What Do You Think?
Do married women think? Do they think about anything beyond their children, their husbands and their homes? What do you think?
DO I act as if I had any brains?”
I gasped. Kaye Lawrence leaned across the tea-table and repeated her question.
“What on earth do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean simply this,” she said. “Before I was married I considered that I had as much brains as any man I knew. All the talk about man being superior was nonsense. I ran a business and I made it pay. I have been married exactly five years. To-day, for the first time, I began to wonder if my mind isn’t getting stagnant. If I’m just beginning to wake up to this, now, how long has my husband been thinking the same thing?”
Kaye’s sudden declaration gave me a feeling of something more than discomfort. This might be my own problem instead of hers. Her theory was, that she and I were examples of a new class of married women. When we married, we gave up careers to do it. Naturally, we were quite proud of our mental equipment. And when we settled down, we were alarmed to find our brains settling too.
Kaye insisted that she was growing dull. To look at her, one would never suspect it. She is one of the smartest and prettiest of young matrons, has a brilliant husband, two adorable babies and a very modern and compact little house.
It gave me more than a bit of a shock to realize that her query raised a whole army of doubts within myself. I have a companionable husband and a child and, I am sure, my share of the luxuries. Before I was married, I wrote advertising and managed to exist very comfortably. Married in impulsive haste, I immediately set about the making of a home, fairly successfully, I think. With my baby’s arrival, I found my household duties trebled.
When my husband went away on a prolonged business trip, I found that I was a very unsatisfactory sort of companion. I bored myself beyond expression. I couldn’t bear to be alone. It was at this juncture that Kaye’s question set my mind whirling.
How much real brain work was I doing?
I found myself considering the subject from several angles. If I was faced with this unusual situation, how many other girls, who had found independence and vigor of mind in business, were reacting the same way to the routine of domestic duties? Although I did not know it at the time, to face the question was to answer it. The query itself sent my mind, rusty with disuse on any but household and marital problems, on a voyage of exploration.
With all of us who have done a certain amount of brain-work before marriage, the question to be decided is, whether we are to become efficient domestics, or efficient domestics and, at the same time, amusing and stimulating companions to our husbands.
I have been married only a little over two years. Although a mother, I am still very young. I have been very happy since I have been married and perhaps that is the root of the trouble. For happiness breeds placidity— and I have become very placid. My husband is very amusing and clever, and I have looked for him to supply ideas. I do not mean that my mind is dead, that it can’t snap out a tentacle at an idea he or anyone else offered, but I resent having all my mental hors d’oeuvres offered me on a platter by someone else. I want to pick my own platter and place on it whatever it contains.
I wondered what waa the most feasible way of finding out how a lot of other women felt
about this matter of thinking.
Finally I took the telephone book and picked a hundred names at random. The first question that went over the wire was:
“I wonder if you would be good enough to give me some information? Will you answer some questions? I am trying to find out what the modern woman thinks.”
Now as anyone who has ever done anything of the kind will know, women are fearful about answering any sort of personal question. It requires something approaching hypnotism to get any of them to reply to the simplest query. In almost every case, I had to give assurance, time and time again, that there would be no mention of names or even hints at names. I tried, however,
and tried hard, to get answers to these four questions:
1. What do you think about?
2. What do you think about outside your home and
3. Do you think as much as you did before you were
married and tied down to a house?
4. Are you satisfied that your mind is as alert now as
before you were married?
Mrs. K— was brought to the ’phone by a youngster who called loudly for “Maw.” She turned out to be deaf. I talked to her and finally I bellowed at her and then, as I was about to hang up, she said brightly “Just a minute, please.”
A man, presumably her husband, then answered. I
explained my call in detail and he listened attentively.
“Good Lord, lady!” he burst out, “whatever gave you the idea my wife could think?” He slammed the receiver down on the hook.
At any rate, I had glimpsed one masculine point of view of the problem.
Another woman, let us say Mrs. C., listened very attentively to my explanation, but on the first question, made her objection:
“I am very sorry but you are calling the wrong person. I am not a thinking woman. I am only a housewife.”
She spoke as if she were completely satisfied.
After a couple of hours of telephoning, I did find a victim who was willing to answer any and all questions.
When I asked her what she thought about, she replied that her home and family were her only real concerns. Her minor interests she listed in this order: bridge, the theatre, golf, dancing and novels.
She objected to the words ‘tied down’ in the third question. She assured roe that three children, a house and a husband did not restrict her activities.
“Then you are just as free as you were before you were married?” I asked her. “Absolutely,” was the reply.
