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Author E. Jean Carroll on Her Feminist Road Trip Across America: Women Who Travel Podcast

When we heard that E. Jean Carroll—the same E.

Jean behind Elle’s long-running advice column, Ask E. Jean—had recently embarked on a road trip through the midwest, only visiting towns named after women, we knew we had to give her a call.

But when we heard it was all in search of an answer to the very specific question “what do we need men for?” we just couldn’t wait. This episode, we talk through E.

Jean’s love of road trips (she once drove around the U.S.

to stay at all of her exes homes for Esquire), how people responded to her question along the way, and the answers that she found. It’s truly a ride.

A massive thanks to E. Jean for calling in from her home in upstate New York and thanks, as always, to Brett Fuchs for engineering and mixing.

Check back every Tuesday for the latest installment of Women Who Travel. To keep up with our podcast each week, subscribe to Women Who Travel on Apple Podcasts or Spotify and if you have a minute to spare, leave a review—we’d love to hear from you.

Read a full transcription of the episode below.

Lale Arikoglu: Hi everyone.

This is Women Who Travel, a podcast from Condé Nast Traveler. I’m Lale Arikoglu and with me, as always, is my co-host, Meredith Carey.

Meredith Carey: Hello, everyone.

LA: And this week’s guest is, well, a bit of a legendary one.

E. Jean Carroll is a journalist, author, and the beloved advice columnist behind Elle magazine’s long-running column, Ask E.

Jean, and most recently, she hit the road and traveled the country to ask women living in towns named after women one big question, which is, what do we need men for? Her experiences are chronicled in her new book called, of course, What Do We Need Men For?, throughout which she exposes the hideous men she encounters and reflects on the many more hideous men she’s had to face throughout her lifetime, including one President Donald Trump, who she vividly describes as sexually assaulting her in New York’s Bergdorf Goodman in the 1990s.

Since New York Magazine excerpted a section detailing the encounter, she has barely left the news cycle this summer, and we are so thrilled to talk to you, E.

Jean, and thank you so much for taking the time to join us this afternoon.

E.

Jean Carroll: Thank you, Lale, hello, Meredith. I’m so happy to be here.

LA: We’re so happy to have you. This is so exciting.

We’ve been telling everyone in the office all week that we were going to speak to you today.

EJC: Oh, thank you!

MC: So I am curious to get to the book you just wrote because I’m curious how you got the idea to go with a road trip to start with.

Had you taken a lot of road trips throughout your life? Was that something that you had always had a relationship with?

EJC: Oh, Meredith. Well, as you said in the introduction, I write the Ask E.

Jean column in Elle, and I’ve been writing it for 26 years, and Meredith and Lale, over the last 26 years, I’ve noticed that almost every single letter sent by a woman—whether she’s complaining about her finances, her career, her love life, her children, her religion—there comes a line in almost every single letter where the cause of her problem is revealed, and that cause is men. So for years, I’ve been telling women how to get rid of them, you know, here are the steps you do to get rid of a man.

Of course, then I had to end up telling them how to get them back. But anyway.

So I got tired of telling women how to get rid of men, and I thought, “Why don’t we just get rid of the buggers? Just get rid of the sex entirely?” And I thought, “Well, that’s a really good idea, but let’s find out if we need men for anything.”

So I got in my Prius with my dog, Lewis Carroll, and we went to towns named after women, and when we arrived in a town named after a woman, I would jump out of the car and say, “Hey, what do we need men for?” And I’ve heard you talk about this on your show several times.

I went down the middle of the country. I went to Marianna, Arkansas, and Tallulah, Louisiana, and Marysville, Ohio, and Meredith, Lale, you have talked about the beauty of the middle of America.

It is breathtaking.

And I talked to women who’ve been ignored forever.

Nobody goes into Arkansas to ask women, “What do we need men for?” And they couldn’t wait to answer me, and to help me out, and give their reasons, so it was a great road trip. Great road trip.

LA: So firstly, I just want to point out that the Prius had a name, correct?

EJC: Yes, the Prius is a 2010 Prius, and I painted—hand-painted—big blue polka dots on it, and the Prius’s name is Miss Bingley, named after the mean girl in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

LA: I’m just in love with it.

Love with it.

EJC: Oh, I love that book.

I’ve done Pride and Prejudice over 20 times, but I’ve also done Persuasion like 20 times and Emma 20 times.

LA: Oh, Persuasion was the one I could never get through, but-

EJC: What?

LA: That’s a conversation for another time.

We could go out for a cocktail and talk about it.

