“You’re right,” Free said, shutting her eyes.
He blinked and sat back, cocking his head. “What did you say?”
“I said you were right,” Free repeated. “You’re right about all of that. If history is any guide, it will take years—decades, perhaps—before women get the vote. As for the rest of it, I imagine that any woman who manages to stand out will be a target for abuse. She always is.”
His eyes crinkled in confusion.
“What I don’t understand is why you think you need to lecture me about this all. I run a newspaper for women. Do you imagine that nobody has ever written to me to explain precisely what you just said?”
He frowned. “Well.”
“Do you suppose I’ve never been told that I’m upset because I am menstruating? That I would calm down if only some man would put a child in my belly? Usually, the person writing offers to help out with that very task.” She swallowed bile in memory. “Shall I tell you what someone painted on my door one midnight? Or do you want to read the letters I receive?” Free wrapped her arms around herself. “I am here, on the floor of my press, because I told a man I wouldn’t bed him, and so he burned my house down. So, yes, Edward. I know the obstacles women face. I know them better than you ever will.”
He exhaled harshly. “God, Free.”
“Do you think I don’t know that the only tool I have is my thimble? I’m the one wielding it. I know. There are days I stare out at the Thames and wish I could stop bailing.” Her voice dropped. “My arms are tired, and there’s so much water that I’m afraid it’ll pull me under. But do you know why I keep going?”
He reached out and touched her chin. “That’s the one thing I can’t figure out. You don’t seem stupid; why do you persist?”
She lifted her face to his. “Because I’m not trying to empty the Thames.” Silence met this. “Look at the tasks you listed, the ones you think are impossible. You want men to give women the right to vote. You want men to think of women as equals, rather than as lesser animals who go around spewing illogic between our menstrual cycles.” He still wasn’t saying anything. “All your tasks are about men,” she told him. “And if you haven’t noticed, this is a newspaper for women.”
—Courtney Milan, The Suffragette Scandal