the producing of an effect on some one else, and all the world uses emotion for this purpose. Anger is used to produce fear, sorrow to evoke sympathy, fear is to bring about relenting, a smile and laughter, friendliness, except where one smiles or laughs at some one, and then its design is to bring sorrow, anger, or pain. The leader maintains a hopeful, joyous demeanor so that his followers may also be joyous or hopeful and thus be energized to their best. Morale is the state of emotion of a group; it is raised when joyous, energizing emotions are set working in the group and is lowered when pessimistic deenergizing emotions become dominant. A city or a nation becomes energized with good news and success and deenergized when the battle seems lost.
The spread of emotion from person to person by sympathetic feeling or the reverse (as when we get depressed because our enemy is happy) is a social fact of incalculable importance. The problem of the nervous housewife is a problem of society because she gives her mood over to her family or else intensely dissatisfies its members so that the home ties are greatly weakened.
This spread of emotion was happily portrayed by a motion picture I recently saw. Old Grouchy Moneybags, wealthy beyond measure and afflicted with gout, is seated at his breakfast table. In the next room, seen with the all-seeing eye of the movie, the butler makes love to the very willing maid. In the kitchen the fat cook is feeding the ever hungry butcher's boy with gingerbread and cake, and on the back steps the household cat is purring gently in contentment. Happiness is the predominant note.
Then Old Moneybags savagely rings the bell. Enters the butler, obsequious and solicitous. "The coffee is bad, the toast is vile, everything is wrong. You are a deleted deleted deleted deleted rascal." Exit the butler, outwardly humble, inwardly a raging flood of anger, and he meets the maid, who archly invites his attentions. She gets them, only they are in the form of an angry shove and an oath. White with indignation, she stamps her foot and runs into the kitchen, bursting into tears. The cook, solicitous, receives a slap in the face, and as the maid bounces out, the cook, seeking a victim, grabs away the gingerbread from the butcher's boy. And that still hungry juvenile slams the door as he leaves and kicks the slumbering cat off the back doorstep.
Unfortunately the film did not show what the outraged cat did. Possibly it started a devastation that reached back into Moneybags' career; at any rate the unusual little picture (which later went on to the usual happy ending) showed how emotion spreads through the world, just as disease does. The infection that starts in the hovel finally strikes down the rich man's child, enthroned in the palace. The mood engendered by the humiliation of poverty or cruelty or any injustice finally shakes a king off his throne.
So when we trace the deenergizing emotions of the housewife, we are tracing factors that affect her husband, his work, and Society at large; we trace the things that mold her children, and thus we follow her mood, her emotion, into the future, into history.
TYPES OF HOUSEWIFE PREDISPOSED TO NERVOUSNESS
There are three main factors in the production of the nervousness of the housewife, and they weave and interweave in a very complex way to produce a variety of results. All the things of life, no matter how simple in appearance, are a complex combination of action and reaction. Our housewife's symptoms are no exception, whether they are mainly pains, aches, and fatigue, or the deeply motivated doubt or feeling of unreality.
The nature of the housewife, the conditions of her life, and her relations to her husband are these three factors. All enter into each case, though in some only one may be emphasized as of importance. There are cases where the nature of the woman is mainly the essential cause, others where it is the conditions of her life, and still others where the husband stands out as the source of her symptoms.
We are now to consider the nature of the housewife as our first factor. We may preamble this by saying that a woman essentially normal in one relationship in life may be abnormal in some other, may be the traditional square peg in the round hole. Moreover, we are to insist on the essential and increasing individuality of women, which is to a large extent a recent phenomenon. The cynical commonplace is "All women are alike"—and then follows the specific accusation—"in fickleness", "in extravagance", "in unreasonableness", in this trick or that. The chief effort of conservatism is to make them alike, to fit each one for the same life by the same training in habits, knowledge, abilities, and ideals.
Talk about Prussianism! The great Prussianism, with its ideal of uniformity, serviceability, and servility, has been the masculine ideal of woman's life. Man was to be diversified as life itself, was to taste all its experiences, but woman had her sphere, which belied all mathematics by being a narrow groove.