EJC: Well, you understand, one of the greatest road trips of all time occurs in Pride and Prejudice.

One of the great road trips, when they go to look at the lakes, and where Elizabeth Bennett gets in the carriage with the Gardiners and they go to see Pemberley, remember?

LA: Oh, I remember vividly.

EJC: Yes, that’s a road trip to end .

..

There’s no road trip that’s as brilliant as that road trip. So on my little road trip, I only wore clothes designed by women, and I only listened to songs sung by women, and I only listened to audiobooks by Agatha Christie, I only ate in cafes named after women, and I only fed my dog Rachael Ray dog food.

MC: What was the research process like to make sure that you hit all of those notes? Because finding, especially when you’re in an unfamiliar area, where towns are far apart, finding somewhere to stop, let alone a place specifically that works within that framework, is difficult. How did you even start there?

EJC: Oh, Meredith, that’s the fun part.

You have all sorts of great suggestions for road trips, and if I may call in with my suggestion, if you give yourself an impossible goal for a road trip, it makes it twice as fun. It really does.

That was an impossible goal to hit every town named after a woman from Cynthiana, Indiana to Tallulah, Louisiana. That was what I wanted to do.

And by God, I think I almost pulled it off. But it’s hilarious to have that kind of goal.

One time I went on the road and visited all my old boyfriends, and I stayed with them, the wives did not appreciate. One time, for Outside magazine, I only went to towns named Eden, and I got out of the car and asked these poor people in Eden if they’d ever made love outside and that I wanted to take a picture of it.

MC: In that Garden of Eden in the Midwest?

EJC: Yes.

LA: So good.

EJC: And do you know who immediately copped to it and said yes they had? An Amish couple. In Eden, Pennsylvania.

Of course they’d made love outside. They love sex.

It’s God’s gift. It’s God’s gift.

They’re making love outside all the time up there in Pennsylvania. Eden, Pennsylvania.

LA: Well, you haven’t got that much else to do if you’re Amish, so.

EJC: Right.

Where are you guys? Are you in New York?

LA: We’re in New York, yeah. We’re downtown.

EJC: Lale and Meredith, I swear to God, get in the car and go to Eden, Pennsylvania. It’s in Lancaster County, and the Amish with their beautiful carriages.

The women‘s outfits are so beautiful. The handsomest men I’ve ever laid eyes on.

Big, tall, strapping, healthy young blokes, and I ate that up. And I particularly liked talking about sex with the Amish.

I like it.

On the What Do We Need Men For? road trip, that was 4,099 miles, and I was gone for a little over a month because I ate it up.

Once you come into a town, a little screen door town, where people have never talked to an outsider and then some lunatic jumps out of a polka-dot car with a dog whose got an electric blue flat top and says, “What do we need men for?” They don’t really want you to go. They want you to stick around and talk.

MC: No, totally. I’m curious, when you jumped out of the car, you said that people were really willing to talk to you.

What were people’s reactions, women‘s reactions? Who surprised you the most in being open to talk?

EJC: Every single one of them was open to talk, and the third word was out of my mouth, “Do you mind if I video this?” Because instead of taping people or taking notes, I just asked if I can video it. You’re both journalists.

Nobody ever said no. So instead of transcripts, I came home with videos of these wonderful, wonderful women.

The thing is, they wanted to help me out. They wanted to tell me what they need men for.

And a lot of them, of course, don’t need men because this is the 21st century, we’ve figured almost everything out. But it turns out that they really love men.

We just don’t want them to run everything. Right?

LA: Exactly.

EJC: You know, we’re sick of them running everything! And we can do everything ourselves. So it was wonderful to talk to women who had been ignored by both coasts for what, 300 years? And I talked to all ages, all races.

I did not talk to one woman over 65 years old who had a good reason why she wanted men. Every single one, they all said nothing.

Every single woman over 65 said no. The younger ones who are having hot, tempestuous love affairs wanted them for sex.

And then the middle-aged—I’m making a generality here—middle-aged wanted them for companionship and for support, and to go on trips with, et cetera, et cetera. And to cuddle with on the couch.

But when it came right down to it, we can do everything ourselves. Even the farm women in Missouri.

You’ve seen the vast farms in Missouri. These are women who could work the farms by themselves, and they just wanted their men because they like men.

That’s it. So it was an interesting question to ask.

It was a serious question. Women took it seriously.

The men took it seriously. And while I was traveling, of course, as women were telling me some of their stories about men, some of them were hair-raising, then I started to remember certain hideous men in my own life and I started a list on my little car trip.

