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.