Former author of the Ask E. Jean advice column in Elle Magazine road trips the country with her blue-haired poodle, Lewis Carroll, stopping in every town named after a woman between Eden, Vermont and Tallulah, Louisiana to ask women the crucial question: What Do We Need Men For? Included is her account of being raped by President Donald Trump.
... the strategic collisions of tragedy and comedy also become, as the story goes on, reliably gutting ... Carroll’s 'merry romp' is overwhelming. It is exhausting. That is the point. This is not only a book about the failures of individual men; it is also a book, as its Swiftian title suggests, about the failures of a system that has given men the power to determine the whos and wheres and hows of women’s lives. Carroll does not talk much about patriarchy or toxic masculinity or trauma or otherwise make much use of the current feminist vernacular; the book can read, at points, as preemptively dated, with its references to 'the whole female sex' and similarly winking generalizations. What it offers, though, is a kind of literary impressionism, based on 75 years of lived experience—a sense of what it feels like to have pulsing veins and fiery nerves and a teeming mind and be caught within the cold infrastructures of sexism ... The list Carroll creates, in that way, isn’t merely a list, or a method of organizing a narrative; it is also an indictment. It is a testament to the dull banalities of sexual violence. It is a reminder of the varied forms, insidious as well as obvious, such violence can take. The book stayed true, in that sense, to Carroll’s initial premise for it: It is a memoir that is rooted in maps. It suggests all that can happen, at the most local of levels, in a land that names towns after women and tells the rest of them to know their place.
When you think about Great Thinkers—those old white men with their Great White Thoughts on politics, society, morality, religion, science war—you’ll gradually recognize how they’ve tried to sell their thoughts to the entire world. And yet not a single one could sell their ideas with the passion and verve of E. Jean Carroll ... a master class in making a person believe ... she has the voice—the stylized, unmistakable, read-her-writing-about-anything kind of voice—to make a reader want to pick up whatever she’s putting down ... handled with a swashbuckling ease, even in the face of rape and grievous assault ... Carroll strikes chords that should reverberate in any empathetic person, which makes selling the proposal of turning men into chemical scrap seem like a good idea ... Carroll’s makes you feel that way because she has a voice, which brings us to number three: if you want to write something that changes the world, you better be able to write! ... Her rhetoric flashes by with the speed and power of a Formula 1 car. Fantastically written but so friendly to follow, and broken up with lists and photos, Carroll’s book is readable in a way the Great Thinkers are not and can never be.
What Do We Need Men For? is more than male bashing, but it’s certainly that; it’s also a story of a spirited woman with an indomitable personality and a zest to get on with it that’s refreshing in this age of victimization and self-analysis ... Carroll, 75, is a stylish writer and often funny; her book is full of zingers ... her narrative bounces along like a huge spray of champagne bubbles. It’s impressionistic and often interrupted by photos, strings of all-caps and exclamation points, advice lists and witty footnotes. This is all good fun, but Carroll’s humor and jaunty writing can’t completely camouflage her pain over the damage caused by some of the men in her life. This creates a friction between style and content that can be unsettling ... both darkly humorous and deadly serious. Sometimes, it can be hard to tell the difference. Regardless, she’s both having fun and spitting angry ... Carroll’s investigation is troubling, too, in ways she may not intend: It reveals not only the struggle between the sexes but also geographic and class differences. It demonstrates the bubble that Carroll, who has spent most of her adult life on the East Coast, lives in ... These are unfortunate distractions from a witty and often disturbing book. It’s unfortunate, too, that despite the heavy accusations at its core, the book offers no realistic fixes, nor is it concerned with larger issues of masculinity, ones that may (or may not) explain male behavior.