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E. Jean Carroll on Trump, her book, and #MeToo

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What’s striking about E. Jean Carroll is how happy she is.

The journalist, author, and advice columnist recently wrote in New York magazine about the “hideous men” who have assaulted her in her life. The one that got the most attention was Donald Trump — Carroll writes that he sexually assaulted her in the dressing room of a Bergdorf Goodman department store in 1995 or 1996.

Since then, Trump has denied ever meeting Carroll (despite the fact that her story includes a photo of the two together), implied that she was working with the Democratic Party, and encouraged his supporters to dig up dirt on her. And Carroll’s story has become the subject of media controversy, as observers ask why the New York Times and other mainstream outlets didn’t cover it more aggressively.

Carroll seemed serene when we spoke by phone on Monday. She isn’t reading the social media reactions to her story (a lot of them are posts from bots anyway, she told me), and says she’s been in a “cocoon of love and support” spun by well-wishers since it was published.

She’s also coming off a kind of man cleanse. In 2017, she went on a road trip across the country, stopping only in towns named after women (example: Pearl, Mississippi), listening only to music by women, eating only in cafés with women’s names, even feeding her dog only Rachael Ray dog food. Along the way, she asked women a question: “What do we need men for?”

The question became the title of a book, released on Tuesday, of which the New York magazine story is an excerpt. What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal presents the findings from Carroll’s journey and proposes some solutions to the problem of men. (Her most serious, she says, is to send them all to a secret location for retraining.)

During what she calls her “manless trip,” Carroll says she learned some sobering things, like that a lot of women still can’t picture a woman leading this country. But she also had a lot of fun. As she put it in our conversation, which has been condensed and edited, “the world is a very, very merry place without men.”

Anna North

You went on an unconventional road trip for your book. How did that come about?

E. Jean Carroll

Well, I write the “Ask E. Jean” column in Elle magazine, and I’ve been writing it [since 1993]. I couldn’t help but notice the very first year I started it that the letters coming in from women, no matter if they were about their finances, their diets, their love affairs, their careers, there always came a line in almost every single letter where the cause of the woman’s problem was revealed. And that cause was what, Anna?

Anna North

A man?

E. Jean Carroll

Men. So, very quickly, I realized, “Boy, men cause a lot of problems.” Finally, two decades later, I thought, “We should just get rid of men. That would solve all of our problems.”

But then I thought, “Well, maybe we need them for something.” So I went on a road trip, got in my little Prius — her name is Miss Bingley. I took my dog, Lewis Carroll, and we went to towns named after women — like Cynthia, Indiana, and Marysville, Ohio, and Marianna, Arkansas, and Pearl, Mississippi — and got out of the car and said to perfect strangers, “What do we need men for?” The answers were pretty startling and very amusing and shocking.

Anna North

What were some of the answers that you got?

E. Jean Carroll

One of the most interesting women I spoke with was in Eudora, Arkansas, the catfish capital of Arkansas. She was a Cherokee woman.

Her immediate answer was she didn’t need men. Of course, if anybody looks for two minutes in the great history of Cherokee women, they have owned their own property for centuries. They have been able to divorce and marry at will. They approve all tribal leaders. They were so far ahead of the Caucasian women who came in and, of course, put them on reservations.

So this woman doesn’t need men. Her brother was there, and her brother said, “No, she doesn’t need men, and by the way, if anybody says a derogatory remark to her, she just clocks him. She just hauls off and smacks him.” That is the kind of woman that I got to speak with. When you get outside New York City, the world’s completely different.


Macmillan

Anna North

Did any of the responses make you think differently about any of your own experiences or about questions that you’ve gotten in your column?

E. Jean Carroll

Anna, a poem can change my perspective, or just seeing a message on my phone. I’m a wide-open person. I’m very empathetic. Everything can change me. I let experiences sink in deep. And, yes, of course. Just hearing women tell stories about why they don’t need men would remind me of the men in my own life. Of course, the day I started the trip was the day that Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor dropped their Harvey Weinstein bombshell in the Times. So the #MeToo surge was rolling across the country on the same time.

I was born during World War II, a member of the Silent Generation, so out working in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and boy, it was — I hate to say it was different, because it really wasn’t that different. It’s just that we handled it differently. If a man did something we didn’t like in the ’60s, we just hauled off and slapped him. But we didn’t change the culture that way, did we?

Anna North

Talk to me more about that. In the excerpt from your book in New York magazine, you talked about being a member of the Silent Generation, and you also talked about some commonalities that you saw with some of the women who came forward about Larry Nassar. What are the generational differences that you see when it comes to #MeToo? And then, also, what are the commonalities that you see across generations?

E. Jean Carroll

Well, the commonality is, no matter if it’s the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, we are living in a culture of sexual violence. It really has not changed one bit so far. That is the commonality. At least, this little hashtag, #MeToo, has come out from the shadows. For once, we are expressing the depths of the experience.

Now, I think it may start to make some changes. What do you think? Do you think this is going to make a difference?

