E. Jean Carroll: Dan! Look what I just found!
Dan Savage: OMG. Where did you find that?!?
E. Jean Carroll: It was in an old manila folder.
Dan Savage: We sure flipped the table over, didn’t we?
E. Jean Carroll: Just by chance, I opened the bugger!
Dan Savage: SO LONG AGO. We were the bratty kids. Now we’re the ESTABLISHMENT.
Where Are They Now?
Mickey Boardman, the editorial director and “Ask Mr. Mickey” advice columnist at Paper magazine, has a new line of clothes coming out this month. Dan Savage, one of Earth’s great gravitational forces in LBGTQ rights, has his “Savage Love” podcast and column, and a new book out today, Savage Love from A to Z: Advice on Sex and Relationships, Dating and Mating, Exes and Extras. Me? I got fired from Elle and started this fancy new Substack. The New York Times put the three of us on the front page of its Styles section on March 30, 1997, several years after we all started slinging advice for a living.
Finding this old Times headline gave me an idea: Wouldn’t it be interesting to look at an Ask E. Jean question from 1993 and see if I (and the Conflab) would answer it any differently in 2021?
But first, because that seems so long ago, in order to understand what was going on in the ‘90’s—the push for gender equality, the rise of the Internet, Eros frolicking from sea to shining sea—I will attempt to tell the story of the decade with 135 words, and five women.
Anita Hill / 1991
Just enough of America believes Clarence Thomas. Not Professor Hill. Which is why two men credibly accused of sexual assault now sit on the Supreme Court.
Lorena Bobbitt / 1993
America acquits Ms. Bobbitt’s husband of repeated marital sexual assault, and calls Ms. Bobbitt “crazy,” for cutting off Mr. Bobbitt’s penis with a kitchen knife.
Nicole Brown Simpson / 1994
After he murders Mrs. Simpson, O.J. Simpson entrances America with his slow-motion attempted escape in the historic "White Bronco Chase."
Jill Harth / 1997
Monica Lewinsky / 1998
America blames the White House intern, Ms. Lewinsky, not President Clinton, for their two-year affair.
So That’s The Way We Were
The 90’s also brought us Hooters, Viagra, the Brazilian, Sex and the City, and this 1993 letter to Ask E. Jean:
Dear E. Jean:
The most devastating terror that could ever happen to a woman happened to my sister two weeks ago. She was raped by a man whom she thought wanted nothing more than the time of day. Everyone in our family knows what happened with the exception of the most important person in her life—her husband. She doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to tell him and I don’t know if she should either. I know the answer seems obvious to you and all your readers, but the situation is very complicated.
My brother-in-law is an extremely possessive person who becomes threatened by another man’s harmless stare. My sister is a beautiful woman. The truth is that although Jeff is insecure, no other man has ever loved her more. Finding out her secret would ruin him, and could very well destroy their marriage.
I have not seen her this depressed and frightened in her life. She’s afraid to go anywhere alone and hasn’t slept for days. She finds every excuse to avoid her husband sexually, but he’s so caught up with his promotion at work that he hasn’t noticed the difference. I love my sister too much to let her go on like this. I know the best thing is for her to seek professional counseling. I trust your suggestions would be a step in the right direction. I can’t stand the silence! —Sister in New York
My response in 1993:
My Dearest, Dearest Sister:
Darling, your letter has made me as unhappy as possible. Your sister’s suffering is very acute, you are disheartened, and I’m now obliged to—instead of consoling you!—cause you more concern.
Your sister must tell her husband. Until she tells her husband, every breakfast they share, every good-night kiss, every tiff, every laugh, every look is a lie. And the longer she delays telling him, the larger the lie will become, and the larger the lie becomes, the more she will grow to loathe him for not being her comforting companion and friend.
Because the nasty little monster lurking behind the big one in this nightmare is this: Your sister has been raped; she is as '“depressed” and “frightened” as she has ever been in her life, she “hasn’t slept for days,” and your brother-in-law is so “caught up with his promotion at work”—and here comes the saddest sentence of your letter—“he hasn’t noticed the difference.”
My dear, I don’t care how “insecure” he is but, pardon me, this fellow is a putrid excuse for a husband. Your sister’s fear that her secret will “ruin him,” that it might “destroy the marriage,” makes me wonder whether his possessive nature contains one solitary atom of real love. (And hence her fears may be well-founded.) I know this is harsh, and it pains me to offend you, but you must stop worrying about his “insecurities” and his being “threatened,” and throw your heart into healing your dear sister.
So, what should be done first? She must receive immediate counseling (Now! Today!) from a professional trained in dealing with the aftermath of rape. The Rape Crisis Hot Line in New York is [[number no longer working]]. Then—and again, I beg your pardon for being so straightforward, but there is no other way to put it—another aspect must be considered. Unfortunately, your brother-in-law exhibits many of the unpalatable attributes (“threatened by another man’s harmless stare,” “extremely possessive,” etc.) that are common to batterers. Your sister may not even be aware of it, but this could be the reason she’s in such terror of telling him. His tender reverence for her purity is about to be exploded.
So whether she tells him herself, or tells him with the assistance of her rape counselor, or the rape counselor acquaints him with the facts and advises him when she’s not present, your sister must be prepared to deal with her beloved’s rage, hatred, jealousy, plans for revenge and sexual aversion—and these are just the first instinctual responses of even the most sensitive men. Your brother-in-law’s reaction may be as savage as the rape itself.
