The sisterhood of the travelling Scum Manifesto

Written by Kennedy Enns and Andi Enduhn

Our copy of Scum Manifesto was found at Shelf Life Books off of their feminist literature display. The name was instantly recognized but we couldn’t remember the reason why. Though the front cover alone was enough to get us interested.

The quote on the front cover read:

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.

Scum Manifesto was written in 1967 by Valerie Solanas. The year after it was self-published, Solanas went on to shoot Andy Warhol - an event now considered inseparable from the book itself. Scum is critiqued widely by both feminists and “men’s rights activists” alike. Meninists bring it up in online arguments asserting the point that this is what feminism’s aim is: killing all men. Many feminists today also critique Scum because it is often associated with the radical feminist movement.

At its creation during the second wave, radical feminism was mostly associated with the removal of the patriarchy by challenging social norms and gender roles. Now radical feminism is associated with transphobia, which gives those against Scum another way to attack it. Scum is also accused of using homophobic and transphobic slurs. However, as a gay woman in her time, Solanas’ aim was to take back the power of those hurtful words, comparable to how some LGBT people have reclaimed the word queer today.

Author Valerie Solanas.

Author Valerie Solanas.

But Scum Manifesto, like other feminist theory from that time, is very much a product of the society it was written in. Solanas wrote Scum from a world in constant change. Between the American Civil Rights movement, and the ongoing war in Vietnam,  there was a constant push for change from the public. The Cold War had reached its peak in 1962, and the world spent the rest of the decade trying prevent the complete destruction of humanity. In this time the main focuses for second wave feminism were sexuality, the family unit, rape and abortion rights. The sexual revolution was at it’s peak, Betty Friedan had just written The Feminine Mystique, and the Equal Pay Act was only a few years old.

Solanas’ theory of destruction of a system that had repeatedly hurt, and let her down, wasn’t all that out of place in a world that was defined by change, except for its unrelenting radicalism. The Civil rights movement that had called for the destruction of Jim Crow law, and what had up until that point, been the “Southern way of life” was still a year from what is generally accepted as its end. The peace protests of the Vietnam war were in full swing, and the beginnings of the gay liberation movement were stirring. Each of these movements set out to destroy a facet of a system that didn’t work for them.

At the time Solanas was living a life of poverty. She was gay, homeless, working as a prostitute and she had just escaped an abusive family home. She was dealing with mental health issues, addiction and was living on her own in New York. She was constantly being abused in new ways by both men and the capitalist system. She had grown up in a world constantly on the verge of hitting the self destruct button, raised in radical politics and had lived a life where no man had ever helped her. By being born into a world so close to destruction it makes sense that Scum was what she produced.

Scum is broken down into 22 different sections where Solanas voices her grievances with the male sex. Including: war, marriage, prostitution, the government and the class system to name a few. Our copy came with a foreword written by another author Michelle Tea.

This was the perfect frame for the ideas that would be presented next. In her foreword, Tea explained her own troubles growing up in a male dominated society as a young “radical lesbian feminist”. She too grew up in an abusive home, was gay and worked as a prostitute and through her trauma she forged this connection with Scum Manifesto.

She defines the time in which Solanas did her work as a time in which “it was legal for men to rape their wives” and “girls bled to death from back-alley abortions”. She also writes that though there was not as large of a community as there is today, Solanas probably would have identified as genderqueer. Or maybe even a trans man as “she certainly wouldn’t be the first trans man with some rabid man-hating in her past”. Maybe the most important line from the foreword is, “[Scum] is so, so funny that it’s hard for me not to condemn anyone bothered by it as painfully lacking a sense of humour.” In a book which Solonas advocates for “Turd Sessions” (where any male present must start speaking by first saying “I am a turd, a lowly abject turd”) it is hard to take offense to her ideas. Scum is honest satire. It focuses on the underlying issues for women both then and now and what is most important about this foreword is that it contextualizes the struggle that Solanas suffered through.

While this is often critiqued as an anti-man book it is just as much “anti-man” as it is anti-homophobia, anti-racism, anti-capitalism and pro-woman. We loved reading Scum Manifesto and will highly recommend it and fiercely defend it.

Overall Scum Manifesto is a quick and important read. Knowing what is controversial is just as important as knowing the foundation for feminist theory, and whether it’s something you agree with or not, Scum Manifesto is an iconic piece of feminist history. Scum is well worth the read if only to expand your understanding of early feminism.