The nineteenth century changed all that,—or started the change which is going on with extraordinary rapidity in the twentieth. There are all kinds of women, at least potentially. It may be true that woman tends less to vary than man, that she follows a conservative middle-of-the-road biologically, while man spreads out, but no one can be sure of this until woman's early training to some extent resembles man's.
1. From the very start woman is trained to vanity. Every mother loves to doll up her girl baby, and the child is admired for her dress and appearance. Now it is an essential quality of the normal human being that he accepts as an ideal the quality most admired. To the young child, the girl, the young woman, the important thing is Looks, Looks, Looks! The first question asked about a woman is, "Is she pretty?" The pretty girls, the ones most courted, the ones surest on the whole to get married and to become housewives are usually spoiled by indulgence, petting, admiration, and this for a quality not at all related to strong character, and therefore vanity of a trivial kind results.
2. Moreover, woman is trained to emotionality. It may be that she is by nature more emotional than man, but again this can only be known when she has been trained to repress emotional response as a man is trained. If a boy cries or shows fear, he is scolded, and training of one kind or another is instituted to bring about moral and mental hardihood. But if a girl cries, she is consoled by some means and taught that tears are potent weapons, a fact she uses with extraordinary effect later on, especially in dealing with men. If she shows fear, she is protected, sheltered, and given a sort of indulged inferiority.
3. The romantic ideal is constantly held before her in the private counsel of her mother, in the books she reads, in the plays she witnesses, in all the allurements of art. She is to await the lover, the hero; he will take her off with him to dwell in love and happiness forever. All stories, or most of them, end before the heroine develops the neurosis of the housewife. In fact, literature is the worst possible preparation for married life, excepting perhaps the courtship. This latter emphasizes a distorted chivalry that makes of woman a petty thing on a pedestal, out of touch with reality; it is an exciting entrance into what in the majority of cases is a rather monotonous existence.
All these things—vanity, emotionality, romanticism, courtship—are poor training for the home. They hinder even the strongest woman, they are fetters for the more delicate.
In taking up the special types predisposed to the nervousness of the housewife it is to be emphasized that conditions may bring about the neurosis in the normal housewife. Nevertheless, there are groups of women who, because of their make-up or constitution, acquire the neurosis much more easily and much more intensely than do the normal women. They are the types most commonly seen in the hospital clinic or in the private consulting room of the neurologist.
First comes the hyperaesthetic type. One of the chief marks of advancing civilization is an increasing refinement of taste and desire. The fundamental human needs are food, shelter, clothes, sex relations, and companionship. These the savage has as well as his civilized brother, and he finds them not only necessary but agreeable. What we call progress improves the food and the shelter, modifies the clothes, elaborates the sex relations and the code governing companionship. With each step forward the cruder methods become more actively disagreeable, and only the refined methods prove agreeable. In other words, desire keeps pace with improvement, so that although great advances materially have been made, there has been little advance, if any, in contentment. This is because as we progress in refinement little things come to be important, manner becomes more essential than matter, and we get to the hyperaesthetic stage.
Thus the dinner becomes less important than the manner of serving it. In the "highest circles" it is the savoir faire, the niceties of conduct, that count more than character. Words become the means of playing with thought rather than the means of expressing it, and thought itself scorns the elemental and fundamental and busies itself with the vagaries of existence.
From another angle, to the hyperaesthetic more and more things have become disagreeable. To the man of simple tastes and simple feelings, only the calamities are disagreeable; to the hyperaesthetic every breeze has a sting, and life is full of pin pricks. "The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" are multiplied in number, and furthermore the reaction to them is intensified. In the "Arabian Nights" the princess boasts that a rose petal bruises her skin, while her competitor in delicacy is made ill by a fiber of cotton in her silken garments. So with the hyperaesthetic; an unintentional overlooking is reacted to as a deadly insult; the thwarting of any desire robs life of its savor; sounds become noises; a bit of litter, dirt; a little reality, intolerable crudity.
