Scum Manifesto, by Valerie Solanas
I re-read the SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas during my holidays. I read it regularly as a self-help exercise, an exercise to shake me out of complacency, by reminding me that:
“Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.”
This is the first sentence of the SCUM Manifesto written by Solanas in 1967, at the height of the political and societal unrest of the 1960’s, and which served as one of the first texts of radical feminism.
This exhilarating first sentence is followed by the head on argument that men, are incomplete females and therefore deficient. They are egocentric and incapable of empathy, and spend their lives trying to become female. They do this by attributing to themselves the female characteristics of independence, courage, emotional strength, and attribute to women their own characteristics of vanity, triviality, weakness. She then reverses Freud’s famous theory by arguing that women don’t have penis envy, but men have pussy envy.
Solanas proceeds to enumerate all the evils of society for which, according to her, men are responsible. War, money, marriage, suppression of individuality, religion, competition, government. The motivation for all these inventions according to Solanas is for the male to give himself “the delusion of usefulness, and enable him to try to justify his existence by digging holes and them filling them up”. Being empty and unable to relate to anything, men need external guidance and control, and hence invented power structures, i.e. government, leaders, bosses, religion, etc. All these things/concepts attributed to men by Solanas are undeniably true. They form the essence of patriarchal society as we know it. In fact, few problems in the world don’t have at their root the patriarchy (and misogyny) and male violence.
The manifesto also seeks to provoke a sense of urgency, a call to action. “But SCUM is impatient; SCUM is not consoled by the thought that future generations will thrive; SCUM wants to grab some thrilling living for itself”. Solanas does not call for equality. She calls on SCUM to destroy the system, not to attain certain rights within it, and to do this by becoming members of the “unwork force”, i.e. by withdrawing from the labour force and ultimately removing power from men. We’ve actually seen the power of such (in)action in the Dagenham factory strikes, the Iceland women’s strike.
The problem, according to Solanas, is that many women are not SCUM, but the nice, passive Daddy’s Girls. And for removing power from men, you need all women to become part of the “unwork force”. So the conflict, according to her, is not between men and women, but between SCUM women and Daddy’s Girls. Here Solanas makes one of her most important, but uncomfortable and controversial assertions, which strikes to the core of the problems of feminism and its failures as movement, i.e. that many women often have an unhealthy corroboration to their own oppression.
Solanas wrote her manifesto in 1967, she self-published it and one year later she shot Andy Warhol. He had lost the script of her play Up Your Ass, so she shot him three times. She then gave herself in to the police, explaining that Warhol had too much control over her life. She pleaded guilty to causing harm intentionally and was sentenced to three years in prison. She spent most part of her sentence in a psychiatric ward after being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
And unfortunately this incident influenced the reading and analysis of her text. Many thought that this incident confirmed that the SCUM manifesto was the writing of a lunatic and dismissed it as junk. Others saw the manifesto, in spite of Solana’s crimes, as what it truly is. A work of genius by a woman who was way ahead of her time, who is, was and will remain relevant and important.