After a brief hiatus, I’m back with another edition of the Learning Curve. I apologize for the delay, oh ye of little faith, but as I have mentioned, I’m a procrastinator, and I’ve been semi-engrossed with Sloane Crosley’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake for the past few weeks and simply hadn’t gotten around to reading the SCUM Manifesto. MY BAD.
This round’s topic is the SCUM Manifesto, a radical feminist rant written by Valerie Solanas in 1968. Just to give you a little background on Valerie- she acted in an Andy Warhol film called I, a Man and tried to get him to produce a play she wrote called Up Your Ass, and then she shot and almost killed him. “SCUM” is an acronym for the Society for Cutting Up Men, and Solanas appears to have been, for all intents and purposes, an evil, man-hating dyke.
I had a few acronyms in mind, too, while I was reading this Manifesto- like, OMG and WTF and LOL, to name a few. After studying English and philosophy for four years, I’ve read a wide variety of feminist literature, but I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. “Radical” is really an understatement. As I was reading this piece, I honestly couldn’t figure out if this chick was actually for real or not- from the very first sentence it’s clear that she has some serious, serious rage towards the male sex, and her claims are so absurd and over the top that they seemed at times almost like a Swiftian critique of gender politics rather than an actual feminist manifesto. Solanas claimed later that the SCUM Manifesto wasn’t meant to be taken literally, but the piece and her life story make it pretty clear that she was ultra-feminist and at least slightly deranged as well.
On the first page of the Manifeto, Solanas claims that “to call a man an animal is to flatter him; he’s a machine, a walking dildo” who is “obsessed with screwing; he’ll swim through a river of snot, wade nostril-deep through a mile of vomit, if he thinks there’ll be a friendly pussy awaiting him.”
DAMN. I mean…just…DAMN. She certainly knows how to pen an attention-grabber, and one thing I really appreciated about this piece was her ability to seamlessly combine crassness with intellect. She describes man as “an incomplete female, a walking abortion” and goes on to explain that “the male spends his life attempting to complete himself, to become female. He attempts to do this by constantly seeking out, fraternizing with and trying to live through and fuse with the female.” In response to some of the ridiculous theories about sexuality and gender in the early 20th century-like Freud’s concept of penis envy, for example- Solanas is understandably enraged and rebellious, and some of her ideas are at least mildly introspective and intriguing. But more often than not, her claims just don’t make sense, and are wildly more discriminatory against men than even the most misogynistic of psychoanalysts.
Watch one of my favorite scenes from Chasing Amy, just for shits and giggles. Semi-relevant to this post.
I will admit that Solanas has some interesting ideas about fatherhood and the way it influences and perpetuates our male-centered society. She believes that the father’s aim is always to create the illusion of “decisiveness, forcefulness, always-rightness, and strength” and that this creates mindless obedient women with proverbial Daddy issues, because “never getting one’s way leads to lack of self-confidence in one’s ability to cope with the world and to a passive acceptance of the status quo.” To me, this makes sense, especially when you consider that she was writing this in the 1960’s when women were undeniably subjugated within the family unit. I think it’s impossible to deny that even in this day and age there are some remnants of this paradigm in our societal norms regarding gender roles. Solanas thought that fatherhood indoctrinated masculinity and brought men further away from women because of their instinct to idolize their mothers, and I think there could be some validity to that idea, despite the extremeness with which it’s presented in her Manifesto.
The thing that bothered me about the radical and reductive claims that Solanas makes about men is that she never really provides any evidence to back any of this up. At times the Manifesto is thought provoking, and it certainly masquerades under the guise of being academic and intelligent, but ultimately I think it isn’t much more than a crazy bitch bitching. Florynce Kennedy, a feminist activist and lawyer who represented Solanas in court, called her “one of the most important spokeswomen of the feminist movement.” Well, yeah, if you consider her attempted murder of Warhol a shock tactic to get her name and her feminist views in the news. It worked, obviously, but it’s hard to say whether she was consciously and sincerely advocating feminism through her radical actions or just tweaking out because she was a paranoid schizophrenic. I’m willing to admit that she played SOME sort of significant role in the feminist movement, but she’s no ideal to strive toward, that’s for sure.
The part in the Manifesto that made me laugh the most was when Solanas lists ways that the Society for Cutting Up Men can “systematically fuck up the system” and says that SCUM will “couple-bust” whenever possible- that is, “barge into mixed (male-female) couples, wherever they are, and bust them up.” Seeing that term defined on paper really cracked my shit up. Solanas also defines the women of SCUM as “dominant, secure, self-confident, nasty, violent, selfish, independent, proud, thrill-seeking, free-wheeling, arrogant females.” To borrow another term she uses often in the Manifesto, I think I can “groove on” pretty much all of that, except for the violent part. Because I’m not cool with killing people, especially not people like Andy Warhol, and I certainly don’t want to eliminate the male sex. I could maybe go for some couple-busting though.