A woman with this temperament is a poor candidate for matrimony unless there goes with it a capacity for adjustment, unusual in this type. Most men have their habitual crudities, their daily lapses, and every home is the theater of a constant struggle with the disagreeable. Intensely pleased by the utmost refinements, these are too uncommon to make up for the shortcomings. The hyperaesthetic woman is constantly the prey of the most deenergizing of emotions,—disgust. "It makes me sick" is not an exaggerated expression of her feeling. And her afflicted household size up the situation with the brief analysis, "Everything makes her nervous." Every one in her household falls under the tyranny of her disposition, mingling their concern with exasperation, their pity with a silent almost subconscious contempt.
Next comes the over-conscientious type. Whatever conscience is, whether implanted by God, or the social code sanctified by training, teaching, and a social nature, there can be no question that, as the Court of Appeals, it does harm as well as good.
There are people whose lack of conscience is back of all manner of crimes, from murder down to careless, slack work; whose cruelty, lust, and selfishness operate unhampered by restraint. On the other hand there are others whose hypertrophied conscience works in one of two directions. If they are zealots, convinced of the righteousness of their own decisions and conclusions, their conscience spurs them on to reforming the world. Since they are more often wrong than right, they become, as it were, a sort of misdirected Providence, raising havoc with the happiness and comfort of others. Whether the conscienceless or those overburdened with this type of conscience have done more harm in the world is perhaps an open question, which I leave to the historians for settlement.
The other type of the overconscientious does definite harm to themselves. This type I have called the "Seekers of Perfection" and it is their affliction that they are miserable with anything less. They are particularly hard on themselves, differing in this wise from the by hyperaesthetic. Constantly they examine and reexamine what they have done. "Is it the best I can do?" "Should I rest now; have I the right to rest?"
Into every moment of enjoyment they obtrude conscience, or rather conscience obtrudes itself. They become wedded to a purpose, and then that purpose becomes a tyrant allowing no escape, even for a brief pleasure, from its chains. Nothing is right that wastes any time; nothing is good but the best. The sense of humor is conspicuously lacking in this type, for one of the main functions of humor is to season effort and straining purpose with proportion.
Should one of these unfortunates be a housewife, then she is continually "picking up", continually pursuing that household Will-o'-the-Wisp, "finishing the work." For it is the nature of housework that it is never finished, no matter how much is done. This overconscientious person, unless she is made of steel springs and resilient rubber, breathlessly chasing this phantom all day and into the night, gives way under the strain, even though she have a dozen servants to help. For to this type each helper is not at all an aid. At once up goes the standard of what is to be done, and each servant becomes an added care, an added responsibility.
"I'd love to go out with you," wails this housewife, "but there's something I must finish to-day." The word must, self-imposed, becomes the mania of her life, to the open rebellion of her household. The word drives her to the real neglect of her husband, who becomes irritated at her constant and to him needless activity, coupled with her complaints.
"Why don't you rest if you are tired," is his stock remonstrance; "the house looks all right to me."
But it is futile. She becomes irritated, perhaps cries and says, "Just like a man. It's clean to you if there are no cobwebs on the walls."
Whereupon the debate closes, but the woman is the more deenergized and the man exasperated at the unreasonableness of women in general and his wife in particular.
It is probably true that woman has more conscience, in so far as detail is concerned, than man. She is more of a lover of order and neatness, more wedded to decorum. Man loves comfort and his interest is more specialized and analytical, and as a rule he hates fussiness.
This hatred of fussiness makes him long for the masculine clubroom, gives him the kind of uneasiness that sends him off on a fishing trip or hunting expedition. Further, and this is of great social importance, many a broken home, many an unexplainable triangle of the Wife, the Husband, and the Other Woman owes its existence, not to the charms of the other woman, but to the overconscientious wife.
The third type predisposed to the neurosis of the housewife is the overemotional woman.
We have already considered the effect of certain types of emotion on health and endurance and may formulate it as follows: Emotion may act as a great bodily disturbance, affecting every organ and every function of the body. What we call nervousness is largely made up of abnormal emotional response, of persistent emotion, of the blocking of energy by emotion.
Now people differ from the very start of life in their response to situations. One baby, if he does not get what he wants, turns his attention to something else, and another will cry for hours or until he gets it. One will manifest anger and strike at being blocked or impeded in his desires, and the other will implore and plead in a baby way for his wish.
