“This tour is not for the cowardly!,” E. Jean Carroll warned the twenty women gathered at the square between New York City’s Bergdorf Goodman department store and the Plaza Hotel on the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend. Holding a white banner announcing the afternoon’s agenda: “Most Hideous Men in NYC Walking Tour,” the longtime Elle columnist and author of What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal added, “For twenty-six years I’ve been answering questions from women complaining about men. If you think we’re being unfair to men, get the hell out!” Her words were underscored by the ‘toot-toot’ of a trombone at nearby Pulitzer Fountain.
Carroll is conducting these 90-minute, bi-monthly tours through October 6th, and it is free, as the invitation reads: For 10,000 years women have been paid less than men. They don’t have to pay for THIS!. Although, participants are encouraged to bring snacks.
While our fearless leader was clearly kidding with her mock-angry introduction, she’s serious as a tornado about wanting sexual predators to be held accountable for their actions. In her new book Carroll, who in 2004 published, Mr. Right, Right Now! Man Catching Made Easy, finally comes out about her rage toward the 20 occupants of what she calls “The Most Hideous Men of My Life List.” The most infamous member, No. 20, is Donald Trump who, she writes attacked her in a dressing room at Bergdorf’s in 1996. Trump denied it, responding, “She’s not my type.”
One year later, then CBS Chairman and CEO Les Moonves, No. 15 on Carroll’s list, allegedly groped her in an elevator after she interviewed him for Esquire.
During my pre-tour interview with Carroll, conducted while sitting on the steps of the fountain, I felt the 75-year-old’s eyes blazing behind her sunglasses as she explained why she kept quiet for decades about the multiple abuses she’d endured. “I’m a member of the silent generation. We were trained from babyhood to chin up and smile and get past it…”
She sighed, “The silent generation changed many things but not the culture of sexual violence.”
As a grinning millennial carrying a plastic container of chocolate covered pretzels bore down on us, Carroll added, “I have nothing to lose naming names. I’m an old woman. If I were a mother in Mississippi or Ohio or Kansas holding down two jobs, reporting my overseer at the factory could lead to a terrible shift, being knocked down in pay, or even fired. “ She snorted, “What am I going to lose – my reputation?”
That reputation went clearly through the roof for the acolytes on her tour. Ranging in age from the early 20s through the 60s, they were united in their gratitude at scoring a ticket to this sold-out event. The group included a forty-something from St. Louis, a mother and daughter from Kansas City and a Manhattanite in bright red shorts whose boyfriend sent her the link, thinking she’d enjoy the tour. Another participant explained why she’d signed on: “E. Jean is taking an abstract idea and lining it up in the social structures that perpetuate abuse.”
As we turned our attention to the revolving doors of Bergdorf’s, Carroll boomed, “So many women in New York have been scrunched, thumped, pummeled, banged and ‘rogered’ by men, it is difficult sometimes to keep them all straight. So I will be referring to notes.”
Her typed and bound together notes included photo-copied pictures, which she held above her head as each hideous man was discussed and dispatched. Carroll mentioned that several non-cowardly men have partaken of this tour – “police investigators, lawyers, an FBI agent, a detective who wore a beanie…”
Our first stop yielded meaty material: Trump (Carroll didn’t use the word rape and said of course she still shops at Bergdorf’s – “it’s the greatest store in the world”), plus a current lawsuit against The Plaza brought by a group of female employees who Carroll recited from her notes, “Say they have been grabbed, groped, or pushed into rooms.” “If you don’t feel nauseous yet, you will,” Caroll added, as she directed us to look eastward toward Jeffrey Epstein’s mansion located in the East 70s. After recapping his crimes, she asked how many felt the prison ‘suicide’ of the convicted sex offender was really murder. A majority of women raised their hands. “Who do you think ordered him killed?” Carroll asked, while showing various photos of Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and Queen Elizabeth. “Don’t forget Prince Andrew was implicated,” she warned.
We then walked onward to Tiffany & Co., where Carroll educated us about a lawsuit initiated in the 1990s by Paula Smith, after its Head of Estate Jewelry was fired for reporting a male colleague who complained she was too aggressive. Smith won the largest settlement to date from the New York State Division of Human Rights ($365,000).
