On June 21, 2019, I was driving from southern California to Santa Fe. I took the back roads, and there weren't many cars, just the ululating Western mountains and big desert everywhere. I say this only to inoculate myself from criticism, because, true confession, I was reading on my phone. Even when cars zoomed past, I barely put the phone down. I had never read anything like this.
I was reading "Hideous Men," by E. Jean Carroll, subtitled Donald Trump assaulted me in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room 23 years ago. But he’s not alone on the list of awful men in my life.
The story of E. Jean Carroll’s rape by an American president is historic, but of greater import is the evolution in her thinking, a signpost in the culture and the minds of women. After Trump assaulted her, Carroll, who is now 80 (and looking fabulous!) did what we all do: she called her girlfriends. Her friends were writer Lisa Birnbach and TV host Cathy Martin.
Birnbach, best known as the author The Official Preppie Handbook, told her to go to the police. Martin warned her that Trump was too powerful to accuse of a crime, especially in New York, where power players like Trump have clout with the courts, cops, and, most of all, the media.
Carroll put the episode behind her, so she thought. Like many of us who had careers before #MeToo, Carroll was accustomed to ignoring men who acted like jerks. The fact that men had power and we didn't was just the way it was; you hardly even thought about it. Besides, the former Miss Cheerleader USA, was in the parlance of those days, a gutsy broad. She had taken acid with Hunter Thompson, persuaded Fran Lebowitz to go camping (!), hopped a freighter to Tangier, and trekked across Papua New Guinea. In her 70s, she lived alone in a cabin in upstate New York with a gun, a dog, and a lot of books.
And yet, after Donald Trump raped her in the Bergdorf Goodman dressing room, she never had another relationship with a man.
It was only after the news of womens' allegations against Harvey Weinstein surfaced in 2017 that Carroll looked back, seriously, at what had happened to her in 1996.
It is telling that when Carroll’s bombshell story came out, the New York Times relegated coverage to the Book Review, even though she was making a credible accusation of rape against the president of the United States. After the newspaper caught flak for burying the story, the Times did an excellent job, covering the entire narrative in the news section, where it belonged.
At the end of that New York Times story is an audio interview with E. Jean Carroll’s friends. It is an evocative portrait of female friendship. More than that, it's a compelling record of the historic shift in E. Jean Carroll’s thinking and our own.
Trump told the truth only once is this brutal, sociopathic narrative: E. Jean isn't his type. She's intelligent, well read, and she has class.
It all starts with E. Jean Carroll's own writing.
-- Susan Zakin
E. Jean Carroll
My first rich boy pulled down my underpants. My last rich boy pulled down my tights. My first rich boy—I had fixed my eyes on his face long enough to know—was beautiful, with dark gray eyes and long golden-brown hair across his forehead. I don’t know what he grew up to be. My last rich boy was blond. He grew up to be the president of the United States.
The first rich boy’s name was James. He was raped by his grandfather. He was raped by his uncles. He was beaten by his father. My mother told me the stories much later. When James was 6, he was taken away from his father and given to a rich couple, Arthur and Evelyn. Arthur and Evelyn were best friends with my parents, Tom and Betty. One day my parents gave a party. Everyone brought their kids. Arthur and Evelyn drove up from Indianapolis with James to the redbrick schoolhouse where we lived, deep in the hills north of Fort Wayne. As the parents drank cocktails in our big yard with the scent of the blooming wads of cash infusing every inch of Indiana just after WWII, the kids played up on the hill beside the schoolhouse.
James was 7 and a half or 8, a bloodthirsty, beautiful, relentless boy. He ordered everyone around, even the older kids. To me he said, “I’m going to shove this up you again.”
We’d played this game before. Our families had gone on a camping trip to Pokagon State Park, and I learned that an object could be shoved up the place where I tinkled. I don’t remember now what it was, probably a stick, or maybe a rock. It felt like being cut with a knife. I remember I bled.
“I don’t want to,” I said.
We were standing on the hill. James looked at me with his feral gray eyes.
He wadded up a piece of fabric — it was a light blue-violet shade and looked fluffy, like a bunched-up hairnet.
“Put this in your underpants,” he said.
He pulled up my dress and crammed the balled-up material down my pants. Late at night, when the guests had gone home, I took off my dress, pulled down my pants. And there it still was, the wadded-up thing.
James and I played so many ferocious games while camping that summer: hooking each other with fishhooks, holding each other underwater, tying each other up, shooting each other with cap guns, chasing each other with garter snakes, dumping hot embers on each other’s heads. I am not putting him on the Most Hideous Men of My Life List — whether he belongs there is for him to decide. It is his uncles, his father, his grandfather who belong on such a list.
