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.