Just as I was feeling frustrated about the lack of robust books on feminism I spot a real corker: Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote SCUM (and Shot Andy Warhol). Solanas, for those of you who have never had the para-sexual pleasure of reading her work, was not your fun feminist. Solanas, who died in 1988 aged 52, did not write comforting screeds about how women can break through the glass ceiling or how to cope with motherhood. She railed against men, blaming them entirely for her miserable life and for the hell that women suffer under patriarchy. Solanas, as the biography brilliantly highlights, made herself extremely unpopular by pointing out the obvious. She also shot the artist Andy Warhol, but we all have our moments.
This painstakingly researched biography, by feminist and academic Breanne Fahs, tracks the truly extraordinary life of Solanas, a revolutionary feminist and bohemian artist who was faily mad throughout her life, and, as is perfectly proper and dignified for a woman of her stature, went totally mad.
The book contains numerous interviews with those who knew Solanas, including militant feminists of the time. Solanas was so extreme she even alienated these sisters, basically going around town pissing people off.
The SCUM Manifesto, extracted in the book, is worth a read because, as crazy as it is, Solanas is on to something.
‘“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.’
Solanas describes men as ‘walking abortions’, and wrote of their preoccupation with sex. 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.’
To me, Solanas is as relevant today as she was in the 1960s, because nothing much has changed for women. I wouldn’t go so far as Solanas did in her visceral hatred of men, but we need radicals like her to shake the liberals out of their complacency.
Solanas was sexually abused by her father as a child. At school she charged a dime a time to write insults for children to use on one another; she once beat up a boy in high school who was bothering a younger girl – and also hit a nun. As a consequence, Solanas was sent to live with her grandparents where she suffered more sexual abuse and eventually ran away.
Coming out as a lesbian in the 1950s was rather a brave thing to do. In the mid-1960s she moved to New York City, met Warhol, and became offended by his refusal to publish SCUM. She bought a gun and shot him, intending to kill. Solanas was charged with attempted murder, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and served a three-year prison sentence. After her release, she continued to promote the SCUM Manifesto until she died.
I first read SCUM when I was a very young feminist and, like many others, found her work and some of her politics hard to swallow. But what this biography does is give the reader a sense of an extraordinary woman who was a product of men’s abuse. Read it. You won’t hate her anywhere near as much as you imagine.
Julie Bindel is the author of Straight Expectations: What Does It Mean To Be Gay Today? (Guardian Books)