Honey, no marriage sails on forever without a test, and this is a hell of a one for your sister’s. If Jeff loves her, the revelation will be difficult, but in the end, she will feel cared for and safe. If he does not love her as he should, your excellent sister will make a happier future without him. Either way, she must speak out, not bury herself alive under his weakness.
I’ll be thinking of you both, dear. Please write again and let me know how she’s doing.
My 2121 Answer:
Alas, I never heard a peep after that. The number I gave in the letter for the New York Rape Crisis, is no longer operating. Rainn runs the 24-hour National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-4673. That’s the best number today.
I think most of my reply holds up, but did you notice what I missed? Today, the omission is so glaring, so shocking, I nearly fell over when I spotted it.
I never mentioned the rapist! I did not say, “report the rape to the police, immediately!” I did not say, “speak with a counselor about reporting the rape.” I did not say, “Speak with a lawyer,” or “Please tell your sister to keep any evidence of the rape in a safe place.”
This answer may or may not shed light on what happened to me in Bergdorf’s a couple of years later in 1995/96 with Donald Trump. What I know for sure is that in 2019 I took a long and loud public beating when I accused Donald Trump of rape. Many people said I was lying because I did not report the rape to the police in 1995/96. As we just saw/read, that was one of the last things I would have done.
Well, hell. We can’t leave 1993 on such a distressing note. Let’s have another letter!
The Man Who Visits in the Night
(1993) Dear E. Jean:
I met a man on a phone network (for health problems). He’s married and lives 800 miles away. Out of curiosity, we saw each other. To make a long story short, we felt connected immediately.
We both endure great physical pain because of our condition—and I know this is going to sound odd, but we have ended up having psychic sex. (He’s able to alter my body temperature and give me a sense of lassitude, and I’m able to clearly identify his thoughts and emotions which are directed to me.)
My problem is that sometimes he “comes to me” at inappropriate times—when I’m with someone else, or in public, and it’s embarrassing and difficult to keep my cool. He says he can’t control the energy when he’s asleep and apologizes. I seem to be in his conscious and unconscious mind! What can I do? —Zapped
My response back then:
Sweetie, sweetie, sweetie, have you been sucking on the cap of the K-Y Jelly again? Or, has this chap actually ripped the pants off your satellite dish?
Whichever, my darling, it’s a joy to know someone who’s squashing “reality” down to Jell-O (and decorating it with giant marshmallows); after all, most blokes can barely boost a lady’s temperature while in her bed. However, the next time your lad tries to remotely compromise your dignity in public, remember your brain is not an electrified cauliflower. You control the situation with a sharp, “Not now, Quibberdick!” Then give your hair a toss and shut off your sensors.
P.S. Of course, whether he’s in or out of your head, my dear, this mind-bender’s married, and you’re zooming a sister’s man.
My 2021 Response:
Har! Apparently I could see decades into the future back then. The Internet was just dawning in 1993, but I advised the poor lady to stop “zooming” a married chap.
If anyone else wants their fortune told, call me. With your mind, of course.
And because I know I don’t know everything, and because readers rule around here, and cuz commenters gotta comment, and solvers gotta solve, here’s the Conflab:
The Conflab is where we hash over the questions sent to Ask E. Jean—and where our boisterous community regularly rescues mankind. Today, we’re looking at a couple of quandaries sent to Ask E. Jean nearly three decades ago. Today we view the Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton affair in a completely new light. And it’s interesting to discover how the advice we’d offer to the worried sister in the first question would now be radically different, thanks to #MeToo. But, weirdly, don’t you think much of our advice would be the same?
And . . . so. What were you doing in the 90’s? Where were you? Who were you? And how different are you now, three decades later?
P.S. As for our electrified Ms. Zapped. Today one word of counsel would suffice, and that word is . . .
What in Blazing Hell Is this Thing?
Was this email forwarded to you and you are now wondering what the heck it is? “Ask E. Jean” has been solving snafus since 1993. Now the Conflab is pitching in and we’re the top-ranked Health Substack in the United States. Click here.
You can get me on Twitter, or send me your questions by using the Voice Memo on your phone (I may run the recording on Ask E. Jean), or shoot a video question (again—I may put it on Ask E. Jean), or write to me about what’s driving you crazy: your career, your wardrobe, your love affairs, your lusts, your languishing, your politics, your finances… at AskEeeeJean@gmail.com.
P.S. I don’t know a single thing about finances. But I love your pet photos!
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I apologize. I thought the Nicole Brown Simpson photo which ran in the Ask E. Jean newsletter September 21 and 22 had been presented at OJ Simpson’s trial. It was not. I have deleted that photo from the newsletter. The photo of Mrs. Simpson which did appear at the trial is above. The credit is : CBS news, Stringer, Getty Photos.
Current photo of Mickey Boardman, Marco Ovando; current photo of E. Jean, Lisa Birnbach; current photo of Dan Savage, Anthony Pidgeon, Getty Images; photo of Anita Hill, Mark Reinstein, Getty Images; photo of Monica Lewinsky, AFP staff, Getty Images; photo of Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton in the Conflab, Dirck Halstead, Getty Images; photo of triumphant Monica, Axellel Baurer-Griffen, Getty Images; photo of Zapping, Yuichiro Chino, Getty images; photo of Joshua Matz, E. Jean, and Robbie Kaplan walking into Federal Court: Jefferson Siegle for The New York Times.