“For what?” Rodney wanted to know.
“For what women want,” said Jane. “Economic independence, equality, easy divorce—all the new stuff.”
“I’m not against it,” Rodney said, “any more than I’m against to-morrow being Tuesday. It’s going to be Tuesday whether I like it or not. But that conviction keeps me from crusading for it very hard. What I’m curious about is how it’s going to work. When they get what they want, do you suppose they’re going to want what they get?”
“I knew there was something deadly about your grin,” said Jane. “What are you so cantankerous about?”
“Why, the thing,” said Rodney, “that sours my naturally sweet disposition is this economic independence. I’ve been hearing it at dinner tables all winter. When I hear a woman with five hundred dollars’ worth of clothes on—well, no, not on her back—and anything you like in jewelry, talking about economic independence as if it were something nice—jam on the pantry shelf that we men were too greedy to let them have a share of—I have to put on the brakes in order to stay on the rails.
“We men have to fight for economic independence from the time we’re twenty, more or less, till the time we die. It’s a sentence to hard labor for life; that’s what economic independence is. How does that woman think she’d set about it, to make her professional services worth a hundred dollars a day—or fifty, or ten? What’s she got that has a market value? What is there that she can capitalize? She’s got her physical charm, of course, and there are various professions besides the oldest one, where she can make it pay. Well, and what else?”
“She can bear children,” said Jane. “She ought to be paid well for that.”
“You’re only paid well,” Rodney replied, “for something you can do exceptionally well, or for something that few people can do at all. As long as the vast majority of women can bear children, the only women who could get well paid for it would be those exceptionally qualified, or exceptionally proficient. This is economics, now we’re talking. Other considerations are left out. No, I tell you. Economic independence, if she really got it—the kind of woman I’ve been talking about—would make her very, very sick.”
“She’d get over being sick though, wouldn’t she,” said Rose, “after a while? And then, don’t you think she’d be glad?”
Rodney laughed. “The sort of woman I’ve been talking about,” he said, “would feel, when all was said, that she’d got a gold brick.”
Rose poured his coffee with a steady hand. They were in the library by now.
“If that’s so,” she said, “then the kind of woman you’ve been talking about has already got a profession—the one you were just speaking of as—as the oldest. As Doctor Randolph says, she’s cashed in on her ankles. But maybe you’re mistaken in thinking she wouldn’t choose something else if she had a chance. Maybe she wouldn’t have done it, except because her husband wanted her to and she was in love with him and tried to please. You can’t always tell.”