Then, again, my readers may say: “But a woman’s nervous system is more sensitive than a man’s; she needs help and consolation. She needs to have some one on whom she can lean.” Now the answer to that will probably be surprising, but an intelligent understanding and comprehension of it would make a very radical difference in the lives of many men and women who have agreed to live together for life—for better and for worse.
Now the truth is man’s nervous system is quite as sensitive as a woman’s, but the woman’s temptation to emotion makes her appear more sensitive, and her failure to control her emotions ultimately increases the sensitiveness of her nerves so that they are more abnormal than her husband’s. Even that is not always true The other day a woman sat in tears and distress telling of the hardness of heart, the restlessness, the irritability, the thoughtlessness, the unkindness of her husband. Her face was drawn with suffering. She insisted that she was not complaining, that it was her deep and tender love for her husband that made her suffer so. “But it is killing me, it is killing me,” she said, and one who saw her could well believe it. And if the distress and the great strain upon her nerves had kept on it certainly would have made her ill, if not have actually ended her life with a nervous collapse.
The friend in whom she confided sat quietly and heard her through. She let her pour herself out to the very finish until she stopped because there was nothing more to say. Then, by means of a series of gentle, well-adapted questions, she drew from the wife a recognition—for the first time—of the fact that she really did nothing whatever for her husband and expected him to do everything for her. Perhaps she put on a pretty dress for him in order to look attractive when he came home, but if he did not notice how well she looked, and was irritable about something in the house, she would be dissolved in tears because she had not proved attractive and pleased him. Maybe she had tried to have a dinner that he especially liked; then if he did not notice the food, and seemed distracted about something that was worrying him, she would again be dissolved in tears because he “appreciated nothing that she tried to do for him.”
Now it is perfectly true that this husband was irritable and brutal; he had no more consideration for his wife than he had for any one else. But his wife was doing all in her power to fan his irritability into flame and to increase his brutality. She was attitudinizing in her own mind as a martyr. She was demanding kindness and attention and sympathy from her husband, and because she demanded it she never got it.
A woman can demand without demanding imperiously. There is more selfish demanding in a woman’s emotional suffering because her husband does not do this or that or the other for her sake than there is in a tornado of man’s irritability or anger. You see, a woman’s demanding spirit is covered with the mush of her emotions. A man’s demanding spirit stands out in all its naked ugliness. One is just as bad as the other. One is just as repulsive as the other.