From October 2019: This is E Jean Carroll, who has this week accused Donald Trump of assault and rape. I’ve admired her column for years, and went on her The Most Hideous Men in New York Walking Tour last month. The photo below left was taken on 19 May 2019 in front of the former Studio 54 before the group broke up and E Jean and I went to a bar to talk about publishing. She’d taken us to Trump Tower, but didn’t breathe a word about what was coming in her new book. Read what the Columbia Journalism Review has to say.

Hidden figures are usually silent or silenced figures: the wives of great writers, the unnamed scientific collaborators. But on the Most Hideous Men in New York tour, we talked about another kind of silence. E. Jean has been writing the agony aunt column “Ask E. Jean” in Elle magazine since 1993. Since the tour had been written up in the New Yorker, I thought there might be a huge crowd. But as we gathered outside Bergdorf Goodman (photo above) on a glorious afternoon, I was relieved to see only about twenty-five or so, including a few men. There was even a family group: mother, father, daughter, son.

E. Jean took us from location to location, showing photos of the characters in the various stories that unfolded in locations in or near Fifth Avenue (she pointed out that she could do another tour around Wall Street). We heard mostly about media people and even went inside Trump Tower. The guards did not approach us as E. Jean supplied details told by the women who have accused the US president of sexual assault.
This was, of course, a #MeToo tour—Harry Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, and others—but E. Jean also took a broad view, so to speak, pointing out that women have been demeaned, harassed, and underpaid in every building we walked past. She also talked about the pay gap, for white women and for women of different ethnicities, a topic that came up the next day at the SupChina Women’s Conference.

Added March 2024, after some reflection on the defamation lawsuits and the huge settlements, and after writing a chapter on “#MeToo and Its Impact” (in which I did not write about E Jean):

During the E Jean Carroll defamation trial, Trump was asked if he thought what he said on the Access Hollywood tape was true. “Well historically that’s true with stars,” he said. “Unfortunately. Or fortunately.”

Most people flipped. Commentators quoted this outrageous statement. He was justifying sexual harassment and rape.

I thought otherwise. It seemed to me that that, excepting the word fortunately, may be the only true words I’ve ever heard from Joe Biden’s predecessor’s lips.

Not fortunately, but indeed historically. Stars – strongmen, famous men, powerful men – have often been able to do what they like, in war and with women. There are endless examples, but springs to mind is an incident in a novel in China, told without any sense of drama.

A Chinese emperor or princeling is walking through the Forbidden City, sees a pretty servant girl, pauses to have sex with her, and walks on with his retinue. Accurate? I don’t know, but I was struck by the way the author simply recorded the incident without comment. And, sad to say, it seemed credible to me that a ruler, who was in some sense considered to be a god, might have had absolute power over any women who crossed his path.

Nor would be it be a surprise that the woman would acquiesce. Women in subservient positions would be told what the boundaries were, and where there were no boundaries. They would be told that it was dangerous to deny men what they wanted. They would learn that there could be benefits in attracting powerful men.

And they might be told the story of an emperor who had fallen in love with a servant girl and raised her to the rank of concubine, or even greater. These things too have happened.

I wonder if anyone has interviewed the woman who greeted Trump so warmly on that Access Hollywood tape?

Even professional women have been told to use their “assets” – revealing cleavage, flirtatious behavior, and flattery – to succeed in the workplace. And some women have acquiesced, felt flattered by attention or seen opportunity in a powerful man’s interest, or simply accepted sexual innuendo and “touchiness” as a fact of life.

Fred Dutton, Democratic Party power broker, said, “There are more votes in virility than fidelity…. Kennedy was like a God, fucking anybody he wants to anytime he feels like it.” [From the book Grace and Power.]

This leads me to the Carroll case and why I feel uncomfortable about it.

I had been with E Jean and a group of mostly women at Bergdorf Goodman and in the lobby of Trump Tower in May 2019, shortly before her book, which led to the lawsuit, was published. It was a beautiful May day and we’d been circling the blocks just south of Central Park while she pointed out where various #MeToo events had taken place.

E Jean talked about the huge settlement one woman had got, and that made me cringe a little. Restitution is a good thing, but I was sure there were plenty of people who would calculate that it made sense to endure some harassment if that could be turned into millions of dollars. The idea that you would take your millions and not say a word to stop the harasser, whose targets would mostly be far more junior and less savvy, seemed wrong.

