A Review of Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto for Women’s History Month
Valerie Solanas, prominent radfem figure of Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1960s, is most known for her assassination attempt against questionably revered artist, Andy Warhol, in June of 1968 in an elevator at The Factory, Warhol’s gallery located in Manhattan. After the incident, Solanas walked around the City and confessed the shooting to a cop, continuously citing that Warhol had too much influence over her life, claiming that he has legal control over her works disallowing her to publish any of her writings.
Interestingly enough, not even a year prior to the assassination attempt, in August of 1967, Solanas wrote a radical manifesto entitled “SCUM Manifesto,” which she self-published and sold them on the streets of Greenwich Village, charging men two dollars and women just one. Aside from Solanas distributing copies of the manifesto herself, which she produced by mimeographing, a technique widely used in D.I.Y. culture of the time, it didn’t gain any real traction until Solanas was arrested for shooting Warhol.
Despite Solanas being a leading thinker of the Women’s Liberation Movement, her manifesto adopted an entirely different, completely radical school of thought. The first time I read it was in Michael Dango’s Feminist Literature and Visual Culture course and I remember being so taken aback by how radical it was. Minus the inherently transphobic portion of the manifesto, I found the writing to be incredibly inspiring and it shaped a new form of feminism that I decided to adopt. Because of how crucial the manifesto has been to my feminism, I have decided to review it, in honor of Women’s History Month.
“SCUM” stands for “Society for Cutting Up Men” and begins the manifesto by saying that life in this society is an utter bore, at best. The manifesto’s main argument revolved around how men run the world and that it is the responsibility of women to fix the mess they have made. Solanas supports her argument by saying that men are emotionally incompetent, full of themselves, and generally inferior to women and goes on to list the problems she has with men a whole, including war, capitalism, and individuality, or a lackthereof.
I’m making the list of grievances seem shorter than it is, but the manifesto is thirty-eight pages long and is mostly Solanas listing her grievances. Because of how incapable Solanas finds the male race to be, she concludes her manifesto by calling for androcide, or the elimination of men, stating it is imperative to saving the world. She further argues that capitalism should be replaced with automation, which she believes would lead to the downfall of the government.
Despite being an enthralling piece of literature, I will admit that there are inherent flaws within it. Solanas was a biological essentialist and didn’t believe in the validity of trans women. All though this part of the manifesto was only a few sentences long, it’s always disappointing to read what Solanas thinks of trans women. Even though she was a radfem, she was still a product of her time, when trans people weren’t widely accepted like they are today. This still doesn’t excuse the transphobia she presents the reader with.
Looking past the transphobic portion of the text, if you’re able to, Solanas bring up really important parts. She argues that men are driven by three things: sex, money, and power. And she argues that men acquire these things through the manipulation and exploitation of women. Men have been in control since the dawn of time and Solanas believes that it’s time for a change because from this control there has been no good. And she’s right.