Valerie Solanas

By: Joshua Glenn
April 9, 2010

VALERIE SOLANAS (1936-88) has been called the “first outstanding champion of women’s rights” (Ti-Grace Atkinson) and, less charitably though no less admiringly, the “Robespierre of feminism” (Norman Mailer). She earned these epithets not because she shot Andy Warhol, but because her 1968 SCUM Manifesto declared, among other things, that the American ideal of manhood is “the well-behaved heterosexual dullard”; that “maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples”; and that after SCUM (i.e., women regarded with scorn and fear because they reject contemporary forms and norms) rise up and smash the patriarchy, “the few remaining men can exist out their puny days dropped out on drugs or strutting around in drag or passively watching the high-powered female in action.” Anyone who’s done time in an American home, school, or workplace will recognize the essential truth of everything that Solanas writes about men… which is why we shouldn’t pigeonhole her as a feminist. The first few words of her manifesto — “Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore” — indicate that she is, instead, a lucid, funny, anti-ideological utopian and idler cut from the same cloth as better-known male contemporaries like Abbie Hoffman, Eldridge Cleaver, and Woody Allen. SCUM = Society for Cutting Up Micawberish. Where do I apply for membership?

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What do you think?

  1. Valerie . . . I’m glad you wrote about her, Josh. Nice job of teasing out analysis from hype.

    This is not to contradict, but to append. In Solanas’ extreme positioning she falls victim to the seductions of theory. To push theories as far as they will go is an aesthetic compulsion and is, in a sense, almost mathematically necessary (the logical extreme of this position is . . . men = X(X)) — but like most theoretical extremes it uses intellectual rigor and a certain asceticism to mask repugnance, entitlement, insecurity and an almost theological rigidity. Andrea Dworkin mapped out similar terrain within feminism (“intercourse is rape, go missionary positioning!”), as did Ti-Grace Atkinson, as you noted, although neither pushed their social critiques quite as far as Solanis.

    But Solanas achieved her 15 minutes of fame not by intellectual rigor, but by the much less admirable traits of the unpopular girl who feels entitled to join the cool clique, with the cluster of neurotic and pathological traits that comprise the neediness of personal spectacle. And as much as we want to champion the underdog, in this our Age of the Nerd, generally (or — theoretically) — if you have that many problems with anger management and social pathology, we’re not letting you in. Even Andy, who let almost everyone in.

    Solanas wrote a big game, and followed it up with a different kind of lead, but she didn’t really want Robespierre’s robes, she wanted Andy to like her, and she wanted to bask in the glow of the paparazzi. That was her desire, her fame, and her downfall. And the real lacuna in her critique.

    Yes, if she had been funnier . . . well, I’d say that’s the crux of it. If she had channeled her anger and insecurity more directly into humor, if she had been more invested in courting adoration than demanding it, if she had laughed at the male gaze instead of erecting it as something to topple . . . perhaps then “shooting Andy Warhol” would not be the almost-fatal meme with which she has burdened us.

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