How a Wife is Kept in the Background
After sacrificingbeauty, health, and personal ambition, to help her husband realize his ideals, she is thrust out of the Eden of her dreams, to give place to a silly butterfly, who has done nothing whatever toward making the home or fortune which she is to enjoy.
Orison Swett Marden in Success Magazine
ONE of the most pathetic spectacles in life is that of the faded, outgrown wife standing helpless, in the shadow of her husband’s prosperity and power, having sacrificed her youth, beauty and ambition—nearly everything that the feminine mind holds dear—to enable an indifferent, selfish, brutish husband to get a start in the world.
It does not matter that she burned up much of her attractiveness over the cooking stove; that she lost more of it at the washtub, and in scrubbing and cleaning, and in rearing and caring for their children during the slavery of her early married life, in her unselfish effort to help him get on in the world. It does not matter how much she suffered during those terrible years of poverty and privation ; just as soon as the selfish husband begins to get prosperous, finds that he is getting on in the world, feels his power, he often begins to be ashamed of the woman who has sacrificed everything to make his success possible.
It does not matter that the wife sacrificed her own opportunity for a career, that she gave up her most cherished ambitions in order to make a ladder for her husband to ascend by. When he has once gotten to the top, like a wily, diplomatic politician, he often kicks the ladder down. He wants to make a show in the world ; he thinks only of himself. His poor, faded, worn-out wife, standing in his shadow, is not attractive enough for him now that he has gotten up in the world.
Many wives look with horror upon the increasing fortunes of their husbands, which their sacrifices have helped to accumulate, simply because they fear that their stooped forms, gray hairs, calloused hands, and the loss of the comeliness which slipped from them while they were helping their husbands to get a start, are likely to deprive them of the very paradise of home and comforts which they had dreamed of from their wedding day. They know that their hard work and sacrifices and long hours and suffering in bringing up a family are likely to ruin their prospects, and that they may even drive them out of the Eden of their dreams.
The world will never know the tortures, a thousand times worse than death itself, endured by wives of prosperous husbands, who prefer suffering to scandal, and who endure a living death rather than expose their husbands, who have been fascinated by younger and * more attractive women.
I watched for a long time the treatment a vigorous, stylishly dressed millionaire accorded to his wife, who, though about his age, looked fifteen or twenty years older. I knew them years before, when the wife took in washing, kept boarders, and took care of several children, without any servant, just because she wanted to assist her husband in getting a start in the world. She was then a woman of great charm and beauty ; but her hard work and monotonous life ( for she rarely went anywhere or had any vacation or recreation) had aged her rapidly.
I have been in the home of this couple when the husband showed the greatest indifference to his wife, and treated her more as a menial than as a companion. If she complained of a headache, or of feeling unwell, he never showed any sympathy for her, but, on the contrary, appeared to be provoked, and often made sarcastic remarks.
He never tried in any way to lighten her burdens, nor showed her any special attention. He was not even polite to her. He would take no part of the responsibility of training the children or of conducting the household. He said he would not be bothered with sucn things.
He spent most of his evenings at the clubs, or in the company of women whom he considered more attractive than his wife, and upon whom he spent money freely; but he was extremely penurious with his wife, and made her give an account of what she did with every penny.
He became so brazen in his open association with other girls and women that he often took them to his own home, where his wife, who was suffering tortures, tried to receive them graciously and to treat them kindly.
In short, this man’s interest in his wife declined just as his prosperity increased, until a separation resulted. The wife, heartbroken, was actually driven from her home by the most heartlessly cruel treatment.
It would seem as though some of our wealthy millionaires, who have discarded the wives of their youth because they are unattractive, must have strange nightmare visions. Beautiful young brides who gave their lives for years to help them get a start in the world, and who, when the wealthdream of their early life had been fulfilled, were thrust out of the luxurious homes, which they had made possible, to give place to younger and more attractive women, who never lifted their fingers to accumulate the fortune or to make the reputation, must haunt their slumbers.
Why is it that so few men make mental comrades of their wives? It is because of man’s consummate selfishness and egotism, his conviction that he is a lord of creation, that, in spite of all his vaporings and flattery to the contrary, he is a little better than his wife—is mentally, as well as physically, her superior.
The selfish husband thinks that he should have a clear track for his ambition, and that his wife should be content, even grateful, to be allowed to tag on behind and assist him in every possible way in what he considers the grand life-work of both of them—to make him the biggest man possible.
It is very difficult for the average man to think of a woman’s career, except in terms of his own interest. In other words, he has the idea that woman was made to be man’s helpmeet, that she was made to help him do what he wants to do. He cannot conceive of his being made as a helpmeet for her, to help her to carry out her ambition, unless it is that of a housekeeper. It does not even occur to him that she could have an ambition welling up witfrin her heart, a longing to answer the call which runs in her own blood, and a yearning to express it in some vocation as well as he.