She’d hesitated outside Trump Tower before telling us that’s where we were (I had had no idea where Trump Tower was and there had been no mention of the then-president), and that we were going to go inside. It was a deep-breath moment. She dived throughout the doors, gesturing to us, no conversation inside and a quick return to the street. I assumed it was concern about security as well as knowledge that the then-president’s behavior was too well-known to get much attention that day.

I’d enjoyed E Jean’s advice column for a long time, only now and then of late but when I was younger I had subscribed to Elle for a time simply because I enjoyed her columns. I must have read it first at a hairdresser or dentist’s office soon after I returned to the US in the early nineties. I was a single mother juggling work and lovers, and though I wasn’t one to take anyone’s advice I liked the tone: acerbic, a little cynical, but in the end cautiously hopeful.

We’d exchanged a few emails over the years, and when I turned up on the tour she recognized me, and knew I was a writer and publisher. After the tour it seemed natural to suggest a drink, so we went to a bar on 59th Street and chatted for half a hour. A young Chinese woman joined us, wide-eyed about this new American way of looking at the world.

A few months later I bought the book and read the story about her shopping trip with the former president. How icky. I was disappointed by the revelations. E Jean the columnist would have given other advice to E Jean the rape victim. It bothered me that E Jean waited until Trump was well on in his term as president, instead of trying to do something to stop him earlier.

And what led her to tell the story at last? How could anyone deny that a rape charge against a president would get reviewers to notice a book? Or think that the author and publisher wouldn’t consider this? Of course it did and they did.

The saving of clothing with sperm on it? E Jean has said she left the coat-dress she was wearing when she was raped hanging on a door for years. How creepy is that? She has said she never had sex again with anyone. Again, this seems very strange to me.

Any violence is traumatic, but a lot of people deal with violence and trauma far worse than that. Trump is appalling but let’s keep that aspect of his behavior in perspective – he poses geopolitical risks to the whole planet, after all.

When I have expressed skepticism about #MeToo accusations, I’ve been told that I obviously never experienced harassment and have no empathy.

But that’s not true. I’ve experienced plenty, including a violent assault that left me bruised and battered.

It happened in Los Gatos, California on a summer evening at dusk. A man followed me back from the grocery store and jumped me, fortunately not waiting till we got to a long stretch without houses. He tore my clothes and banged my head on the ground, and I thought he was going to kill me and that I wasn’t getting any sound out. But I was screaming audibly. People heard it and came out to the street, took me inside, called the police.

It ended with a capture and a plea of attempted rape. My bruises took a week to heal.

Admittedly, it wasn’t someone I knew. I wasn’t raped. I had no long-term physical damage. And I moved on, a little more street-wise but otherwise unaffected. Does this make me different from most other women? I’ll bet it doesn’t.

My exchange at the time with a famous biographer, the late Deirdre Bair:

From: deirdre bair <deirdrebair@att.net>
Sent: Sunday, June 23, 2019 1:50 PM
To: Karen Christensen <karen@berkshirepublishing.com>
Subject: Re: The Most Hideous Men

What can i say about men that I didn’t write when I gave my own experiences in PL [her last book, Parisian Lives]. perhaps your recent experiences merit a “coming of age to feminism” discussion in your book. To use Places as points of departure in chapters could work nicely. Also, within each chapter, you could separate 3 sections: your two subjects and you. You could either write them as separate sections and see if they work, or else see if works to have observations about all as you are writing about the experiences of one.
Rushing now, just want to give you some thoughts.

On Saturday, June 22, 2019, 06:14:48 PM EDT, Karen Christensen <karen@berkshirepublishing.com> wrote:

Hi Deirdre,
Remember my going on The Most Hideous Men walking tour the day after the BIO conference? That was with E. Jean Carroll, Elle magazine agony aunt. She is the woman who is in the press this weekend, accusing Trump of assault in her new book. After the walk I suggested she and I have a drink and we sat and talked for a while with a Chinese woman who’d seen the tour on Meetup. I guess I should have bought her a second drink – maybe she’d have told us more about her book! We actually went inside Trump Tower on the walk.
I wonder if I am only now becoming a feminist. I was averse to seeing certain dynamics at play. Now, I notice male assumptions, men’s sense of entitlement. A battle I’m in with a state senator, about trains, now strikes me as being the result of his annoyance that a WOMAN is criticizing him.
I’ve been absorbed today in the idea of using place, starting with Patchin Place, to bring different parts of the story into alignment. Fortunately I had years in the West Village, 2007-2014.
You must feel relieved to be at home and able to think about your own work. I know I am, and I’m determined to set some things aside so I can get full value from this period. And dear god the Berkshires are beautiful.
Kxx

karen christensen's corona typewriter on t s eliot's desk

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