“Will you tell me how you manage it?” I begged.
It turned out she had two maids, a cook and a highly efficient nurse. As far as mental alertness was concerned, the subject failed to arouse her. “I am very comfortable and I have a very good time,” was her final summing-up.
“That woman,” said Kaye, “is a lady of the past generation. I think the newly-married, modern girl is much too active a type to make comfort her great ambition.”
So Kaye took a turn at the ’phone and discovered Mrs. Y. who, as it developed, was a college graduate of '18, and had been an interior decorator for others before she directed her talents toward a home of her own. She gave the inevitable answer to the first question. Her home and family occupied her attention. To the second query, she answered, “Nothing.”
Then she went into details. “I don’t think nearly as much as I did before I was married. That is, my mind does not delve as much, if you know what I mean. I am always concerned with little family affairs. I used to worry about the condition of the world. Now I worry about Junior’s socks.
“I really never gave a thought to this before. But you have wakened me up. I believe I must be terribly tiresome to anyone not interested What Do You Think?
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in my home and my youngsters, for I talk about little else.”
At last, I had definitely located a fellows ufferer!
Mrs. M., whom I tackled next, had already discovered the problem and solved it. “My home and family are my chief interests of course,” she agreed, “otherwise I merely try to keep step with my husband’s brilliant mind. I try to absorb his tastes in books, plays, music and sports. In fact, I try to see everything through his eyes. I find that this stimulates my mind enormously. By matching my pace with his, I do far more for myself than I ever could accomplish singlehanded.”
Two Routes of Escape
BETWEEN ’phone calis, I discovered two women who were taking very seriously this business of escaping stagnation. I called on one, the mother of five children in a stolen half-hour between lunch dishes and mending. She was studying psychology! A correspondence course, no less, and what’s more, was planning to take a few lectures at a university next year.
“Since I started to keep a little corner of my mind ready for the lessons that the correspondence school sends me, I have become a different person,” she told me. “I’ll admit, to begin with, that I am shrewish by nature, but I’ve suddenly found myself more tolerant of things that used to enrage me. That’s partly, I suppose, because I am interested in something else—but I find my husband more entertaining and I’ve developed a blessed blindness towards the little things that used to be unbearably irksome.
“It has also developed my understanding of my children. It has helped me to keep pace with their alert, questioning minds. I feel nearer them all and now I have an outlet for suppressed mental activity, a sense of happiness and personal freedom that’s exhilarating to a degree.” The second of the two women came to my door, carrying a large basket containing a catholic assortment of food, ranging from doughnuts to roasted chicken. A door-to-door delicatessen is such an unusual thing that I questioned her.
“I like cooking,” she said. “In fact I like doing it better than anything else and I found that I was baking so much that my own family couldn’t keep up with me. So I got this idea of travelling around with the surplus. At first, I didn’t dare tell my husband about this, but one evening a customer ’phoned about refreshments for a party she was giving. I had to take down lists of sandwiches and so on. When the situation dawned on my husband he blew up. I showed him my bank book and he calmed down.
“Some people think canvassing from house to house is degrading but I like it. It’s funny how the work I do outside my home, helps the work I do inside.”
At an afternoon tea, I found it very easy to start two rather belligerent ladies on a discussion of women and thinking. “I don’t think a woman has any right to try and do a lot of thinking,” one of the pair wound up. “My experience has been that womenwho are always attempting to use their brains simply get themselves into unnecessary trouble. Thinking is all right for men, but I put my faith in feminine intuition.”
“It’s not that I care whether women in general think or not,” was the summary of the second, “as long as my own mind is kept as flexible and smoothly-running as possible. It’s as much a matter of principle with me as doing my daily dozen every morning. But that’s for myself alone. I don’t care what either of you do in the way of brain exercise so long as you don’t bore me to death.”
But to return to the telephone census. I continued till I had made one
hundred calls. The final results were surprising. Among the hundred were five single women. They were more than willing to try and imagine how a housemother feels. But that helped me not at all.
Of the remaining ninety-five, thirtythree refused to answer questions. Ten, either said, “Impertinence” or assured me that it was their own business whether they thought or not. I agreed with them but that didn’t help my search for knowledge.
The remaining fifty-two replies were divided as follows:
Question One: What do you think about?
Home and family or home......... 41
Home and friends................. 6
Home and church work............ 1
Home, books, theatres, etc........
Home and husband’s business...... 1
Question Two: What do you think
about outside your home and family?
