This passage is from The Children's Bach by Helen Garner

They sat in the high seats at the back of the bus, and Poppy sank into her book. Up at the front sat a European woman in her forties, dressed in a satin suit and high-heeled shoes as if for an outing. Elizabeth could not work out her relationship to the two men she appeared to be with, who were conversing in the seat opposite. As the bus swung round into Russell Street, one of the men tossed a piece of screwed-up paper on to the high shelf of the woman’s breasts. She looked down very slowly, and very slowly she picked the rubbish off her bosom; she was smiling with humiliation. Elizabeth stood up to walk down the bus to the door, with Poppy stumbling after her, still reading. The woman looked up at Elizabeth as she passed. They held eyes. The woman made the grimace, and Elizabeth returned it: corners of the mouth go down, head tilts to one side, shoulders come up in a shrug: are they worth it? It was a secret showing of badges, of scars. Had Poppy seen? It would contaminate her. But Poppy was finishing a chapter. She kept a grip on Elizabeth’s sleeve and forged down the page with her eyes. Her feet were braced well apart on the jolting floor.

Does "they" in the sentence "are they worth it? It was a secret showing of badges, of scars" refer to "two men", and does the whole sentence mean "are that two men worth it that the woman demean herself? and with grimacing Elizabeth and that woman were showing secretly their defeats and victories in their relationship with men"?

  • Crossposted and answered on ELL. If you're completely satisfied with that answer, perhaps you could delete this question, since most of an answer here would probably be repeating that one. Or you could wait for a more "Literature"-focused answer here.
    – bobble
    Aug 29 '21 at 14:26

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