As Carroll announced that the next stop on the tour would be Trump Tower, she quickly added, ‘I’ll meet you there,” and loped off, her trim figure sheathed in a black shirt and short green and black pleated skirt trailing down to sneakers tied with oversized black bows disappearing down Fifth Avenue.
Outside the 69-story skyscraper, home to the escalator where the improbable campaign began, Carroll highlighted Trump and the 24 accusations of sexual impropriety against him, including the one issued, then retracted by Ivana Trump, his first wife. “The 1990 court deposition said the night he raped her was the first time Donald’s penis was inside Ivana in more than 16 months,” she reported. Carroll also wanted us to know that The Plaza ran most efficiently when Trump’s first ex-wife-to-be oversaw its renovation in the early nineties. While she did an excellent job, Trump nonetheless bankrupted the hotel in four years.
The subsequent turn in the conversation made it clear why it was essential to bring and share sustenance (I was partial to the shortbread and pistachio nuts). Carroll chewed a Gin Gin as she asked, “How much do women in New York make on the dollar compared to men?” Answer: White women, 87 cents; African American women, 57 cents, Latina women, 49 cents.
Her follow-up statement, “Let’s come up with a solution to the pay disparity,” led to thoughtful answers. The woman who’d signed up for the tour to witness the role of social structures behind sexual abuse suggested: “Radical pay transparency – us being open about what we earn.” A chorus of “Yeses” were followed by iPhone scribblings at the mention that blogger Alison Green created a popular anonymous google doc spread sheet for women to share their salaries. Another suggestion, which was enthusiastically received, was to network on best strategies to win raises.
In just a few hours since this tour began my pondering on why Carroll designed this on-the-surface lighthearted experience morphed from making money and/or selling books (she mentioned her latest book, What Do We Need Men For?, just once), to keeping the post-#MeToo fire not just alive but ablaze. Her true goal was not to provoke male bashing but to encourage ongoing activism geared to changing the political tilt-a-whirl that keeps knocking women down, and backwards. During our discussion at the Pulitzer Fountain, Carroll offered, “I like men a lot…I just don’t want them running everything…they never listen!”
Sure, there was plenty of snark and fury as the tour participants walked and chewed our way to venues including St. Patrick’s Cathedral (in 2018, abuser of boys Cardinal Theodore McCarrick became the first Cardinal in 2000 years forced to step down from the College of Cardinals) and Rockefeller Center (a ‘Hideous Man’ motherlode with Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Bill Cosby taking their turn in the pantheon of fallen male idols). However, Carroll, who once wrote for Saturday Night Live, deemed former cohort Al Franken “the least pervy guy I’ve ever met. We need to be careful with accusations!”
The mood was somber when Carroll asked anyone who had never been assaulted to raise her hand. Only two sets of hands lifted. “Four in five rapists go free,” she responded. More often, though, shoots of energy raced through us as Carroll paid tribute to those who worked hard to bring down powerful abusive men – i.e.: NY Times reporters Jodi Cantor and Megan Twohey. The most effusive praise went to the New Yorker ’s Ronan Farrow.
The tour’s last stop was The Roundabout Theater, former site of the legendary and almost-impossible-to-gain-entry into nightclub Studio 54. Carroll informed us, “Kevin Spacey, now accused of sexually abusing young men, was a dweeb but he got in by entertaining the guards with celebrity impressions.”
The blocks this tour encompassed represent the City’s patriarchal power centers – home to churches and media stations where, as Carroll pointed out, “secrets are held and information is controlled.” After nearly two hours in, no one, not even Carroll, was in a hurry to part. Hugs and emails were exchanged. More ideas on how to change the system were discussed.
Before Carroll parted she smiled, patted the “Hideous Men in NYC Tour” banner now resting under her arm, and with a final wave disappeared as she walked down 7th Avenue.
About the author: Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW is a NYC-based psychotherapist, editor of the anthology HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL? True Confessions From Both Sides of the Therapy Couch and contributor to The Cut, Washington Post and vox.com.