I do not believe that the Creator has limited one half of the human race practically to one occupation, while the other half has the choice of a thousand.
“But,” many of our men readers will say, “is there any grander profession in the world than that of home making? Can anything be more stimulating, more elevating than home making and the rearing of children? Flow can such a vocation be narrowing, monotonous?”
My only answer would be, “Let these men try this kind of life themselves.”
Of course it is grand. There is nothing grander m the universe than the work of a true wife, a noble mother. But it would require the constitution of a Hercules, an infinitely greater patience than that of a Job, to endure such work with almost no change or outside variety, year in and year out, as multitudes of wives and mothers do.
The average man does not appreciate how almost devoid of incentives to broadmindedness, to many-sidedness, to liberal growth, the home life of many women is.
The business man and the professional man are really in a perpetual school, a great practical university. The strenuous life, however dangerous, is essentially educative. The man has the incalculable advantage of a great variety of experiences, and of freshness of view. He is continually coming in contact with new people, new things, being molded by a vast number of forces which never touch the wife in the quiet home.
I believe most women feel this terrible depression of the monotony of their lives, the lack of that stimulus which comes to the man from constant change.
A stagnant life is never an interesting or a progressive one. Nothing that is desirable will grow in a stagnant pool. There must be action in the water, or there will be no life or purity. Slime, scum, and all sorts of loathsome insects and creatures breed in the stagnant pool. But open it up, give it vent, let it rush down the mountainside through the vahey, and it will take on new life, new meaning. The muddy water will clear up and sparkle like a crystal, when it is set to work.
Everything in the whole environment of tens of thousands of American wives is discouraging to growth and tends to strangle a broader, fuller life. There is something narrowing, shriveling in a mere routine life. Monotony is always narrowing, strangling, shriveling.
If the husbands could change places with their wives for a year, they would feel this contracting influence. Their minds would soon cease to reach out, they would quickly feel the pinching, paralyzing effect of the monotonous existence, of doing the same things every day year in and year out. The wives, on the other hand, would soon begin to broaden out. Their lives would become richer, fuller, completer, from contact with the world, from the constant stretching of their minds over large problems.
‘T do not propose to marry,” said a young man to me, recently, “until I can support a wife without her working. I do not propose to make a drudge of my wife.”
The wives who have been paralyzed by marrying men who do not believe that a wife should work, form almost as pitiable a picture as the wives who have become household drudges.
Multitudes of women in this country to-dav are vegetating in luxurious homes, listless, ambitionless, living narrow, rutty lives, because the spur of necessity has been taken away from them, because their husbands, who do not want them to work, have taken them out of an ambition-arousing environment.
Think of the thousands of wives, who live in our great cities, who have no children and no social duties, no great life motive to take up their attention, who, not knowing what to do with themselves, sit or lie around the house all day, waiting for their husbands to come home in the evening! Is this the way sterling character is made? Are these the conditions for stamina building? Is it thus power is generated?
Is it any wonder that, under such strangling conditions, women brood over their ailments, their fancied weaknesses and inherited tendencies, and that there should be hatched in their idle brains a mischevious brood of discontent and dissatisfaction, or that their imaginations should suggest all sorts of unbecoming, unlawful things?
Is it any wonder that women often become despondent and sometimes insane in such a monotonous, ambitionless, listless environment?
Let a man, even a normally active one, feel that there is nothing special to call him up in the morning, that there is no pressing need of his doing anything in particular, that he can do just what he feels like doing when he feels like it, that he can lie abed in the morning or get up when he likes, go riding, read a novel, or do anything else he chooses to do, and how long will it take him to lose his initiative, his ability to do things, after he has allowed his brain cells to atrophy ? How long will it be before his life becomes completely demoralized, before he loses his ambition, before the main zest of living dies? What will become of his originality, his resourcefulness, when he cesses his creative activity? How long will il taxe him to become a namby-pamby, nerveless, indifferent and indefinite sort of person, without individuality or forcefulness ?
A healthy mind must be an active mind. Vigor and strength cannot be built up in man or woman by inaction or a life of indolence. There must be a purpose, a vigorous, strong aim in the life, or it will be nerveless, insipid and stale.
Now, if the aim is personal pleasure, the mere gratification of our vanity or pride, the indulgence of our whims; if life is narrowed to the question of dress, of eating and drinking, and selfish pleasure ; if all larger, worthier interests have been shut out of it, how can there be growth or development for the individual ?
There is a disease called “arrested development,” in which the stature of the adult remains that of a child—all physical growth and expansion stops. Arrested mental development is a form of disease from which many wives are suffering, and they have been condemned to that condition by the mistaken idea of husbands who think that they love them.
