After publication in 1967, “The SCUM Manifesto” by Valerie Solanas became highly regarded as a radical feminist text. The argument presented is relatively straightforward: due to the corruption of male-dominated society, women must “overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation, and destroy the male sex”. Among an astounding list of grievances against men, Solanas includes some memorable language that relates the causes of war, social and racial inequality, ignorance, disease, death, etc. squarely back onto the shoulders of the male sex. As such, the actual message of the manifesto becomes literalized in Solanas’s attempt to satirize the modern life and to shock both men and women out of complacency with society’s sexism. Regardless of her personal intention (or, I suppose, sanity), the most obvious interpretation of the text is as a forceful challenge of assumptions about gender norms.
Although I understand what Solanas is trying to accomplish here, I am somewhat uncomfortable with the turn that some of her language takes (but I can’t help thinking that I am meant to). She condemns the male sex by suggesting that the quest to prove manhood results in “an endless amount of mutilation and suffering and an endless number of lives” and yet, she later recommends that women in an ideal society should “act on a mob basis” and “kill all men”. This obvious irony here is that violence becomes both a problem and a solution to what Solanas finds wrong with the world. Beyond this, she characterizes the male and female genders in a way that almost ends up discounting complexities in human nature. She depicts man as “completely egocentric, trapped inside himself, incapable of empathizing or identifying with others, or love, friendship, affection of tenderness.” Although this statement might be taken to work towards a fair overall objection to the patriarchal systems that have kept women constrained since, well, forever - it definitely unfairly generalizes many members of the male sex. As such, that sentence could more reasonably be applied to both male and female genders (not limited to men, that is) and, even more aptly applied to specific individuals, regardless of sex.
While some of aforementioned concerns are fairly obvious and perhaps more minor considering the context of the entire piece, I was particularly struck with the way that Solanas refers to females who don’t ascribe to the SCUM Manifesto. She goes so far as to say that the real conflict is between “ SCUM -- dominant, secure, self-confident, nasty, violent, selfish, independent, proud, thrill-seeking, free-wheeling, arrogant females, who consider themselves fit to rule the universe, who have free-wheeled to the limits of this `society' ... and nice, passive, accepting `cultivated', polite, dignified, subdued, dependent, scared, mindless, insecure, approval-seeking Daddy's Girls, who can't cope with the unknown, who want to hang back with the apes, who feel secure only with Big Daddy standing by, with a big strong man to lean on and with a fat, hairy face in the White House …” This incredibly long sentence struck me as particularly harsh because it discounts the strides that “cultivated” and “dignified” women have made in the struggle for equality. The choice doesn’t have to be kill or be killed. Despite the sexism that is embedded into the world we live in, there are a countless number of women who have displayed enormous strength by working within and succeeding in a male-dominated world. I wouldn't characterize these women as “scared” or “mindless”.
Although I appreciated this text because it's hilarious and apt and Solanas says things that very few people have had the courage for, I do think it's important to consider what approach to feminism will best support gender equality. To the extent that the text is meant to wake society up and make us see through the sexism that has become institutionalized in political, economic, and social spheres, it does its job masterfully. It adds another, admittedly more aggressive voice to the fight for equality - but how effective is this approach? To the extent that some of the language is meant as an honest representation of what is and what ought to be, the text almost does the advance of feminism a disservice because it turns against the very people it seeks to promote. Is Solanas really that opposed to working from within the system? (It certainly seems as if she would have preferred hitting it repeatedly and with a mallet.)