In the face of difficulties one man shows fear and worry, another acts hastily and without premeditation, a third flares up in what we call a fighting spirit and seeks to batter down the resistance, and still a fourth becomes very active mentally, calling upon all of his past experience and seeking a definite plan to gain his end.
A loss, a deprivation, plunges one type of person into deepest sorrow, a helpless sorrow, inert and symbolic of the hopeless frustration of love. The same affliction striking at another man's heart makes him deeply and soberly reflective, and out of it there ensues a great philanthropy, a great memorial to his grief. For the one, sorrow has deenergized; for the other it has energized, has raised the efforts to a nobler plane.
Now there are women, and also men, to whom emotion acts like an overdose of a drug. Parenthetically, emotion and certain drugs have very similar effects. No matter how joyous the occasion and how exuberant their joy, a mood may settle into their lives like a fog and obscure everything. This mood may arise from the smallest disappointment; or a sudden vision of possible disaster to one they love may appear before them through some stray mental association. They are at the mercy of every sad memory and of every look into the future.
Preeminently, they are the victims of that form of chronic fear called worry, more aptly named by Fletcher "fearthought." He implied by this name that it was a sort of degenerated "forethought."
If the baby has a cough, then it may have tuberculosis or pneumonia or some disastrous illness, of which death is the commonest ending. How often is the doctor called in by these women and needlessly, and how she does keep his telephone busy! It is true that a cough may be early tuberculosis, but this is the last possibility rather than the first.
If the husband is late, Heaven knows what may have happened. She has visions of him lying dead in some morgue, picked up by the police, or he's in a hospital terribly injured by an automobile, or, perchance, a robber has sandbagged him and dragged him into a dark alley. If she is a bit jealous, and he is at all attractive, then the disaster lies that way. It doesn't matter that his work may be such that he cannot be at home regularly or on schedule; the sinister explanation takes possession of her to the exclusion of the more rational; she has a sort of affinity for the terrible. And when her husband comes home, the profound fear in many cases turns sharply and quickly to anger at him. Her distorted sense of responsibility makes him the culprit for her unnecessary fear.
Now it is true that almost every woman has something of this tendency, but it is only the extreme case that I am here depicting. In this extreme form, this type of woman is commonly found among the Jews. The Jewish home reverberates with emotionality and largely through this attitude of the Jewish housewife.
Such a woman is apt to make a slave of her family through their fear of arousing her emotions. How frequently people are chained by their sympathies, how frequently they are impeded in enjoyment by the tyranny of some one else's weakness, would fill one of the biggest chapters in a true history of the human race,—a book that will probably never be written.
Naturally enough, this housewife finds plenty to worry about, to react to, and since these reactions are physical, they have a lowering effect on her energy.
To those familiar with the conception that every emotion, every feeling, needs a discharge, it will seem heretical when I say that the excessive discharge of emotion is harmful. Freud finds the root of most nervous trouble in repressed emotion. That is in part true, but it is also true that excessive emotionality is a high-grade injury, for emotional discharge is habit forming. It becomes habitual to cry too much, to act too angry, to fear too much. The conquest and disciplining of emotion is one of the great objects of training. It has for its goal the supremacy of the noblest organ of the human being, his brain. For proper living there must be emotion—there always will be—but it must be tempered with intelligence if the best good of the individual and the race is to be reached.
The type of woman we must now study is a very modern product, the non-domestic type.
That the great majority of women have a maternal instinct does not nullify the fact that a small number have none whatever. One of the facts of life, not taken into account with a fraction of its true significance and importance, is the variability of the race, the wide range of abilities, instincts, emotions, aspirations, and tastes. A quality is said to be normal when the majority of the group possess it, but it may be utterly lacking in a smaller number who are thereby declared abnormal.
At present, it is normal for woman to be domestic, i.e. to yearn for husband, home, and children; to want to be a housewife. Unfortunately, all these yearnings do not hang closely together, and a woman may want a husband and be swept by her own desire and opportunity into matrimony, and yet she may "detest" children, may dislike the housekeeping activities of marriage. The sex and other instincts upon which marriage is based are not always linked with the maternal and home-keeping instincts.
