There is something the matter with the home. It may be merely the subtle decay which, in birth beginning and in death persisting, escorts all things human and perchance divine. It may be decay assisted by the violence of a time unborn and striving through novelty toward its own end, or toward an endlessness of change. But, whatever the causes, which interest little a hasty generation, signs written in brick and mortar and social custom, in rebellion and in aspiration, are not wanting to show that the home, so long the center of Anglo-Saxon and American society, is doomed. And, as is usual in the twentieth century, as has been usual since the middle of the nineteenth, woman is at the bottom of the change. It is women who now make revolutions. A hundred years ago it was men who made revolutions; nowadays they content themselves with resolutions. So it has been left for woman, more animal, more radical, more divinely endowed with the faculty of seeing only her own side, to sap the foundations of what was supposed to be her shelter.
I do not suppose that the household has ever been quite as much of a shelter for women as the Victorian philosophers said, and possibly believed; an elementary study of the feminist question will certainly incline the unprejudiced to see that the home, which has for so long masqueraded in the guise of woman’s friend, has on the whole been her enemy; that instead of being her protector it has been her oppressor; that it has not been her fortress, but her jail. Woman has felt in the home much as a workman might feel if he were given the White House as a present, told to live in it and keep it clean without help on two dollars a week. If the home be a precious possession, it may very well be a possession bought at too high a price–at the price of youth, of energy, and of enlightenment. The whole attitude of woman toward the home is one of rebellion–not of all women, of course, for most of them still accept that, though all that is may not be good, all that is must be made to do. Resignation, humility, and self-sacrifice have for a thousand generations been the worst vices of woman, but it is apparent that at last aggressiveness and selfishness are developing her toward nobility. She is growing aware that she is a human being, a discovery which the centuries had not made, and naturally she hates her gilded cage.
Woman is tired of a home that is too large, where the third floor gets dirty while she is cleaning the first; of a home that cannot be left lest it should be burglared; of a home where there is always a slate wrong, or a broken window, or a shortage of coal. She is tired of being immolated on the domestic hearth. One of them, neither advanced nor protesting, gave me a little while ago an account of what she called a characteristic day. I reproduce it untouched:
THE DAY OF A REALLY NICE ENGLISHWOMAN
8 A.M.–Early tea; rise; no bath. [The husband has the only bath, and the boiler cannot make another until ten.]
9 A.M.–Breakfast. [The husband takes the only newspaper away to the office.]
9.30 A.M.–Conversation with the cook: hardness of the butcher’s meat; difficulty because there are only three eatable animals; degeneration of the butter; grocery and milk problems.
Telephone.–A social engagement is made.
Conversation with the cook resumed: report on a mysterious disease of the kitchen boiler; report on the oil-man; report on the plumber.
Correspondence begun and interrupted by the parlor-maid, who demands a new stock of glass.
Correspondence resumed; interrupted by the parlor-maid’s demand for change with which to pay the cleaner.
Rush up-stairs to show which covers are to go.