Suzanne Moore on Valerie Solanas: The bag lady of feminism

Solanas described men as “walking abortions” and called on women to withdraw from work. Yet to many she will always be “The Woman Who Shot Andy Warhol” and treated as an embarrassment rather than the genius she was.

Andy Warhol. Photo:Getty
Andy Warhol. Photo:Getty

This week, the New Statesman website is "rereading the Second Wave". We're also republishing this piece by Suzanne Moore on Valerie Solanas, from 2004.

 

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.

This is the first sentence of Scum Manifesto. If there is a more exhilarating start to any political tract, I'm damned if I know it. I won't pretend to talk about Scum Manifesto with much objectivity. As far as I can see, the only reason that I might ever deign to go on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs (an imminent possibility, obviously) would be so that I could ask Sue Lawley if I could take Scum Manifesto to the island, to make me realise what I was missing - precisely zilch. The thing is, you either happen to think this is a work of unadulterated genius, or you dismiss it as the ravings of a loony psycho-bitch, not understanding that this is exactly what makes it so compelling and so charged with insight.

Verso has chosen to republish it in a nice little hardback edition with an introduction by a respected academic that sets Solanas's work in context, and therefore takes it seriously. Believe me, she was serious - serious enough to shoot Andy Warhol and end up in a locked ward of a psychiatric hospital.

Actually, I don't need a respectable version of her vision. Ideally, the Manifesto should be in the form of a little pamphlet, the kind you'd find in the back of an anarchist bookshop - if such places exist any longer - and pored over by females of impressionable age. It should be dirt cheap and scuzzy. Still, anything that helps brings forth Scum into the world is all right by me. At a time when feminism is ruled by the social-worker smiles of fembot Blairites, when we all lurve and respect men and are happy working together in the "equal" partnership of dullard wage slavery, when female empowerment means the freedom to give ourselves implausible breasts and freeze-dried skin, we need Solanas more than ever.

Solanas was abused and misunderstood while she was alive, and she still is. As far as I'm concerned, her crimes are irrelevant. I am not reviewing her crimes; I am reviewing her words. But isn't it funny how all these academics who invoke Jacques Derrida and Friedrich Nietzsche and Judith Butler, as Avital Ronell does in her introduction, still cannot simply deal with the word (or the "text", as we must call it)? For all the theorising about allowing the text to speak for itself, Ronell insists on filling us in on Solanas's miserable life in order to explain the text. Or is it to excuse the text? She gives details of the abuse by Solanas's father, the prostitution, the poverty and the final insult of being excluded from Warhol's inner circle, which drove her to shoot him. He had lost the script for her play Up Your Ass, so she shot him three times with a .32 calibre automatic and then gave herself up to a traffic cop, explaining that Warhol was trying to exercise too much control over her life.

Yet, the previous year, 1967, she'd written Scum Manifesto, publishing and distributing it herself in 1968. Why was this angry poor butch dyke able to speak the unspeakable? Can't we just say it was because she was a dazzlingly intense writer, a witchy genius, and have done with it? Apparently not. Instead of being given her due as a clairvoyant revolutionary, Solanas has been treated as some sort of embarrassing bag-lady offshoot of "respectable" feminism.

Scum, as any thrill-seeking female knows, stands for the Society for Cutting Up Men. So there you have it, the goal of all feminism made clear: murderous rage directed against men. Except that it's not true, not if you read it, not if you cherish it, not if you go with her flow.

Solanas starts from the position that men are incomplete females. They have something missing, these "walking abortions". (Show me a woman who has never thought that and I'll show you a halfwit.) In order to cope with their incompleteness, their "pussy envy", they have constructed an elaborate system of defences to make themselves feel better. These include screwing, war, the money system, prostitution, work, art and culture, to name a few.

On all this, Solanas is viciously funny. On sex, for instance, a man will "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". Men have invented work although there could be complete automation, because they abhor leisure, as it would give them time to contemplate their grotesque selves. These days, there may be much talk of the work/life balance, as this has become the polite and coded way of discussing sexual politics, but Solanas is not polite. She is gloriously succinct. She understands that women will not benefit merely from economic equality, to which she refers, beautifully, as "co-managing the shitpile".

As for romance, well, Carrie Bradshaw and Bridget Jones will have to realise that it is not to be found with men, who "expect women to adore what men shrink from in horror - themselves". The male's function is to create sperm and the female's is to "create a magic world". Sex is for the mindless, but, as Solanas says, you have to go through a lot of sex to get to anti-sex. What a hoot.

In her own sweet way, Solanas was taking on the big guns before she took the little gun to Andy. Contrary to Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan and Derrida, it is not women but men who suffer from lack at every level - real, symbolic and imaginary. Now we can theorise this, as Ronell does, and talk of Solanas's difficulties once "she was inserted into the phallologocentric crush of the linguistic grid". Or we can say, "Go girl, you're right on the money." For the beauty of Scum Manifesto is that it takes us to its own logical but dented conclusion. The conflict that Solanas advocates is not between men and women. You see, we don't need to eliminate men, as they are doing it all by themselves. The real conflict is between the women of Scum and the nice daddy's girls who have bought into the system.

Scum's terrorism will be a kind of withdrawal from the money system and workforce. Women will "unwork" until they get fired, in which case they will get another job to unwork at. Eventually the system will collapse, there will be electronic voting on every issue, and no more males will be born, because artificial insemination will take care of reproduction. In the end, however, no more females will be born, either. Solanas makes us uneasy because she understood that one of the major problems for feminism was, and still is, not just "men", but women's relationship to their own oppression, their willing collaboration in it.

But guys, don't despair. It's really not all bad news. Scum will conduct versions of 12-step meetings to which men can go to recite phrases such as "I am a turd, a lowly abject turd". Men who are rational (that includes New Statesman readers, surely?) won't struggle against Scum; they will "just sit back, relax, enjoy the show and ride the waves to their own demise". Now whoever said there were no more happy endings?

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