Thousands of our divorces are caused by the fact that the wife has stopped growing, and has not kept pace with her husband.
1 believe in marriage, but I do not believe in that marriage which paralyses self-development, strangles ambition, and discourages evolution and self-growth, which takes away the life purpose. Nor is it necessary that the wife should work like a slave in order to grow. There is a certain class of men who go to the other extreme and make slaves of their wives—work 4them half to death. But physical drudgery does not develop power. The slave wife is as badly off as the doll wife.
A wife should neither be a drudge nor a dressed up doll ; she should develop herself by self-effort, just as her husband develops himself. She should not put herself in a position where her inventiveness and resourcefulness and individuality, her talent, will be paralyzed by lack of motive.
The result of the average husband’s repression of his wife’s talent is that girls with ambition for art, for literature, for music, for the law, medicine, or business ; girls who have especial talent in any particular line which peculiarly fits them tor marked achievement are afraid to marry a man who is not willing to be as generous with his wife as he expects her to be with him. A great many girls will not take chances of having their ambitions smothered, their ideals and hopes shattered, by selfish, inconsiderate husbands.
We hear a great deal about the disinclination of the college girl to marry. If this is so, it is largely due to the unfairness of the man. The more education girls get, the more they will hesitate to enter a condition of slavery, even under the beautiful guise of home.
I do not blame a girl for remaining single who feels that she has been peculiarly fitted for a career of her own just as well as the selfish man who wants her to marry him merely to make a home for himself. I do not blame her for hesitating before she takes a step which may cramp her whole life and bring her bitter disappointment, for there is nothing more demoralizing outside of vice itself, than to be obliged to carry through life a stifled ambition.
I believe that the woman who has freedom to express herself in the completest way knows better how to make an ideal home and to be an ideal wife than does the woman who has been repressed and narrowed by her husband’s selfish, one-sided views of marriage. I have no sympathy with this narrow view of a wife’s duties, this slavery view of the woman who presides over the home.
When men get ready to regard the wife as a full, complete partner in the marriage contract instead of as a dressed-up doll, a toy, or plaything, or else a sort of housekeeper for the home and nurse for their children ; when they are willing to regard their salaries or their income and property as much the wife’s as their own, and do not put her in the position of a beggar for every penny she gets ; when men get beyond the idea that a woman must fall in with their plans and opinions without question ; that they were not intended for independent expression, no matter how much ability or even genius they may possess, we will have more true marriages.
In his practical relations with his wife the average husband treats her like an inferior, more like a servant than an equal partner ; and, when he does condescend to recognize the partnership, it is in the manner he would assume toward an employe who happens to have a share or two of stock in his million-dollar company. He does not recognize the relation of equality.
Not one man in a thousand treats his wife fairly in money matters. If his business partner attempted to treat him in the same way, there would very quickly be a rupture.
I know a man who is poor, but who ' always manages to get money enough to buy his tobacco and drinks, and to dress well, even when his wife is obliged to go without the necessities of life, and to dress shabbily. He does not seem to think that she needs very much.
It is a rare thing to find a man who does not waste ten times as much money on foolish things as his wife does, and yet he would make ten times the talk about his wife’s onetenth foolishness as his own tentenths.
On the other hand, thousands of women, starving for affection, protest against their husband’s efforts to substitute money for it—to satisfy their cravings, their heart-hunger, with the things that money can buy. How gladly they would exchange all of their luxuries for the plainest and humblest home with a husband who loved them !
It is an insult to womanhood to try to satisfy her nature with material things, while the affections are famishing for genuine sympathy and love. Women do admire beautiful things ; but there is something they admire infinitely more. Luxuries do not come first in any real woman’s desires. She prefers poverty with love, to luxury with an indifferent or loveless husband.
How gladly would these women, whose affections are blighted by cold indifference or the unfaithfulness of their husbands, exchange their liberal allowance, all their luxuries, for genuine sympathy and affection !
The whole attitude of. most men toward women is wrong—the idea that they are secondary in the scheme of creation ; that they are calculated to walk behind the man, in his shadow ; that they are not his equal, but a sort of supplement, to help him do the great things he is capable of, to minister to his wants and comforts and convenience ; that they are a sort of expensive necessity to make a family and the rounding out of man’s career possible.
For centuries women themselves accepted man’s estimate of them, and were content to walk in his shadow. But since the higher discovery of woman in the last century a new order of things is being brought about. Women are becoming less and less dependent upon men and more inclined to live their own lives. They are beginning to see their own possibilities, that they can ha\e careers and ambitions as well as men. The girl of to-day expects a liberal education and looks forward to a career of her own. Women have at last learned that men have not monopolized all the genius, that ability knows no sex. And the wife is beginning to realize that there is one thing she should guard as the very jewel of her soul ; that is, the determination to keep pace with her husband.