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For a womanifesto

'Things Are Against Us' often reads like a free-wheeling, eccentric, exhausting, searching, illuminating, not-entirely-unpredictable monologue

Uddalak Mukherjee Published 13.08.21, 03:41 AM
Doris Day.

Doris Day. Wikimedia Commons

Book: Things Are Against Us
Author: Lucy Ellmann
Publisher: Picador
Price: Rs 499

“A kind of violence is done to us...” — writes the witty and refreshingly acid-tongued Lucy Ellmann in the Preface to Things Are Against Us, proceeding to offer glimpses of the deceptive anarchy of inanimate objects to the startled reader. “Soap slips from your grasp in the bath and you can’t find it in the dark... You catch hold of the soap briefly, then it slides away again! Giving up on the whole THING, you attempt to get out of the bath... Now you step on the slimy soap... which causes you to slip. You grab the shower curtain, which tears right off its rail. You land on your slippery ass in the bathtub... where you lie, all wet and winded, seeing stars.”


The reason for Ellmann’s anger — “let’s complain,” she says — is, metaphorically speaking, terrain and terra firma made slippery, especially for women, by those that make up her Universe of Discontent. The list is, quite correctly, long and includes, among others, men, American men, the United States of America, Donald Trump, tourism, airports, war, gender disparities, the male gaze, the industrial revolution, bras, electricity, coal, gas, power — let’s all pause for breath for a bit... and continue — racism, pesticides, herbicides, gun violence, even Doris Day, “one of the corniest cream cakes ever produced by male self-love”.

Things Are Against Us by Lucy Ellmann, Picador, Rs 499

Things Are Against Us by Lucy Ellmann, Picador, Rs 499 Amazon

Ellmann’s unselfconsciously candid, even aggressive, left-leaning, feminist — slightly dated? — politics, although centred on American exceptionalism, would, hopefully, rap the fleshy knuckles of smug, entitled male readers around the world. Ellmann’s grouse is old but it still holds true for this virus-ridden new world order: “Amazingly, men are still deciding if we’ll do, in the flame-choked, tsunami-soddened, silicon-breasted, carcinogen-ripened world they created for us...” Her liberation pill? “Three Strikes” by women against men for the latter’s crimes of annihilating nature and profiting from women’s war labour. Sex, too, is struck off — except for lesbians and gay men — following Aristophanes’s literary wisdom that a sex strike by women has the potential of not only ending conflict but also making men acknowledge their responsibilities as “human beings, lovers, and mensches”. The pleasure of these prescriptions is that Ellmann leaves us guessing whether she is serious about her lines of treatment. This element of playful elusiveness makes it difficult for both admirer and adversary to peg her to the tyranny of odious preachiness. But there is no mistaking her ability to join the proverbial dots between the personal and the political, weaving together a tapestry of male transgressions, ranging from misogyny and environmental degradation to the gendered nature of economic and social inequalities.

There’s no mistaking Ellmann’s anger either. Things Are Against Us often reads like a free-wheeling, eccentric, exhausting, searching, illuminating, not-entirely-unpredictable monologue that, wondrously, blurs the line between the individual and the collective. This kind of rage is especially cathartic at a time when a misplaced moral ethic has succeeded — almost — in vilifying righteous anger.

Is Ellmann mellowing though? For she chooses to end with a sliver of hope: hope for repentance in men, even a solitary man.

What is the thing that they say about wishes being horses?

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