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.