Now, about this Most Hideous Men of My Life List: It is a list of the 21 most revolting scoundrels I have ever met. I started it in October 2017, the day Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey published their Harvey Weinstein bombshells in the New York Times. As the riotous, sickening stories of #MeToo surged across the country, I, like many women, could not help but be reminded of certain men in my own life. When I began, I was not sure which among all the foul harassers, molesters, traducers, swindlers, stranglers, and no-goods I’ve known were going to make the final accounting. I considered Matt Lauer, Bill O’Reilly, and the giant dingleberry Charlie Rose, all guys whose TV shows I was on many times and who made headlines during the rise of #MeToo. But in the end, they do not make my Hideous List.
Hunter S. Thompson … now, there’s a good candidate. I know. I wrote his biography. Does Hunter, the greatest degenerate of his generation, who kept yelling, “Off with your pants!” as he sliced the leggings from my body with a long knife in his hot tub, make the list? Naw.
And if having my pants hacked off by a man lit to the eyebrows with acid, Chivas Regal, Champagne, grass, Chartreuse, Dunhills, cocaine, and Dove Bars does not make the list — because to me there is a big difference between an “adventure” and an “attack” — who, in God’s name, does make my Hideous List?
After almost two years of drawing and redrawing my list, I’ve come to realize that, though my hideosity bar is high, my criteria are a little cockeyed. It is a gut call. I am like Justice Potter Stewart. I just know a hideous man when I see one. And I have seen plenty. For 26 years, I have been writing the “Ask E. Jean” column in Elle, and for 26 years, no matter what problems are driving women crazy — their careers, wardrobes, love affairs, children, orgasms, finances — there comes a line in almost every letter when the cause of the correspondent’s quagmire is revealed. And that cause is men.
Viz.: the man who thinks 30 seconds of foreplay is “enough,” the man who cheats on his wife, the man who passes women over for promotion, the man who steals his girlfriend’s credit cards, the man who keeps 19 guns in the basement, the man who tells his co-worker she “talks too much in meetings,” the man who won’t bathe, the man who beats his girlfriend’s dog, the man who takes his female colleagues’ ideas, the man who tries to kill his rich wife by putting poison in her shampoo. Every woman, whether consciously or not, has a catalogue of the hideous men she’s known.
As it turns out, a Hideous Man marks practically every stage of my life. And so, Reader, from this cavalcade of 21 assholes, I am selecting a few choice specimens. One or two may not be pleasant for you to read about, I apologize. But if we all just lean over and put our heads between our knees, the fainting feeling will pass. No one need be carried from the room.
E. Jean Carroll outside the courtroom
E. Jean Carroll tore through the doors of the Fifth Avenue entrance of Bergdorf Goodman, her heart racing.
Ms. Carroll, a journalist and the host of the “Ask E. Jean” television show at the time, had taped a segment that day in 1996 at a studio in Fort Lee, N.J. When it ended around 5 p.m., she decided to come into Manhattan to shop at her favorite store.
But what she was saying didn’t strike Ms. Birnbach as funny. “I remember her being very overwrought,” Ms. Birnbach said in an interview. “I remember her repeatedly saying, ‘He pulled down my tights, he pulled down my tights.’” When Ms. Carroll finished her account, Ms. Birnbach said, “I think he raped you.”
“Let’s go to the police,” she recalled telling Ms. Carroll. But Ms. Carroll refused. A day or two later, she described the episode to another friend, Carol Martin, a TV host at the same network. She advised Ms. Carroll to stay silent.“These traumas stay with you,” Ms. Martin said. “I didn’t know what to do except listen.”
Megan Garber writes that Carroll's memoir started off as humor, but "satire’s center proved unable, fully, to hold."
"You want gonzo? 'I stayed with Hunter two weeks the first time,' she recalls, 'and the second time about eight or nine days—before we got into a fistfight and I ran to the phone and dialed a taxi. When the nice lady dispatcher picked up, I screamed, Help! Help! Help! And she said, ‘Are you at Hunter’s?’”
E. Jean in Indiana. Never underestimate a cheerleader.
Brian's Straight Outta Bergdorf's Playlist
Oh Carol ::: Neil Sedaka
Rape Me ::: Nirvana
Dead Men Don’t Rape ::: Delilah Bon
Dressing Room ::: Scott Walker
Who The Fuck ::: PJ Harvey
Rape ::: Ed Sanders
Hideous Men ::: Japan Suicide
Bergdorf :::: Desto
Shopping For Clothes :::: The Coasters
Respect ::: The Vagrants