While this has probably always been true, it mattered little in olden days. A woman regarded the home as her destiny and generally had experienced no other life. But as was shown in the first chapter, industry and feminism have given woman a taste of other kinds of life and have developed her individual points of character and abilities. Perhaps she has been the bookkeeper of a large concern; or the private secretary to a man of exciting affairs; or she has been the buyer for some house; or she has dabbled in art or literature; or she has been a factory girl mingling with hundreds of others, working hard, but in a large group; or a saleslady in a department store,—and domestic life is expected of her as if she had been trained for it. In fact, she has been trained away from it.
The novelists delight to tell us of the woman who seeks a career and enters the struggle of her profession and fails. And then there comes, just when her failure is greatest and she is most weepingly feminine, the patient hero, and he holds out his arms, and she slips into them, oh, so joyously! She now has a home, and will be happy—long row of asterisks, and have children; and if it is a movie, a year or more elapses and we are permitted to gaze upon a charming domestic scene.
But alas for reel life as against real life! We are not shown how she yearns for the activities of her old career; we are not shown the feeling she constantly has that she is too good for housekeeping. If she has been fortunate enough to marry a rich and indulgent man, she becomes a dilettante in her work, playing with art or science. If her first vocation was business, she is bored to death by domesticity. But if she marries poverty, she looks on herself as a drudge, and though loyalty and pride may keep her from voicing her regrets, they eat like a canker worm in the bud,—and we have the neurosis of this type of housewife. Or else her experience in business makes her size up her husband more keenly, and we find her rebelling against his failure, criticizing him either openly to the point of domestic disharmony, or inwardly to her own disgust.
It is not meant that all business and professional women, all typists and factory girls are dissatisfied with marriage or develop an abnormal amount of neurosis. Many a girl of this type really loves housekeeping, really loves children, and makes the ideal housewife. Intelligent, clear-eyed, she manages her home like a business. But if independent experience and a non-domestic nature happen to reside in the same woman, then the neurosis appears in full bloom. Against the adulation given to women singers and actresses, against the fancied rewards of literature and business, the domestic lot seems drab to this non-domestic type.
Here the question arises: Is there room in our society for matrimony and a business career? That a large number of exceptional women have found it possible to be mothers, housewives, authors, and singers at one and the same time does not take away from the fact that in the majority of cases such a combination means either a childless marriage or the turning over of an occasional child to servants: it means the abandonment of the home and the living in hotels, except in the few cases where there is wealth and trusty servants. Wherever women who have children are poor and work in factories, there is the greatest infant mortality, there is the greatest amount of juvenile delinquency, and there is the greatest amount of marital difficulty. Our present conception of matrimony demands that woman remains in the home until such time at least as her children are able to care largely for themselves.
In the history of the worst cases of the housewife's neurosis one finds previously existing trouble, though, as I have before this emphasized, the neurosis may develop in the previously normal. This previously existing trouble is the "nervous breakdown" in high school or in college, or in the factory and the office, though it must be said it occurs relatively less often in the latter places than the former. This previous breakdown often appears as the direct result from emotional strain such as an unhappy love affair, or the fear of failure in examinations. It may have followed acute illness, like influenza or pneumonia. But the original temperament was nervous, high-strung, delicate; one learns of an appetite that disappeared easily, a sleep readily disturbed, in short, an easily lowered or obstructed output of energy.
This type of woman, neurotic from her very birth, is often the very best product of our civilization from the standpoint of character and ability, just as the male neurasthenic is often the backbone of progress and advancement. But we are concerned with these questions: "What happens to her in marriage?" "How about her fitness for marriage?"
As to the first question, we may say that all depends on whom and how she marries. For after all a woman does not marry matrimony, she marries a man, a home, and generally children. And if the neurotic woman marries a devoted, kindly, conscientious man with wealth enough to give her servants in the household and variety in her experiences, she is as reasonably well off as could be expected. She is no worse off than if she had remained single and continued to be a school teacher, social worker, typist, factory hand the rest of her days,—and she has fulfilled more of her desires and functions. But if she marries an unsympathetic, impatient man or a poor one, or a combination, then the first child brings a breakdown that persists, with now and then short periods of betterment, for many years. Then we have the chronic invalid, the despair of a household, the puzzle of the doctors. "Not really sick," say the latter to the discouraged husband, seeking to adjust himself to his wife, "only neurasthenic. All the organs are O.K." To differentiate between a lowered energy and imaginary illness or laziness is a hard task to which this husband is usually unequal. Though some show of duty and kindness remains, love dies in such a household. And the very effort to give sympathy where doubt exists as to the genuineness of the affliction is painful and increases the chasm between wife and husband.
