Special Sunday Edition: The Case for E. Jean Carroll and the Fight to End Silence
Today I’m sharing a special piece of writing for your Sunday reading on a topic that’s been on my mind and will continue to be for a long time. For the Los Angeles Times, I wrote about E. Jean Carroll and how far we’ve come—and how far we still need to go—since 2017’s #MeToo movement pushed to end the silencing of those who have experienced sexual harassment and assault. I hope this piece uplifts you today and lights anew your fire to keep fighting—and most importantly, to keep speaking out.
Reprinted in full with permission and thanks to the Los Angeles Times.
In the summer of 2019, journalist E. Jean Carroll published a story that would change her life forever. It would continue the reverberation of a social movement that had already changed my life and millions of people’s all over the world.
In an article for New York magazine, Carroll accused a very powerful man of sexually assaulting her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room, and not just any powerful man—Donald Trump. When the accusation came out, I was driving across town through Manhattan traffic, just a few blocks away from that very department store. I was instantly pulled back to 2017, when I had published my own story in the New York Times mere months before the #MeToo movement broke wide open the scope of the abuses of power in our country.
In the op-ed, I declared that I was done with not being believed. I told the story of a famous actor who tried to pick me up at a diner in Hollywood when I was just 16 years old. Though Carroll’s story and mine are vastly different in many ways, our reasons for sharing them are not. As Carroll said on the stand during a particularly ugly cross-examination by Trump’s defense during their ongoing civil trial, “I thought it was time not to stay silent.”
The act of sexual assault or harassment is just one part of the violence women have to endure; the other is living in a world that asks us to stay quiet about it. And we do, because why wouldn’t we? Coming forward means character assassination, intimidation, and sometimes endless litigation. It means having to sit on a witness stand in front of the world as Carroll just did and explain that just because you didn’t scream doesn’t mean you weren’t raped. She may not have screamed then, but Trump can damn well hear her now.
For Carroll, coming forward had less to do with who she was accusing—one of the most visible people in the entire world—and more to do with the lasting effects of a movement that united us with a purpose: to learn how to trust our stories again and, if nothing else, tell them.
In court this week and last, Carroll credited the impact of the #MeToo movement in her decision to come forward, a movement we were once told might be going too far. Months after substantiated allegations against Harvey Weinstein came to light in the New York Times and the New Yorker, attention began to turn to the other Weinsteins of the world, those in our culture and our own personal lives. Quickly, a sentiment began to circulate that the movement might be getting out of hand.
The film director Woody Allen warned of incoming witch hunts, comically dramatic fears about the demise of workplace flirting were everywhere, and everyone from journalists to executives to Pamela Anderson were suddenly on the fence about where their feminism should or should not lie. Even a poll from the Hill found that more than 40% of Americans felt the movement had gone too far just one year after it had begun. And yet here we are, more than five years later, seeing it go further than we could have ever imagined.
No matter what anyone thinks 2017’s #MeToo movement has or has not been able to accomplish, hearing E. Jean Carroll explain her decision to no longer stay silent is important. To hear her truth vocalized on a witness stand with the world listening is a powerful example of the movement’s lasting ripple effects on our culture and the ways in which we think and weigh the risks of coming forward.
So much has changed since then, and so much more still needs changing, from closing the pay inequality gap between women and men, to addressing a systemic imbalance of power in the workplace. But who could have predicted we’d go from putting the biggest movie mogul in Hollywood on trial for sexual assault to the president of the United States in just a couple of years?
Whether or not Carroll wins this case, it is her bravery, and the bravery of those who have come before her, including Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford, that is a testament to how far we’ve come. Even if she loses the fight to hold Trump accountable for his actions in a court of law, Carroll has won the ability to take back her own story, publicly, and to be an example for others to do the same. She has become another ripple in the ever-changing tide of whatever the next chapter of the movement against silencing women will become.