“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 eliminate the male sex” – SCUM Manifesto
As well as their participation in music, Punk’s girls inadvertently pushed the boundaries of feminism further than any popular culture movement had done previously. By being in bands rather than just watching them, by dressing how they wanted as opposed to dressing how “young ladies” were supposed to, and by defying the age-old cliché that “little girls should be seen and not heard” – Punk girls just got on with the job, “Oh Bondage Up Yours!”
Despite the rising movement for female equality that was starting to emerge on both sides of the Atlantic by the 1960s, there were still many vagaries in the new thinkings. There were debates and marches, as women from all walks of life slowly started to reassess their own role in twentieth century society. At first some of the ideas seemed very new, and to some quite scary, but probably nowhere near as scary as a one woman campaign whose solution was to simply rid the world of men altogether. This woman was Valerie Solanas, and her self-published SCUM Manifesto didn’t even get a seat at the feminist table, until after one fateful night in 1968…
After arriving in New York in 1965, Solanas had first tried her hand at writing for theatre, with a play sensitively titled, “Up Your Ass”, centred around a young prostitute, the short story version of which was even published in Cavalier magazine in 1966.
Solanas, had also self-published the SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) Manifesto, while resident at the run-down, but artist-friendly Chelsea Hotel in New York City. Ever the aspiring, but also self-interested writer, she passed a copy on to fellow Chelsea resident Maurice Girodias, the founder of Olympia Press, with whom she allegedly signed an informal contract stating that she would give Girodias the first read of any subsequent writings.
From an outsiders point of view, it would seem that Valerie was on her way to following her dream of becoming a published and working author. However, instead of furthering her writing, she continued hawking both her play and her draft manifesto around any likely source of either funding or encouragement, even ambushing New York’s most famous artist Andy Warhol outside his Factory Studio. She presented him with the script for “Up Your Ass”, and he quipped that it was “well typed”. Warhol, who’s own filming projects had been on occasion shut down by the NYPD on obscenity charges, thought the script so pornographic and extreme that he allegedly assumed it must be a police trap. When Solanas demanded money from him for the play, he extended the hand of artistic friendship and offered her $25, not for the play, but instead to take a part in his forthcoming film “I, a Man”.
In June 1968, and feverishly still peddling the same old Ass-themed play, she travelled to producer Margo Eden’s house, who although agreeing to talk to Solanas, ultimately refused to have anything to do with the aforementioned “Up Your Ass”. Solanas responded on the spot by allegedly pulling out a gun and demanding,
“Yes, you will produce the play because I’ll shoot Andy Warhol and that will make me famous and the play famous, and then you’ll produce it.”
After she left, Eden made a call to the police to alert them to Solanas’ threats regarding Warhol, but because she had not yet committed a crime, they would not get involved. However, later that same day, Valerie waited for Warhol to arrive at the Factory, then took the lift upstairs with him, and while Andy was taking a phone call, she shot him three times very nearly killing him. She told police that Warhol had claimed to have lost her script for “Up Your Ass” (he had, and it was only found years later at the bottom of a lighting trunk), and because she didn’t believe him, she claimed to be acting in self-defence against a man who she perceived was stealing her work for his own gains. She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was later sentenced to three years in jail for attempted murder. Andy barely survived.
Her actions attracted mixed reviews. She was rightly and widely condemned outright for her murderous actions, but some feminists including Ti-Grace Atkinson the President of the NY based National Organisation for Women called Solanas a “heroine of the feminist movement”.
By the mid to late 1970s, and due to the mainly hippy counter-culture and independent book shops, the SCUM Manifesto became required feminist reading. Yes, it was crazy, it was hard to read, difficult to follow, ambitious, and off the charts radical, but by this time, its reading was seen as an intellectual exercise more than the blueprint for action that Valerie herself had intended.
Nonetheless, and despite it being problematic, her manifesto attacked the system of male dominance from an angle that nobody else had thought of. Because of Valerie’s mental health, her tome of proposed “gender-cide” can not be taken seriously in any literal sense, but it was one of the ingredients which propelled the feminist debate faster and further than ever before.
No, it wasn’t a good solution at all, but from academics to riot grrrls, Valerie’s manifesto has come to represent a boldness, a call to arms, an extremity of belief, and after experiencing any totally rage-inducing episode of out-right sexism, we’ve all found it somehow, quite comforting.