Anna North

I think what has changed is that now there’s this enormous group, this groundswell of people who have come forward publicly. That means every time somebody comes forward publicly, they become part of this group. That’s a strength, and that didn’t use to exist in the same way. Even a few years ago, it didn’t exist.

Is that going to mean that fewer people are harassed or fewer people are assaulted? That I don’t know.

E. Jean Carroll

I don’t know.

Anna North

Is it going to mean that laws change? I don’t know.

E. Jean Carroll

I don’t know, because [more than a dozen] women have come forward with allegations against the president, and not one thing has changed, not one thing. As a matter of fact, the president’s base — the more women that come out, the more they adore him.

I took a risk because I thought it would help [other women] if I came forward. I’m glad I did. Women are coming up and showing enormous support and love, and it feels great. It remains to be seen on whether I affected his base.

Anna North

Talk to me a little bit about the reaction to your story. We’ve seen the reactions in the media, but have you gotten private messages of support? Have you gotten harassment?

E. Jean Carroll

It’s just been wonderful. It’s so heartening because I was very nervous about doing it, and then this outpouring. I’m just in a whirl of love and support. I couldn’t feel more buoyed and happy. I went through last week, which was an extraordinary week when the president is holding press conferences, and I was basically untouched just because I was in this cocoon of love and support, people coming up on the street — men and women, by the way. Not just women. It’s just been quite marvelous.

The reaction on the other side to the story was — you know this way more than I do because you’re with Vox Media — 40 to 50 percent of the reactions on Twitter and Facebook were from bots. What is it, 40 or 50? What’s the percentage?

Anna North

I don’t know the exact number, but I know it’s really high. [Research suggests up to 15 percent of Twitter accounts may be bots, though it’s unknown what the breakdown was among those who reacted to Carroll’s story.]

E. Jean Carroll

It’s really high. And, boy, I just stayed off it. Why would I read any of that stuff? Because it’s not real. It is not real.

What is real is asking the question, “What do we need men for?” It turned out to be a serious question, and the answers that women were giving me were serious. Their answers were, “We don’t need them. We love them. We love being with them. We love being around them. We just don’t want them to run everything.”

Anna North

I’m so curious. I think we’re at this point in #MeToo now where we can start talking even more about solutions and even more about systemic change. You were asking these women about toxic masculinity and the patriarchy. Did they have solutions? Did you find things we can use?

E. Jean Carroll

I come up with like five solutions. My most serious solution is we put them in a place. You’ll have to see where it is in the book. It’s a secret place. Then we send in the special retraining. Women who can’t live without the men while the men are being retrained, they get conjugal visits.

Then, in a couple years, they’ll come out and they’ll stop starting wars. They’ll put the toilet seat down. They won’t cheat. They’ll stop lying. It’ll be a much happier world. Let the women run things for a while. You saw all the great candidates we’ve got. We’ve got some great female candidates.

Anna North

We might see a woman running things. What do you think about that? Do you think we’re likely to see a woman in 2020?

E. Jean Carroll

Anna, where are you from?

Anna North

I’m from Los Angeles.

E. Jean Carroll

Okay. And you’ve driven across the country, right?

Anna North

I have.

E. Jean Carroll

Okay. You understand that when you go into the heart of the country, it’s not New York and it’s not LA. They don’t see women as leaders yet. They can’t picture it. One of the questions I asked women as I was going across the country is, “Name me five women you’d like to see running the country.”

Not one woman was able to come up with five women. Now, this was in 2017. It took 15, 16, 17 minutes for them to come up with a list, and then people like J.K. Rowling would be on it, Jackie Kennedy. I mean, they were naming dead women. They were naming Brits.

Anna North

That’s really interesting.

E. Jean Carroll

The world is not New York and LA. One of the women I talked to said, “Eve got what she deserved.”

Anna North

In your excerpt, you talk about your past as a cheerleader and how that has influenced your career as an advice columnist. Having been through this whole road trip, how would you cheerlead women right now? Several years into a Trump presidency with an election on the horizon, what’s the pep talk you would give all of us?

E. Jean Carroll

Here’s my pep talk: If we come together and if we all tell our stories and if we remain strong and if we all choose one great leader, one great female leader, we would change everything. We would change everything. But, apparently, that’s very hard.

So we keep on going. We keep on fighting. We never sit down. We always go on. The past is the past. We keep our chins up. And we go to the finish line. We’re going to get a woman in the White House if we all come together.

Anna North

And then, if you had advice or cheerleading for your younger self, in the Bergdorf’s in 1995 or 1996, or even before that, what would it be? What’s your time machine advice to you?

E. Jean Carroll

I wouldn’t give her any advice. She should give me advice. She was confident. She had some bad things happen to her, but what did she do? She got up and just went right on. Her chin was up and she was making jokes, and she just did it. I love that woman. She met some real assholes, and by God, here she is today — happy, satisfied, talking to you, Anna, and having a ball.



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