That some of the sweetest marriages result where the wife is of this type does not change the general situation that such a marriage is an increased risk. Should a man knowingly marry such a woman? The question is futile in the overwhelming majority of cases. He will marry her, is the answer. For the fascinating woman is frequently of this type. Witness the charm of the neuropathic eye with its widely dilated pupil that changes with each emotion, the mobile face,—delicate, with a play of color, red and white, that is charming to look at, but which the grim physician calls "Vasomotor instability." There is nothing neutral about this type; she is either very lovely or a freak.
So all advice in the matter is of little avail. And racially speaking it is good that it is of no avail. I believe firmly that such a woman is more often the mother of high ability than her more placid sister; that something of the delicacy of feeling and intensity of reaction of neurasthenia is a condition of genius. We are too far away from any real knowledge of heredity to advise for or against marriage in the most of cases on this basis, and certainly we must not repeat Lombroso and Nordau's errors and call all variations from stupidity degeneration.
But this does not change the domestic situation of the man who is usually much more concerned with his own comfort than the mathematical possibilities of his offspring being geniuses. Certainly such a woman as the type now considered is not a poor man's wife, for she really needs what only the rich can have,—servants, variety, frequent vacations, and freedom from worry. Now worry cannot be shut out of even the richest home, for illness, old age, and death are grim visitors who ask no man's leave. But poverty and its worries are kept away by wealth, and poverty is perhaps the most persistent tormentor of man.
Essential in the study of "nervousness" is the physical examination, and we here pass to the physically ill housewife.
It is important to remember that the diagnosis of neurasthenia is, properly speaking, what is called by physicians a diagnosis of exclusion. That is to say, after one has excluded all possible illnesses that give rise to symptoms like neurasthenia, then and then only is the diagnosis justified. That is, a woman physically ill, with heart, lung, or kidney disease, or with derangements of the sexual organs, may act precisely like a nervous housewife,—may have pains and aches, changes in mood, loss of control of emotion; in a word may be deenergized.
It is not often enough remembered that bearing children, though a natural process, is hazardous, not only in its immediate dangers but to the future health of the woman. Injuries to the internal and external parts occur with almost every first birth, especially if that birth occurs after twenty-five years of age. Repair of the parts immediately is indicated, but in what percentage of cases is this done? In a very small percentage of cases, I venture to state, not only in my own small experience in this work, but on the statements of men of large experience and high authority.
In this connection I may state that the leading obstetricians believe that the woman of to-day has a harder time in labor than her predecessors. Aside from the more or less mythical stories of the savage women who deliver themselves on the march, there seems to be no reasonable doubt that in an increasing civilization and feminization, woman becomes less able to deliver herself, especially at the first birth.
Why is this? After all, it is a fundamental matter. And moreover it is more often the tennis-playing, horseback-riding, athletic girl who falls short in this respect than the soft-limbed, shrinking, old-fashioned girl. Does a strenuous existence make against easy motherhood? It would seem so; it would seem the more masculine the occupations of woman become, the less able are they to carry out the truly female functions. But this is a digression from our point.
A retroverted uterus, a lacerated perineum, such minor difficulties as flat feet, such major ones as valvular disease of the heart, are causes of ill health to be ruled out before "nervousness" (or its medical equivalents) is to be diagnosed.
It is superfluous to say that we have here briefly considered only a few of the types specially predisposed to difficulty. Moreover men and women do not readily fall into "types." A woman may be hyperaesthetic in one sphere of her tastes and as thick-skinned as a rhinoceros in others. She may squirm with horror if her husband snores in his sleep, but be willing to live in an ugly modern apartment house with a poodle dog for her chief associate. Or the overconscientious woman may expend her energies in chasing the last bit of dirt out of her house but be willing to poison her family with three delicatessen meals a day. The overemotional housewife may flood the household with her tears over trifles but be a very Spartan in the grave emergencies of life. And the neurotic woman, a chronic invalid for housework, may do a dragoon's work for Woman Suffrage. It may be that no man can understand women; it is a fact they do not understand themselves. But in this they are not unlike men.