And then, that’s part of the book. A lot of the book is about the trip, the road trip; the great, hilarious road trip.

And the other part is this list of the most hideous men in my life.

LA: I’m wondering when you were on this trip, and you were having these conversations with other women of all ages and of all experiences and reflecting on all these hideous men that you have encountered over the years, did you find yourself remembering experiences that maybe you hadn’t thought about for a long time?

EJC: Totally, yeah.

You know, I’m a happy person. I’m a very happy person.

The reason I’m happy is something happens to me, I have it happen to me, I put it behind me, and I move on, chin up. Seeing as how that’s been my way of being a happy person, to start to recall.

..

It’s not that I buried them. I never bury anything.

But to have it come up again was pretty surprising. And not long after I got home, I sat down, looked through my notebooks and made the final list.

And that took me about, I don’t know, 25 minutes. And it was shocking who was on the list, because I was making a list as I was driving, but to see who actually made the final list, that was pretty shocking.

LA: When you went into the trip and you planned it, it was right around the time the Weinstein hit the news from what I recall.

EJC: Yes! Yes, yes, yes! You’re exactly right.

The day Lewis and I walked out, got in Miss Bingley and left my little island, that was the very day Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor—let’s genuflect at those names, ladies—dropped the Harvey Weinstein bombshell in The New York Times. And the world shifted.

The world shifted. Remember that night? Remember the stories started on Twitter.

Remember that?

LA: Oh, I remember.

EJC: And then it grew and then the surge started.

And so every night ..

. I was pulling over trying to get out of just my backyard on the road trip, but I couldn’t.

I had to keep pulling over and reading more and more and more. Twitter, the reaction to that Weinstein thing.

And then everything shifted. Unfortunately now, it seems we seem to have lost a little headway lately.

Have you noticed that?

LA: I would agree, I think. I’m speaking for myself here, but you get tired and then you get used to headlines and you get used to terrible stories and you read it and I don’t think that I register things in the same way that I did when I read the Weinstein story.

EJC: Exactly right. Your brain is not capable of being that pure anymore.

The Weinstein story pretty much knocked us all out. Then we had Lauer.

And then it just followed into Moonves, and they started to topple. And then by the time I came around later to make an accusation against the president, it did not have.

..

We moved on very quickly for it because a child died in a cage on the border. We don’t have the brains to concentrate on all the horrible things.

And then two days later, remember the president told the four U.S.

congresswoman to go back to their country. So we had to move on to that evil.

You’re right. It’s just a different world.

We can’t take in all the continual evil that’s happening.

LA: And so I’m interested when you mentioned going right down the middle of the country and you talked about it as a place that has largely been neglected and ignored by.

..

EJC: These are women who don’t have time. Nobody had heard of Weinstein.

They don’t have time to be checking out Twitter. They really had to work every single second getting the laundry, cooking, getting the kids ready, doing the two jobs.

It was an amazing experience. You know? It’s shocking.

When we talk about women traveling, many times we talk about rich women traveling—airplanes and staying in Paris. Taking a road trip, which is pretty much within most people’s reach, is really an excellent way to travel, because you really see parts of the country which are so glorious, and people are working so hard.

And it’s great to see our women, our fellow women, and what they’re doing. And they’re working hard for equal pay and they’re not even getting close to it.

They’re getting like 50 percent of what men earn. So it was pretty shocking.

So they don’t need men. They’re like, “No.

LA: I have sort of a two-pronged question. Which is, firstly were there women, when you asked that question to, who had never considered it before?

EJC: Yeah.

Well nobody had..

. Have you ever considered it?

LA: Yes.

EJC: I love it. Yep, every time we break up, we consider, “What do I need him for?”

LA: I sit it on the subway, and I just think, “Well imagine what if this carriage was half full?”

EJC: Oh, wouldn’t it be fabulous? Really.

It would be great. We would run everything.

So yeah.

LA: And then my second part of the question was, out of those women you met, are there any who really stuck with you, whose stories have stayed with you since you’ve returned back home?

EJC: Oh, well several.

But she was tiny—very beautiful, long, curly eyelashes. And I met her in the middle of the Mississippi Gun Show.

She was standing behind a counter. The Mississippi Gun Show had more fire power inside that pavilion.

There were attack assault rifles, every kind of handgun, bazooka shooters. They had guns there that would take down a plane.

There was more firepower in that pavilion than was set off in the entire Battle of Vicksburg. And she is selling stun guns.

I couldn’t believe it. I thought if anybody in here ne a stun gun, it’s this girl and me.

