Opinion | E. Jean Carroll and the value of a woman ‘past her prime’


Carroll got her break in journalism in the 1980s, at a time when few women were doing the kind of first-person stunts for magazines like Rolling Stone and Esquire like she was. Her assignments often placed her in precarious situations: hiking in the mountains of Papua New Guinea for a Playboy article, “In Search of Primitive Man,” or in a hot tub with Hunter S. Thompson, who cut off her clothes with a knife. (She has said they were “semi-intimately involved” and They made acid together.)

Part of what made her so good at the job was her thick skin, her unflappable nature (character traits that would come back to haunt her) and part of that was her willingness to be outrageous, to do anything for history. But as any good advice columnist knows, people contain multitudes; They can push boundaries in some aspects and adapt to current standards in others.

During the first trial, Trump’s lawyers focused on these contradictions. Why, her lawyers asked, peppering her with questions to the point of tears, did she not scream when Trump attacked her? Why didn’t she file a police report or visit a therapist? How could he have laughed on the phone with her friend Lisa Birnbach, whom Ms. Carroll called that day to tell her what had happened and that she didn’t tell anyone for more than 20 years?

“I was born in 1943. I am a member of the silent generation,” Ms. Carroll testified. “Women like me were taught and trained to keep our heads up and not complain.” She didn’t scream in the dressing room of that department store, she said, because she “didn’t want to make a scene.” She laughed when Trump attacked her because “laughing is a very good (I use the word ‘weapon’) way to calm a man down if she has any erotic intentions.” She returned to Bergdorf Goodman, repeatedly, to prove a point: It was her favorite store and she wasn’t going to let him take it away from her, something I witnessed when I first met her, on a corner, ago. three days. After the accusation, she took me by the hand and led me to where it happened. As Birnbach said when she testified at the first trial, Carroll is the kind of person who “puts on lipstick, dusts it off, and moves on.”

Which is exactly what he did for more than two decades. Even after she was presented in 2019, Ms. Carroll was hesitant to call herself a victim or her rape a rape. The first time I interviewed her she couldn’t say the word out loud; She whispered it to me from across the table. “I like the word ‘fight,’” she told me. “That’s how I like to say it. It’s not a rape. For me it’s a fight, because I didn’t just stand there.” She was not part of a generation of women who screamed about her miscarriages or spoke out loud about her assaults.

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