One might speak of the jealous woman, the selfish woman, the woman envious of her more fortunate sisters, poisoning herself by bitter thoughts. These traits belong to all men and women; they are part of human nature, and they have their great uses as well as their difficulties. Jealousy, selfishness, envy, three of the cardinal sins of the theologian, are likewise three of the great motive forces of mankind. They are important as reactions against life, not as qualities, and we shall so consider them in a later chapter.
Though we have discussed the types predisposed to the nervousness of the housewife, it is a cardinal thesis of this book that great forces of society and the nature of her life situation are mainly responsible. From now on we are face to face with these factors and must consider them frankly and fully.
THE HOUSEWORK AND THE HOME AS FACTORS IN THE NEUROSIS
One of the most remarkable of the traits of man is the restless advancement of desire,—and consequently the never-ending search for contentment. What we look upon as a goal is never more than a rung in the ladder, and pressure of one kind or another always forces us on to further weary climbing.
This is based on a great psychological law. If you put your hand in warm water it feels warm only for a short time, and you must add still warmer water to renew the stimulus. Or else you must withdraw your hand. The law, which is called the Weber-Fechner Law, applies to all of our desires as well as to our sensations. To appreciate a thing you must lose it; to reach a desire's gratification is to build up new desires.
This is to be emphasized in the case of the housewife, but with this additional factor: that how one reacts to being a housewife depends on what one expects out of life and housekeeping. If one expects little out of life, aside from being a housewife, then there is contentment. If one expects much, demands much, then the housewife's lot leads to discontent.
What is disagreeable is not a fixed thing, except for pain, hunger, thirst, and death. The disagreeable is the balked desire, the obstructed wish, the offended taste. It is a main thesis of this book that the neurosis of the housewife has a large part of its origin in the increasing desires of women, in their demands for a fuller, more varied life than that afforded by the lot of the housewife. Dissatisfaction, discontent, disgust, discouragement, hidden or open, are part of the factors of the disease. Furthermore there is an increasing sensitiveness of woman to the disagreeable phases of housework.
What are these phases that are attended with difficulty? 1. The status of the house work.
It is an essential phase of housework that as soon as woman can afford it she turns it over to a servant. Furthermore there is greater and greater difficulty in getting servants, which merely means that even the so-called servant class dislikes the work. No amount of argument therefore leads away from the conclusion that housework must be essentially disagreeable, in its completeness. There may be phases of it that are agreeable; some may like the cooking or the sewing, but no one likes these things plus the everlasting picking up; no one likes the dusting, the dishwashing, the clothes washing and ironing, the work that is no sooner finished than it beckons with tyrannical finger to be begun. To say nothing of the care of the children!
I do not class as a housewife the woman who has a cook, two maids, a butler, and a chauffeur,—the woman who merely acts as a sort of manager for the home. I mean the poor woman who has to do all her own work, or nearly all; I mean her somewhat more fortunate sister who has a maid with whom she wrestles to do her share,—who relieves her somewhat but not sufficiently to remove the major part of housewifery. After all, only one woman in ten has any help at all!
It is therefore no exaggeration when I say that though the housewife may be the loveliest and most dignified of women, her work is to a large extent menial. One may arise in indignation at this and speak of the science of housekeeping, of cleanliness, of calories in diet, of child-culture; one may strike a lofty attitude and speak of the Home (capital H), and how it is the corner stone of Society. I can but agree, but I must remind the indignant ones that ditch diggers, garbage collectors, sewer cleaners are the backbone of sanitation and civilization, and yet their occupations are disagreeable.
"Fine words butter no parsnips." There are some rare souls who lend to the humblest tasks the dignity of their natures, but the average person frets and fumes under similar circumstances. In its aims and purposes housekeeping is the highest of professions; in its methods and technique it ranks amongst the lowest of occupations. We must separate results, ideals, aims, and possibilities from methods.
