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Woman as Wife

from In Defense of Women by H. L. Mencken - 1922


from In Defense of Women by H. L. Mencken - 1922 - part of a collection of etexts related to women's history

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Woman as Wife - Marriage

This boredom of marriage, however, is not nearly so dangerous a menace to the institution as Mrs. Cox, with evangelistic enthusiasm, permits herself to think it is. It bears most harshly upon the wife, who is almost always the more intelligent of the pair; in the case of the husband its pains are usually lightened by that sentimentality with which men dilute the disagreeable, particularly in marriage. Moreover, the average male gets his living by such depressing devices that boredom becomes a sort of natural state to him. A man who spends six or eight hours a day acting as teller in a bank, or sitting upon the bench of a court, or looking to the inexpressibly trivial details of some process of manufacturing, or writing imbecile articles for a newspaper, or managing a tramway, or administering ineffective medicines to stupid and uninteresting patients—a man so engaged during all his hours of labour, which means a normal, typical man, is surely not one to be oppressed unduly by the dull round of domesticity. His wife may bore him hopelessly as mistress, just as any other mistress inevitably bores a man (though surely not so quickly and so painfully as a lover bores a woman), but she is not apt to bore him so badly in her other capacities. What he commonly complains about in her, in truth, is not that she tires him by her monotony, but that she tires him by her variety—not that she is too static, but that she is too dynamic. He is weary when he gets home, and asks only the dull peace of a hog in a comfortable sty. This peace is broken by the greater restlessness of his wife, the fruit of her greater intellectual resilience and curiosity.

Of far more potency as a cause of connubial discord is the general inefficiency of a woman at the business of what is called keeping house—a business founded upon a complex of trivial technicalities. As I have argued at length, women are congenitally less fitted for mastering these technicalities than men; the enterprise always costs them more effort, and they are never able to reinforce mere diligent application with that obtuse enthusiasm which men commonly bring to their tawdry and childish concerns. But in addition to their natural incapacity, there is a reluctance based upon a deficiency in incentive, and deficiency in incentive is due to the maudlin sentimentality with which men regard marriage. In this sentimentality lie the germs of most of the evils which beset the institution in Christendom, and particularly in the United States, where sentiment is always carried to inordinate lengths. Having abandoned the mediaeval concept of woman as temptress the men of the Nordic race have revived the correlative mediaeval concept of woman as angel and to bolster up that character they have create for her a vast and growing mass of immunities culminating of late years in the astounding doctrine that, under the contract of marriage, all the duties lie upon the man and all the privileges appertain to the woman. In part this doctrine has been established by the intellectual enterprise and audacity of woman. Bit by bit, playing upon masculine stupidity, sentimentality and lack of strategical sense, they have formulated it, developed it, and entrenched it in custom and law. But in other part it is the plain product of the donkeyish vanity which makes almost every man view the practical incapacity of his wife as, in some vague way, a tribute to his own high mightiness and consideration. Whatever is revolt against her immediate indolence and efficiency, his ideal is nearly always a situation in which she will figure as a magnificent drone, a sort of empress without portfolio, entirely discharged from every unpleasant labour and responsibility.

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