And so we had a conversation, if she needed men, and she’s 19, and she’s a college sophomore majoring in communications. And this is what she does to put herself through school.

She sells women pink, fuchsia pink stun guns. And she demonstrated for me, you can really knock a man to his knees with this stun gun.

I loved it. So she stood out.

And then at the end of the book, I came up with what we could do with men. But then I decided that certain men are pretty wonderful and so I made a list of men who could be honorable women.

MC: I’m curious if you feel like you got closure or came to a conclusion to the answer of the question you asked in your book.

EJC: Yeah.

I really want to get rid of them.

MC: Perfect.

EJC: No, I don’t think we need them. We do not need them.

I would like..

. You know what I want to do? I want to put them all in one place.

Well, every man over 18. Boys, 17 and under, are allowed to stay with their mothers, but every man over 18 must be put in Montana where we will retrain them.

All right?

And they’re allowed to have conjugal visits and we can set aside a Yellowstone Park for conjugal visits because I understand women like to visit their husbands and boyfriends, but let’s just retrain at buggers really. Really I think Montana’s the perfect place.

We’ve got to retrain them and we’ve got to retrain and to stop starting wars and start putting the toilet seats down.

MC: I love it.

I actually have kind of a tangential question because with you being here and being E. Jean of Ask E.

Jean, We knew we had to take advantage of that. So we actually kind of crawled through our Facebook group to get questions from the women in our group to ask you and see what you with your columnist hat on would tell them.

So, one of the women in the group, Charlie, just broke up with her boyfriend and well, she says, “Better said, he just broke up with me,” and they were planning to go to Asia for a long trip to Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia. She feels devastated and sad and she doesn’t know how she’ll be feeling when the trip comes around.

But she already has everything. Flights, the trip is planned.

Should she go by herself? What do you think?

EJC: Absolutely. Go.

Oh my God, what a great trip. Oh, are you kidding? Oh, it’s that she will discover more things about herself and the world without the boy than she would with the boy.

Tell her this is the way to do it and there was a woman called Nellie Bly, the first woman to go all the way around the world and she did it in less than 180 days and she did it wearing only one outfit. So, it’s the way to discover the world.

That’s great. Go, go, go.

Absolutely.

LA: There was another question from a few weeks ago that came up in the group from Kirst who was in need of some advice.

She lives in Thailand and she had paid for her mother who she seems super close with to come and visit her for a girls’ trip, spend a few days together, and see some new things. But the mother has a boyfriend, they don’t see eye to eye.

She’d have preferred if her mother came alone, but her mother is bringing the boyfriend. She wanted to know if any other women in the group had experienced it and you know how to try and mend those wounds.

EJC: Well, you know, nobody likes her mother’s boyfriend. I mean it’s very rare.

Usually, you know, mother’s boyfriends are real..

. Okay.

A lot of them are not very lovable, but the mother here is the important thing, so she should send a note to the mother saying, “Come on, bring the boy. Let’s do it.

I plan on loving him. I’m going to make my best effort.

Let’s have a good time. I just want to see you, ma, and I want to see you happy.

” What is it? 10 days out of her life? She can get along with the boy.

MC: Amazing.

I think that’s good advice too.

EJC: The important thing is the mother-daughter relationship and she can put up with this mother’s boyfriend for 10 days and she can pretend to enjoy herself and that’ll do it.

LA: Well, I think that is very sound advice to end on.

EJC: Oh, yeah.

So you didn’t tell me. What do we need men for?

LA: Oh.

Oh God, the fact that I have to think..

.

EJC: I love it.

LA: No, I know what we need men for. We need men to be allies, to help us vote people out of office that we don’t agree with and to support us taking equal power.

That is how we need men and those are the good men that are out there.

EJC: Oh, good answer.

This has been the best..

. We had the best time here.

Thank you so much for having me on.

LA: Oh my God.

Thank you for talking to us. It has been such a treat.

MC: An absolute blast. Well, if other people who are listening want to keep up with everything that you are up to these days, where can they find you on the Internet?

EJC: At @ejeancarroll on Twitter and then go get What Do We Need Men For? That’s how you keep up with me because there’s all sorts of fun things in there, ways to get ahold of me because we have to do all.

..

There are all sorts of activities in the book, yes, with all my email addresses and everything right there.

MC: Amazing.

Well, definitely check that out. There will be a link to get the book in the show notes.

You can find me at @ohheytheremere.

LA: You can find me at @lalehannah.

MC: Thanks so much for listening. You can listen to new episodes of Women Who Travel every Tuesday on Spotify and iTunes, and we will talk to you next week.

.