All work at home has the difficulty of the segregation, the isolation of the home. Man, the social animal who needs at least some one to quarrel with, has deliberately isolated his household, somewhat as a squirrel hides nuts,—on a property basis. There has grown up a definite, aesthetic need of privacy; all of modesty and the essential family feeling demand it.
This is good for the man, and perhaps for the children, but not for the woman. Her work is done alone, and at the time her husband comes home and wants to stay there, she would like to get out. Work that is in the main lonely, and work that on the whole leaves the mind free, leads almost inevitably to daydreaming and introspection. These are essentials, in the housework,—monotony, daydreaming, and introspection.
Let us consider monotony and its effects. The need of new stimuli is a paramount need of the human being. Solitary confinement is the worst punishment, so cruel that it is prohibited in some communities. We need the cheerful noises of the world, we need as releasers of our energies the sights, sounds, smells of the earth; we must have the voices and the presence of our fellows, not for education, but for the maintenance of interest in living. For the mind to turn inward on itself is pleasurable only in rare snatches, for short periods of time or for rare and abnormal people. Man's mind loves the outside world but becomes uneasy when confronted by itself.
The human being, whether male or female, housewife or industrial worker, is a seeker of sensations. Without new sensations man falls into boredom or a restless and unhappy state, from which the mind seeks freedom. It is true that one may become a mere seeker of sensations, a restless and fickle pleasure lover who passes from the normal to the abnormal, exotic in his vain search for what is logically impossible,—lasting novelty. Variety however is not the mere spice of life; it is the basis of interest and concentrated purpose as well.
People of course vary greatly in what they regard as variety, and this is often a constitutional matter as well as a matter of education. What is new, striking and interest-provoking to the child has not the same value to the adult; what is boredom to the city man might be of huge interest to the country man. A person trained to a certain type of life, taught to expect certain things, may find no need of other newer things. In other words people accustomed to a wide range of stimuli need a wide range, while people unaccustomed to such a range do not need it.
The most important stimuli are other persons, capable of setting into action new thoughts, new emotions, new conduct. We need what Graham Wallas calls "face to face associations of ideas",—ideas called into being by words, moods, and deeds of others.
It is this group of stimuli that the busy housewife conspicuously lacks. "She has no one to talk to," especially in the modern apartment life. It is true she has her children to scold, to discipline, to teach, and to talk at; but contact with child minds is not satisfying, has not the flavor of companionship, is not reciprocal in the sense that adult minds are. There therefore results introspection and daydreaming, both of which may be of slight importance to some women but which are distinctly disastrous to others.
If the married life is satisfactory the daydreaming and introspection may be very pleasurable, as they usually are at the beginning of marriage. The young bride dreams of love that does not swerve, of understanding that persists, of success, of riches to come, of children that are lovely and marvelous. And the happy woman also finds her thoughts pleasant ones, and her castles in the air are mere enlargements of her life.
But the dissatisfied woman, the unhappy woman, finds her daydreams pleasant and unpleasant at the same time. She is constantly coming back to reality; reality constantly obtrudes itself into her dreams. The daydreaming is rebelled against as foolish, as puerile, as futile. A struggle takes place in the mind; disloyal and disastrous thoughts creep in which are constantly dismissed but always reappear. The profoundest disgust and deenergization may appear, and fatigue, aches, pains, and weariness of life often results.
One may compare interest to a tonic. How often does one see a little group, who for the time being are not interesting to one another, sit sleepy, tired, bored, yawning, restless. Then a new person enters, a person of importance or of interest. The fatigue disappears like magic, and all are bright, energetic, sparkling. The basis of club life is the monotony of the home; man uses the saloon, the clubroom, the pool room, the street corner, the lodge meeting, as an escape from the unstimulating atmosphere of wife and family,—the hearth. But for the housewife there is usually no escape, though she needs it more than her husband does.
Furthermore the non-domestic type, the woman with especial ability, the woman who has been courted, petted, and sought for before marriage is the one who reacts most to the monotony of the home. There are plenty of women who consider the home a refuge from a world they find more strenuous, more fatiguing than they can stand, or who find in housework a consecration to their ordained duty. Which type is the better woman depends upon the point of view, but it is safe to say that feminism and the industrial world are making it harder and harder for an increasing number of women to settle down to home-keeping.