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Valerie Solanas is considered by some people to have been an influential American lesbian radical feminist, and by most others to have been a criminally insane individual who tried to kill the American artist Andy Warhol as the result of a tragic misunderstanding on her part about a play she had written.
Solanas was born on April 9, 1936 in New Jersey. Sexually abused by her father, and physically abused by her grandfather, she ultimately became homeless, but graduated with a degree in psychology. Later, she supported herself largely by begging and prostitution.
The SCUM Manifesto
|—Opening paragraph of the SCUM Manifesto|
In 1968 Solanas published her SCUM Manifesto. In this text, she described men and women as natural class enemies, a situation that only violent revolution could resolve. Unlike most proponents of revolutions of that general type, she recognized and stated boldly that this effort would require a mass slaughter of men, otherwise known as gendercide, and setting up an all-female society; her response was, "Bring it on!" Solanas initially objected to the assertion that "SCUM" was an acronym for "Society for Cutting Up Men", but later used the phrase in a Village Voice advertisement.
There was a distinct satiric tinge to this text, so it is probably best not to take it too seriously; though she initially called it "dead serious", later in life Solanas claimed the manifesto was not meant to be taken literally.
Attempted murder of Andy Warhol
“”I consider that a moral act. And I consider it immoral that I missed. I should have done target practice.
|—Valerie Solanas, on her assassination attempt on Andy Warhol|
She palled about considerably with Andy Warhol, even getting a bit part in one of his films in 1967. At one point, she gave him the manuscript for a play, engagingly titled "Up Your Ass", which she wanted him to stage in his art gallery; but the play was so packed with obscenity that Warhol, in Poe's Law mode, mistook it for an attempt at entrapment by the police. He also mislaid the manuscript, which was found thirty years later and produced in San Francisco.
Solanas, who at that time was launching into a full-blown bout of paranoid schizophrenia, thus concluded that Warhol was actively out to get her. Furthermore, she was a glutton for attention, and when Warhol did not provide her enough, she felt neglected by him. Consequently, on June 3, 1968, Solanas registered her objection to what she later called "too much control" on Warhol's part by shooting him. In the process she also shot art critic Mario Amaya, who happened to be there as well, and then attempted to shoot Warhol's manager but decided to leave when the gun jammed.
The attack crippled Warhol for life, and Solanas was charged with attempted murder. Due to her schizophrenia, she was found not liable for her actions and placed in a psychiatric hospital for three years.
Upon being released from the hospital, she resumed stalking Warhol and was arrested again. Thereafter she drifted in and out of mental institutions until she died of pneumonia in 1988.
A disturbing number of high-profile feminists have expressed support for Solanas. The National Organization for Women (NOW) once campaigned for her release from the mental hospital. Ti-Grace Atkinson, the then chapter president of NOW, described her as "the first outstanding champion of women's rights." Shortly after this, Betty Friedan, who elected Atkinson as chapter president, expressed extreme disapproval of the support of Solanas by the organization, and successfully lobbied to have her removed from this position.
Her celebrity lawyer, Florynce Kennedy, said that she was "one of the most important spokeswomen of the feminist movement." To which we can only reply that it is not exactly good PR to have violent, criminally insane spokespersons who openly advocate genocide.
Friends of Andy Warhol, on the other hand, understandably took much exception to the way in which she chose to go about promoting her ideas of women's rights. Lou Reed and John Cale wrote a song about Solanas entitled "I Believe", the belief in question being that "something's wrong if she's alive right now."
- The Scum Manifesto by Valerie Solanas
- Jansen, Sharon L. (2011). Reading Women's Worlds from Christine de Pizan to Doris Lessing: a Guide to Six Centuries of Women Writers Imagining Rooms of Their Own. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 159-160. ISBN 978-0-230-11066-3.
- Fahs, Breanne (2014). Valerie Solanas. The Feminist Press. p. 85. ISBN 9781558618480.
- "Valerie Solanas replies". The Village Voice. New York, NY. XXII (31): 29. August 1, 1977.
- Third, Amanda (2006). 'Shooting from the hip': Valerie Solanas, SCUM and the apocalyptic politics of radical feminism. Hecate. 32 (2): 104–132.
- A Shot at the Stage: Up Your Ass by Michael Scott Moore (Jan 19 2000) SF Weekly.