Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
The Eskimos have a hundred words for snow, and in our political culture, we need a hundred words for crazy. Fortunately, our language is as rich in the verbiage of madness as theirs is in frozen water vapor.
The exact word for E. Jean Carroll’s brand of crazy is dotty.
When the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, Elle columnist E. Jean Carroll decided to write, What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal. The book, only released two years later, accuses a long litany of “bad fellows” of having “done bad things to your advice columnist”. That’s the breezy “us girls” tone that fills Carroll’s book and helps explain why not even the most fervent Trump haters want to talk about it.
About the only recent media interview with Carroll comes from The Guardian which notes that the flagship Barnes & Noble bookstore in New York had tucked her book away “in a corner of the fourth floor in the women’s studies section”. The book sits way in the back at #4,701 at Amazon.
And that’s understandable.
If you’re a lefty and believe Carroll, then she knew that the new president was a rapist and instead of coming forward chose to keep it under wraps until she could package it in a gimmicky advice book that has her visiting towns named after women and discoursing cheerfully on the uselessness of men.
And if you don’t believe Carroll, then the whole thing is an even bigger train wreck. Hence the #4,701.
In The Guardian interview, Carroll leads Ed Pilkington around her cabin, replete with cheesy demonstrations of literary eccentricity, to a pearl-handled revolver lying by her bedside. The gun, it seems, is due to all the death threats by Trump supporters. But if she expects the Trump militia to burst in, why doesn’t she have the gun on her? Carroll’s story is full of such empty theatrical gestures.
What Do We Need Men For? is a feminist road trip brimming with the author’s zany madcap disdain for men while recalling her own misadventures at the hands of a long list of assorted hideous men.
Carroll claims to have endured a litany of sexual abuse and assaults, but, aside from an ex-husband, the famous people she names are all people whose sex scandals broke long before her book release. She shares a story about being assaulted by Les Moonves, the powerful CBS boss, which would have been extremely timely had she come forward with it in 2017, instead of a year after his disgrace.
Isn’t there a single famous person she could name who hasn’t been named before? Legions of anonymous men assault her, including a publicist, but no new #MeToo exposes.
What Do We Need Men For? might sell better if there were more media coverage. But Carroll tends to say unfortunate things in interviews. Like her insistence that she can’t describe the alleged assault by Trump as rape because it would be “disrespectful to the women who are down on the border who are being raped around the clock.” When she told Anderson Cooper that she couldn’t call it rape because “most people think of rape as being sexy”, CNN quickly cut to a commercial break.
“It’s the responsibility of the woman, too,” she assures The Guardian. “It’s equal. Men can’t control themselves.” And the interview, once again, ends shortly after an apologetic defense of her remarks.
But What Do We Need Men For? is in some ways even worse than the interviews. The interviews give us a filtered take on Carroll. The book is a horrible train wreck that makes the interviews redeeming.
There’s a reason that hardly anyone in the media has bothered to actually review it.
What Do We Need Men For? follows up on her past advice column books like A Dog in Heat is a Hot Dog and Mr. Right, Right Now! and using the same breezy style discusses all her many sexual assaults. Like her columns, the book is bouncily addressed to the nameless “ladies” reading her. “Women, you are fabulous”, she begins, before proposing to eliminate men entirely, namedropping Joan Didion, her Donna Karan outfit, and then transitions to a nameless rape attempt in college at knifepoint.
“Could I have foreseen the circumstances of a boy throwing me down and pushing my sweatshirt up to my chin, I would not have worn a padded bra,” Carroll writes.
And in the same cheerful tone, she wraps up two sexual assault attempts.
Except Carroll isn’t really chronicling sexual assaults, so much as a list of hideous men. The men aren’t necessarily rapists. One just tells her that she can’t park here. The list of hideous men also includes her, for coming on to one of her professors. It does not include Hunter Thompson, whose biography she wrote, and whom she describes as, “yelling, ‘Off with your pants!’ as he sliced the leggings from my body with a long knife in his hot tub” while “lit to the eyebrows with acid.”
But Thompson and the knife hacking incident don’t make the list because “to me there is a big difference between an ‘adventure’ and an ‘attack.’”
Having her pants hacked off is an adventure, but being told she can’t park here makes the list.
Carroll loves having “adventures”, even if they involve knives and acid, but hates parking restrictions. Thompson’s deranged behavior allowed her to inhabit the persona of a zany free spirit. But there’s nothing adventurous or exciting about being yelled at for parking in the wrong place.
That’s the moral compass of What Do We Need Men For? which carries on Carroll’s persona as a fun-loving empowered woman having her adventures occasionally interfered with by meanspirited men.
Some are rapists. And some just don’t want her to park here.
What Do We Need Men For? isn’t really about men or Trump. It’s an adventure story about E. Jean Carroll and her upbeat approach to life. It’s an advice column about never letting men get you down.
Carroll may be molested as a child, abused as a growing teen, and repeatedly assaulted by half the country, but she cheerfully swings off to her next adventure with a witty remark. It’s no wonder that no one in the media wants to review What Do We Need Men For? or talk about it. The spate of stories urging more coverage of it died down once its authors actually read the book they were talking about.
And then got very drunk.
Interviewers frequently emphasize that Carroll is from another generation, but her book actually has a close millennial counterpart in Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl. Both books chronicle grotesque sexual misadventures and alleged rapes, both by and to the protagonist, but are really about the author’s adventurousness and lack of boundaries. And both are horrible in very similar ways.
E. Jean Carroll loves self-dramatizing. The New York Times made a fitful effort to try and corroborate her story. Mostly the media didn’t even bother trying. Little interest has been shown in following up her accusations against the few people she names, ex-husband John Johnson, a prominent African-American journalist and documentarian, or a deceased girl scout director, because they aren’t Trump.
The media handled the Trump accusations gingerly. It would like them to hang around in the background without bringing too much attention to them because they don’t make much sense.
The scene of the supposed assault takes place in a Bergdorf’s department store where, in Carroll’s own words, “no one is present” even though she concedes that makes no sense and the dressing rooms would have been locked if there hadn’t been an attendant. It wouldn’t matter if there were tapes of it, she writes, because “the struggle might simply have read as ‘sexy.’”
The lines echo her comments to Cooper that “most people think of rape as being sexy”.
The passage concludes, strangely enough, with, “I have never had sex with anybody ever again.”
The trouble with the #MeToo movement has always been the impossibility of proving the objective truth of many of its accusations except through the sheer preponderance of numbers. The human mind is a strange place and some minds are stranger than others. E. Jean Carroll’s mind is quite strange. The task of psychological archeology of her stories has proven to be even beyond Trump’s biggest critics.
There are things wrong here. But the question of what things are wrong and why they’re wrong is unanswerable. The media hoped that E. Jean Carroll would help take down Trump only to realize that she inhabits her own reality which only loosely overlaps with their reality and our own. She’s a reliable heroine, but an unreliable narrator, whose preoccupation is entertaining her set with a witty story, not with chronicling actual events. That’s why What Do We Need Men For? is stuck on the fourth floor.
Carroll is too much even for the lefties who embrace the idea of “her truth” rather than objective truth.
We are all the heroes of our own story. Carroll’s story comes packaged in the cheerful tones of an advice column which describes child abuse and rape as something that happens to you on the way to a nice lunch. It’s wrapped in the hot pink cover and art deco font of a Sex in the City title, with endless references to fashion, popular literary pretensions, and her own empowering eccentricities.
We are entitled to our own stories. But we are not all entitled to be believed. Years after #BelieveHer became a trend, the media finally found someone whose story it wants to believe, but just can’t.