No important outside interest...... 38
(One of these four included chari-
table work and another mentioned table work and another mentioned
Church and Charitable Work. . . . 7
Medley of interests including golf, books, bridge, dances, theatres, etc. 2 Study........................... 1
Questions Three and Four: Do you
think as much as you did before you were married? Are you satisfied that your mind is as alert now as before you were married?
“Don’t know,” “Can’t say for sure,” “Not certain,” or “Don’t quite
“Never thought of it before”....... 14
No—with reservations............. 4
“Worries more, thinks less”........ 1
The concensus of opinion seems to be that wives think—yes, but mechanically, and in a circle encompassing their home interests, with occasional ventures at the outside through popular novels, theatres, bridges and the movies.
And yet, it is generally believed that women are doing more thinking to-day than ever before. Some go so far as to claim that the modern women in business is keeping the male end of the establishment on its toes; that she’s setting the pace, and there’s nothing the matter with the gray matter of the average housekeeper and mother. She’s the same woman who was so smart at business before she married.
“Unless I pick myself out of this mess, I am going to be a good domestic automaton and nothing more,” I said to myself as I tabulated the results, “but at least there are a million more like me. In a few years, my husband can hire a servant or so to do my job just as efficiently as I do it. Worst of all, my daughter will grow up and wonder how she ever got such a dull mother. I simply must come to life.”
Choosing An Avocation
T DECIDED that everything has been made so easy for modern housewives that we really don’t have to contrive ways and means. A little turn of a switch and we have light or heat and a vacuum cleaner going full blast—not to mention the washing machine.
We take street-cars instead of walking. We go a step further and use motors in place of street-cars or we use the telephone and don’t move out of the house. Doctors, police, garages, everything in case of emergency or accident is at our finger-tips. Easy, oh, yes, and so dangerously mechanical. To become mechanical is to run in a groove that is well-worn.
It is so simple to work into that groove, making it deeper with every rotation. That, of necessity, leads to a singletrack mind with its accompanying mental slackness.
I decided that I must try to live in two worlds; to have my vocation and my avocation; to have in one hand, so to speak, the job of being a mother and all che various duties that it entails and, in the other, a pet hobby or outside interest.
Complications arise from too much absorption in domestic life just as they arise from too little attention to it. No man, for instance, however great his love for home, wants his wife to turn into a domestic or nurse. For husband and wife to meet on the same mental plane is stimulating to both of them.
Then, too, children are bound more closely to mothers whose minds are alert and sparkling; whose interests are growing with their childrens’ widening activities. Such mothers never become back numbers.
And lastly, there are so many queer little restlessnesses in a woman—which seem to have no apparent cause—that vanish when the magic of an outside interest is applied; dissatisfaction, irritability, all kinds of strange moods. Giving of your brain to some new idea will bring ample returns in personal satisfaction.
Anyhow, I now knew what I wanted. An outside interest, I was sure, was the cure for cobwebs on the brain and, when I checked them up, I found a surprising number of ways for women to utilize their i natural creative ability. This energy,
I formerly confined to the home and used j up in saving steps and expenses, now has a variety of outlets.
There is still the domestic outlet for the women who get a real thrill in cooking, sewing, planning dresses, doing embroidery or anything connected with the house. The women of the rural districts have demonstrated how effectively this outlet can be enlarged. Their kitchens are not only part of their houses but also experimental laboratories. They carry on extensive investigations into balanced diets and the mysteries of vitamins and calories. And what is really important, they get keen mental stimulus out of it.
There is the realm of the artistic. Women sing, write, play a musical instrument, paint or do folk dances, using their talents as a safety valve and mental stimulant.
The wife who is business-like by nature, who was personally successful in commercial life before marriage, can take an intense interest in her husband’s occupation. Sometimes, she finds the outlet she needs in budgets and expense-accounts.
And lastly, many women have a decided social bent. They get their fun and relaxation in activities which range from the giving of teas and bridges to forming clubs or doing settlement work.
Kaye and I went into conference on our own cases. We wanted to find some way of doing our home duties and keeping a hobby apiece in our respective attics at the same time. Well: Kaye plunged into her husband’s business affairs and I grabbed at the typewriter again.
Only a few nights ago, Kaye announced with pride that Phil had told her the day before that she knew just as much about his business as he himself—and what was more, he was beginning to say: “Now, Kaye, what do you think of this proposition—?”
Kaye says that she CAN think.
So you and I, who are the average garden variety of mother and housekeeper, should stop being soft, purring pussy cats beside a very comfortable and sleepy fire, and wake up. Even a few scratches and bits of flying fur are more than paid for afterwards.,
..Kaye, apd I are very happy. ;
«i Apd w# think,opr^amilies like us better.