1967 Valery Solanas

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Valerie Solanas is widely known as the woman who shot Andy Warhol in 1968. Her purpose was to gain more publicity for her SCUM Manifesto,[1] and in this she succeeded. The German translation was published just a year later by März-Verlag. Solanas’s Manifesto was devoured by schoolgirls, students and housewives alike. A letter from a lawyer that I saw in 1970 cited the wife’s possession of a copy of the Manifesto on her bedside table as grounds for divorce.

 

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Cover of the 1969 German edition of Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto.

The Frankfurt Women’s Emancipation Working Group—the reincarnation of the Frankfurt Women’s Council with a socialist bent—felt compelled to distance itself from the Manifesto. In the Afterword to the German edition they explain at great length that it was naturally not as simple as Solanas imagined, but that she had nonetheless touched on some issues worth considering. I have counted the words in three consecutive sentences in this German commentary, and they contain 98, 95 and 90 per sentence, respectively. In this the Frankfurt Women’s Emancipation Working Group followed a reflex typical of the times, namely keeping obvious and painful facts at bay by accumulating empty verbiage. To break through this very armor had, however, been the aim of Valerie Solanas’s tract, since she addresses topics in it that would not be discussed publicly until years later: Incest[2], men as slaves to testosterone,[3] the masculine lack of empathy, men’s emotional blocks and all of their consequences for interpersonal relations and society. These topics were still taboo in 1969 and that was what made Solanas’s pamphlet so exciting. The satirical exaggeration in the Manifesto did nothing to diminish the seriousness of the questions, but it did make addressing them more bearable.

 

The male is an incomplete female

Valerie Solanas attributed women’s unacceptable situation to the societal dominance of men, who in her opinion were “biological accidents”:

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.

It is now technically feasible to reproduce without the aid of males (or, for that matter, females) and to produce only females. We must begin immediately to do so. Retaining the mail has not even the dubious purpose of reproduction. The male is a biological accident: the Y (male) gene is an incomplete X (female) gene, that is, it has an incomplete set of chromosomes. In other words, the male is an incomplete female, a walking abortion, aborted at the gene stage. [4]

 

According to Solanas, this biological inadequacy was paired with men’s social inadequacy:

To be male is to be deficient, emotionally limited; maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples.

The male is completely egocentric, trapped inside himself, incapable of empathizing or identifying with others, or love, friendship, affection or tenderness. He is a completely isolated unit, incapable of rapport with anyone. … He is a half-dead, unresponsive lump, incapable of giving or receiving pleasure or happiness; consequently, he is at best an utter bore, an inoffensive blob, since only those capable of absorption in others can be charming.[5]

 

Incapable of human contact or love

Valerie Solanas believed that this lack of empathy made men unable to enter into respectful relationships, especially with women:

He’s a machine, a walking dildo. It’s often said that men use women. Use them for what? Surely not pleasure.

Eaten up with guilt, shame, fears and insecurities and obtaining, if he’s lucky, a barely perceptible physical feeling, the male is, nonetheless, 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. He’ll screw a woman he despises, any snaggle-toothed hag, and furthermore, pay for the opportunity. Why? Relieving physical tension isn’t the answer, as masturbation suffices for that. It’s not ego satisfaction; that doesn’t explain screwing corpses and babies.

Completely egocentric, unable to relate, empathize or identify, and filled with a vast, pervasive, diffuse sexuality, the male is psychically passive. He hates his passivity, so he projects it onto women, defines the make as active, then sets out to prove that he is (`prove that he is a Man’). His main means of attempting to prove it is screwing (Big Man with a Big Dick tearing off a Big Piece). Since he’s attempting to prove an error, he must `prove’ it again and again. Screwing, then, is a desperate compulsive, attempt to prove he’s not passive, not a woman; but he is passive and does want to be a woman.[6]

 

Men’s incapacity for empathy affects society as well, according to Solanas:

The male’s normal compensation for not being female, namely, getting his Big Gun off, is grossly inadequate, as he can get it off only a very limited number of times; so he gets it off on a really massive scale, and proves to the entire world that he’s a `Man’. Since he has no compassion or ability to empathize or identify, proving his manhood is worth an endless amount of mutilation and suffering and an endless number of lives, including his own — his own life being worthless, he would rather go out in a blaze of glory than to plod grimly on for fifty more years.[7]

Elsewhere, Solanas notes, “Unable to relate or to love, the male must work.”[8]

 

Money as love substitute and instrument of power

In order to enforce their claims to dominance, Solanas had observed, men deployed money as an instrument of power and authority:

Power and control. Unmasterful in his personal relations with women, the male attains to masterfulness by the manipulation of money and everything controlled by money, in other words, of everything and everybody.[9]

 

The use of money ultimately determines men’s social behavior and becomes an end in itself:

Love substitute. Unable to give love or affection, the male gives money. It makes him feel motherly. The mother gives milk; he gives bread. He is the Breadwinner.
Provide the male with a goal. Incapable of enjoying the moment, the male needs something to look forward to, and money provides him with an eternal, never-ending goal.[10]

 

Daddy demeanor instead of fatherhood

Apart from money, Solanas stresses, men use a certain role behavior as a means to power, acting as Daddies rather than true fathers:

Mother wants what’s best for her kids; Daddy only wants what’s best for Daddy, that is peace and quiet, pandering to his delusion of dignity (`respect’), a good reflection on himself (status) and the opportunity to control and manipulate, or, if he’s an `enlightened’ father, to `give guidance’. His daughter, in addition, he wants sexually — he gives her hand in marriage; the other part is for him. Daddy, unlike Mother, can never give in to his kids, as he must, at all costs, preserve his delusion of decisiveness, forcefulness, always-rightness and strength. 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.[11]

 

Authority and Government

Beyond the use of money and the establishment of a Daddy role fixated on power, according to Solanas men are interested in building authoritarian social structures, for,

Having no sense of right and wrong, no conscience, which can only stem from having an ability to empathize with others… having no faith in his non-existent self, being unnecessarily competitive, and by nature, unable to co-operate, the male feels a need for external guidance and control. So he created authorities — priests, experts, bosses, leaders, etc — and government. Wanting the female (Mama) to guide him, but unable to accept this fact (he is, after all, a MAN), wanting to play Woman, to usurp her function as Guider and Protector, he sees to it that all authorities are male. There’s no reason why a society consisting of rational beings capable of empathizing with each other, complete and having no natural reason to compete, should have a government, laws or leaders.[12]

 

Philosophy

In order to justify their dominance-oriented status in relationships and society, men also develop powerful ideologies and regimes, Valerie Solanas concludes:

The male’s inability to relate to anybody or anything makes his life pointless and meaningless (the ultimate male insight is that life is absurd), so he invented philosophy and religion. Being empty, he looks outward, not only for guidance and control, but for salvation and for the meaning of life. Happiness being for him impossible on this earth, he invented Heaven.[13]

 

How male ideologies function Solanas explains elsewhere:

Most men, utterly cowardly, project their inherent weaknesses onto women, label them female weaknesses and believe themselves to have female strengths; most philosophers, not quite so cowardly, face the fact that male lacks exist in men, but still can’t face the fact that they exist in men only. So they label the male condition the Human Condition, post their nothingness problem, which horrifies them, as a philosophical dilemma, thereby giving stature to their animalism, grandiloquently label their nothingness their `Identity Problem’, and proceed to prattle on pompously about the `Crisis of the Individual’, the `Essence of Being’, `Existence preceding Essence’, `Existential Modes of Being’, etc. etc.

A woman not only takes her identity and individuality for granted, but knows instinctively that the only wrong is to hurt others, and that the meaning of life is love.[14]

 

Tactics

What strategies does Valerie Solanas recommend to oppose male dominance and instruments of power? She elucidates:

SCUM will not picket, demonstrate, march or strike to attempt to achieve its ends. Such tactics are for nice, genteel ladies who scrupulously take only such action as is guaranteed to be ineffective. In addition, only decent, clean-living male women, highly trained in submerging themselves in the species, act on a mob basis. SCUM consists of individuals; SCUM is not a mob, a blob. Only as many SCUM will do a job as are needed for the job. Also SCUM, being cool and selfish, will not subject to getting itself rapped on the head with billy clubs; […]

If SCUM ever marches, it will be over the President’s stupid, sickening face; if SCUM ever strikes, it will be in the dark with a six-inch blade.

SCUM will always operate on a criminal as opposed to a civil disobedience basis, that is, as opposed to openly violating the law and going to jail in order to draw attention to an injustice. Such tactics acknowledge the rightness overall system and are used only to modify it slightly, change specific laws. SCUM is against the entire system, the very idea of law and government. SCUM is out to destroy the system, not attain certain rights within it. Also, SCUM— always selfish, always cool — will always aim to avoid detection and punishment. SCUM will always be furtive, sneaky, underhanded (although SCUM murders will always be known to be such).

Both destruction and killing will be selective and discriminate. SCUM is against half-crazed, indiscriminate riots, with no clear objective in mind, and in which many of your own kind are picked off. SCUM will never instigate, encourage or participate in riots of any kind or other form of indiscriminate destruction. SCUM will coolly, furtively, stalk its prey and quietly move in for the kill.“[15]

 

What made Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto so interesting for many women in the late 1960s was its radicality and analysis of male behavior and the resulting social conditions as well as its promotion of an uncompromising resistance that tackled the system at its roots. The questions she raised—how women came to be oppressed and what they could do about it— would preoccupy the women’s movement for a long time, to some extent even today.

 

[1] SCUM, acronym for Society for Cutting up Men.

[2] See Barbara Kavemann and Ingrid Lohstöter, Väter als Täter (Reinbek, 1984).

[3] See Rainer Knussmann, Der Mann – ein Fehlgriff der Natur (Hamburg, 1982).

[4] Valerie Solanas, SCUM Manifesto (London: Verso, 1971), p. 35. The page numbers given here all refer to this edition. The original 1968 edition was published by Olympia Press.

[5] Solanas, p. 36.

[6] Solanas, p. 37.

[7] Solanas, p. 39.

[8] Solanas, p. 40.

[9] Solanas, p. 41.

[10] Solanas, p. 41.

[11] Solanas, p. 42.

[12] Solanas, p. 58.

[13] Solanas, p. 51.

[14] Solanas, p. 61.

[15] Solanas, p. 75.

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